Anatomy of a Good Holiday Email

Email may not be the newest or hottest craze in the world of digital marketing, but it continues to be one of the most effective channels for brands, particularly during the holiday season. Research from Ispos and Magnetic found that in 2015, 70% of people learned of holiday promotions through email, while 64% and 56% discovered seasonal promos via search and online ads respectively. Only 38% found promotions through social media.

Email marketing also yields as a higher return on investment. OptinMonster reports that email delivers a 21% ROI while social media yields 15%.

Yes, the popularity of email marketing is undeniable. And while that’s generally a good thing, it also comes with a major challenge. Because email is so popular, just about every brand out there is using it, and that means it can difficult for you to stand out.  

With people’s inboxes getting increasingly crowded, how can you ensure that your emails make the cut? To help answer that, we’re putting the spotlight on a handful of email marketing examples that you can use as inspiration for your own campaigns. Check them out:

Incorporate relevant themes

This may sound obvious, but many merchants continue to send uninspired and generic-looking emails during the holidays. Don’t be one of them. Write and design your emails in such a way that they embody the holiday that you’re celebrating.

So if it’s Christmas, your campaigns should reflect the joy and cheer that people experience around the season. If you’re sending emails for Black Friday and Cyber Monday, then your design and messaging should bring about excitement and a sense of urgency.

Go through your marketing emails and ask yourself the following questions:

  • Do they contain key holiday terms? (e.g., ‘gifts’, ‘jolly’,‘Santa’ or ‘it’s Christmas’)

  • If not, have you considered adding a seasonal emoji to make your message more in line with each holiday?

  • Is your color palette in line with the holiday you’re celebrating? (e.g., black and white for BFCM, red and green for Christmas)

  • Is the design of your email relevant to the season?

  • Is the content of your email relevant to the season?

  • Are you positioning your products as holiday purchases? (e.g., ‘Dresses for your next holiday party’ vs just ‘dresses’)

Here are a few holiday email examples you can use as inspiration.

Francesca encourages shoppers to visit their store for the holidays

Got a brick and mortar shop? Be sure to use email marketing to drive in-store traffic. Once again, Francesca does an amazing job with this. In their email below, the team at Francesca promoted the fact that shoppers make their own jewelry pieces in-store.

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Area 51 announces their holiday hours

Speaking of brick and mortar stores, if you’re running a physical location and are modifying your operating hours for the holidays, be sure to let your subscribers know! Take a cue from Area 51, who even included an email graphic specifying the seasonal hours. They also sweetened the deal by offering 20% off for their online customers, making that the store was still cashing in with online sales.

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Starbucks creates a holiday-themed product

Last year, Starbucks introduced the Christmas Tree Frappuccino and used a very holiday-themed email to promote it. The subject line contained seasonal keywords along with a Christmas tree emoji.

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Alex and Ani positions their existing merchandise as gifts

Alex and Ani took one of their mainstay products and positioned it as a holiday gift. With the adorable content, beautiful design that fits their branding and their three top products, Alex and Ani curated a stand-out email sure to be successful with their new and returning customers.

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UGMONK created a holiday gift guide with clever segmentation

When UGMONK released an email gift guide last year, they didn’t just stick to the mainstays of ‘gifts for mom’ or ‘his & hers’ organisation. With guide sections such as ‘cozy comforts’ and ‘mountains’ they were able to curate a guide that would appeal to anyone.

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Tip: Did you know that Marsello’s holiday email flows come with seasonal templates? No need to design an email from scratch; just take on of our best-practice templates, designed to keep your customers coming back, and then tailor to your business.

Personalize, personalize, personalize

A well-written and beautifully-designed email won’t be effective if the content is irrelevant to the recipient. That’s why you should always incorporate personalization into your campaigns. Customer segmentation, purchase history, and wish lists are tools that you can use to tailor the content of your messages to each user.

Take a leaf out the playbooks of these companies:

Pottermore sends emails tailored to each Hogwarts house

Last year, Pottermore sent out holiday greetings to their members, but instead of using a generic message in their campaign, they segmented users according to their Hogwarts houses (Gryffindor, Hufflepuff, Ravenclaw, and Slytherin) and sent greetings tailored to each house.

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This is a wonderful example of simple (but highly effective) email segmentation, and you should consider doing something similar with your user segments. Whether you group shoppers by gender, age, or any other category, find ways to tailor your messages for those various segments.

Nordstrom recommends products that shoppers might like based on their browsing activity

Nordstrom is one of the highest-ranked retailers when it comes to personalized marketing, and for good reason: the retailer does a tremendous job in tailoring their marketing content.

Consider the following email, in which Nordstrom showcased some of the designer purses they have in stock. It’s a well-designed email, but what makes it noteworthy is how relevant the products are to my tastes.

I’ve browsed Nordstrom’s designer purse collection numerous times and have even added several items to my wishlist. This leads me to believe that Nordstrom uses my web browsing or wishlist data (or both) to inform the content of their emails.  Either that or they just ‘happened’ to send me an email containing products that I love (but in the age of big data and personalization, I highly doubt that this email is a coincidence).

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Sephora recommends products based on previous purchases

If you’re marketing to existing customers, then use their purchase data in your product recommendations. This is a good way to show customers that you’re paying attention to their shopping habits. And if you implement this strategy in a friendly and non-creepy way (like what Sephora is doing in the example below), you’ll encourage people to continue shopping at your store.

Tracking the browsing and purchase history of your customers is possibly the hardest, most intimidating part of this. Thankfully, with Marsello’s product recommendations feature, this marketing tactic can be added as a block to any email campaign from your Marsello app.

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Tip: Marsello’s holiday email flows make it easy to send personalized product recommendations. Simply drag and drop the product widget onto your email, and it will automatically populate with the top 3 items that your customer is likely to purchase, based on their shopping history and the shopping histories of customers like them.

Run compelling and creative offers

In an age when numerous brands are vying for shopper attention, it’s imperative that you craft offers that are both compelling and creative.

There aren’t any one-size-fits-all promos that would work for every campaign, as your offers would depend on your customers, merchandise, and objectives. For example, if you’re trying to move slow-moving inventory, then multi-buy promotions (e.g., “BOGO,” Buy 2 get 1 free, etc.) would be the best offer type. On the other hand, if the goal is to increase order values, then conditional offers (e.g., “Free shipping on orders over $75”) would be a better way to go.

Have a think about the right type of offer for your campaign, and once you’ve decided on the type of promotions to run, inject holiday some themes to make them relevant.

Consider the following:

Flynn Skye shows shoppers how much they’re saving

You know what they say, showing is better than telling. Apparel retailer Flynn Skye puts this nugget of wisdom to good use by creatively “slashing” their product prices. Check out the image of their email below and you can clearly see the original price crossed off and replaced with their promotional pricing.

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Restaurant.com uses some holiday pun

Meanwhile, Restaurant.com decided to do a little holiday pun. During the Christmas season of 2017, the website sold $25 certificates for $3, and used the tagline “Rockin’ around the Christmas $3”. Clever, right?

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Frank Body offers free holiday shipping

Free shipping is a common promotional tactic, but that’s because it’s highly effective. This holiday season, consider testing free shipping and see if it entices more customers to shop. Frank Body did just that in their email below:

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Girlfriend Collective runs a giveaway

Meanwhile, the team at Girlfriend Collective ran a giveaway and used email marketing to promote it. The subject line was direct to the point and powerful: “Free stuff! (It’s giveaway time.)” and the body of the email touched on the holiday season, with the lines like: “The holidays are stressful. Giveaways aren’t.”

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Animate your emails

A cool way to stand out is by incorporating a bit of animation in your messages. Why not insert a moving GIF image in your holiday messages, to really get them to pop? Have a look at the following example:

The Horse sends an animated holiday greeting

The Horse, an Australian retailer that sells leather lifestyle goods, wished their subscribers a very happy Christmas by sending a nice email thanking everyone for the love and support. What’s notable about their email, though is it contained a fun GIF along with their message.

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Instill a sense of urgency

Urgency can give your promotions an extra boost, so find ways to use it in your campaigns. Things like a looming deadline or fear of missing out (FOMO) can really drive people to act.

Use these emails for inspiration

Betabrand sends a ‘last call’ email

When you have a really attractive promotion, sending a quick ‘last call’ or ‘last chance’ email can put your offers back on your customers’ radars.

Betabrand, for instance recently ran a “Blacker-Than-Black Friday Event,” and hours before the end of the promotion, they sent a simple ‘Last call’ email to remind shoppers of what they might miss.

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BioLite reinforces that sense of urgency with sale dates

Being clear about your sale terms and timing can give your customers the sense that they should buy sooner rather than later for fear of missing out.

BioLite have created this sense of urgency by reminding their customers exactly when their sale ends, and leaving that reminder in bold. They’ve then gone the extra mile and suggested some of their categorized top-picks.

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Tommy Hilfiger uses a countdown

Want to get more visual with your FOMO messaging? Countdowns can do wonders. If you’re running a promotion that’s approaching a deadline (ideally 24 hours or fewer), throw in a working countdown in your emails so recipients know exactly how much time they have left before the deal is gone.

Here’s a great example from Tommy Hilfiger:

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ThirdLove sends out reminders that an item is almost sold out

Got limited inventory? Use it to instill a sense of FOMO in shoppers. ThirdLove, for instance, sent an email giving people a heads up that some of their bras are almost sold out.

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Optimize the timing of your campaigns

Timing may not be everything, but in email marketing, it’s pretty darn important. Showing up in someone’s inbox at just the right time can mean the difference between a conversion or a missed opportunity, so optimize the scheduling of your emails as much as possible.

The best way to do this is to rely on your subscribers’ data. Pay attention to when people are opening your messages and visiting your website, so can determine when to schedule your emails.

Evaluating previous campaign performance can also help. Do morning emails work better than messages sent in the afternoon? What about weekdays vs. weekends? Go through your past campaigns and see if you can spot patterns around timing.

Industry data can also offer insights that you can use in your campaigns. Does your email marketing provider have any data on which email time-frames work best?

Below is an excellent case study of email timing optimization done right:

eBags increases conversions by 65% thanks to timing optimization

This example comes from eBags, which decided to switch up their email schedules by optimizing their timing based on when each subscriber signed up to their list.

According to Econsultancy, eBags "carried out research based on the hypothesis that if users were available to sign up to an email list at a certain time, then they would be far more receptive to receiving an email at the same time as when they signed up.”

The experiment proved to be a success. As Econsultancy reports, eBags saw the following results after the experiment:

  • Increased click-through rates by 20%

  • Increased conversion rates by 65%

  • Increased average order value by 45%

  • Increased overall revenue per recipient by 187%

Tip: If you’re not sure when to schedule your campaign, fret not! Marsello analyzes the shopping habits of customers at your store (and at businesses similar to yours) and then recommends the best time to send your emails.

Final words

Email marketing can elevate your campaign performance, but only if you do it right. To boost your marketing success this holiday season, keep your messages relevant and personalized and throw in come compelling offers for good measure. To top everything off, optimize scheduling of your messages you can get in front of your subscribers at the perfect time.

Good luck!