The holiday season is one of the busiest times of the year for many businesses – and email marketing continues to be one of the key drivers of success. According to Shopify, email marketing was responsible for generating 24% of holiday sales in 2018. However, the challenge for business owners is getting holiday emails noticed during a time when competitors will be flooding their customers’ inboxes.

There are plenty of ways to create emails that stand out and are effective in engaging and converting customers or clients. Whether your holiday email effort is in full swing or you have yet to ramp up your digital marketing, here are some last-minute tips for running an email campaign that will help your business capitalize on this peak sales period – and boost your bottom line.

Plan Ahead

Make sure you plan your holiday email marketing well in advance. An effective email marketing campaign is not a handful of messages sent at the right time, but the strategically timed release of multiple emails. The earlier you start, the more people you can reach, and the more time you’ll have to prepare a quality marketing campaign with content that will entice clients and prospects.

Choosing when to begin your holiday marketing is dependent on your business, your consumers, and what you are promoting. However, research has shown that marketers should be prepared to start their email campaigns between November 1st and 15th to take advantage of strong open rates and holiday shopping budgets. Keep in mind that email marketing volumes typically spike around Black Friday and Cyber Monday, so you’ll be facing much more competition than usual.

While you may be at a disadvantage compared to businesses who started weeks ago, it’s not too late to launch your email campaign now. Although the big push for holiday shopping begins at the end of November, the second busiest shopping day of the year is the Saturday before Christmas. Depending on your business, you can continue to send last-minute offers up to and including Christmas Eve.

Craft Killer Subject Lines

If you want people to open your holiday marketing emails, you need strong subject lines. First and foremost, an email subject line should be short, straightforward, and informative, clearly conveying your message and letting customers know what they can expect to find inside. This time of year, you’ll need to go the extra mile to get attention in overcrowded inboxes.

Tap into the holiday spirit by referring explicitly to the holidays, using holiday-centric keywords like “Black Friday,” “Happy Holidays,” or “the perfect gift.” If your email application lets you use emoticons, try adding something seasonal like a Christmas tree, turkey, or snowman. Research indicates that using emoji in subject lines results in 56% more opens.

You might try generating curiosity with your subject lines by saying “Free Shipping,” “Exclusive Offer,” and “Surprise,” or choose to create a sense of urgency with keywords like “this week only,” “last few hours,” or “two days to go.”

Consider Holiday-Themed Content

Switching things up with holiday-themed templates and content will help draw attention to your email marketing campaigns. This is especially true for regular email subscribers who are used to seeing branded emails from your business. If you change your website colors and themes to signal the start of a new shopping season, consider doing the same with your email design.

Don’t be afraid to be innovative with your content as well. While you want to make sure your campaign aligns with your brand, focus on timely messaging that reflects the holiday mood. Inject humor or add animation by including interactive elements rather than just plain text and graphics. Using GIFs or videos will grab your clients’ attention and help engage them enough to click through.

Another successful strategy is to create a holiday gift guide featuring popular products or services or holiday specials. You can design your own holiday gift guide right in your email or create a new web page or blog post that showcases relevant products.

Don’t forget to connect your holiday email campaigns to all of your digital marketing platforms. Directing email subscribers to your website and social media channels, and vice versa, will allow you to reach customers wherever they prefer to connect with your brand.

Generate a Sense of Urgency

The holidays are a great opportunity for any business – retail or non-retail – to offer special deals, and creating a sense of urgency via your holiday email campaign is a great way to boost transactions. A limited-time offer entices people to take action now to avoid missing out.

Promote “early bird” pricing for specific products and services, and include last order and shipping dates so people know when to make holiday purchases in order to receive them in time. Many businesses are catching viewers’ attention with bold graphic elements, like displaying a countdown timer along with holiday discount codes. Offering exclusive “insider” or “members only” deals to those already on your email list is not only a great incentive, but a proven strategy for rewarding customer loyalty.

Create a Referral Program

Word of mouth is an effective tool for generating buzz by sparking customer interest, excitement, and conversation. Consider using your holiday email campaign to give existing customers the opportunity to save or earn money by referring a friend.

For example, you might say you’re celebrating the season by offering free gifts to clients and anyone they get to make a purchase. Encourage customers to get one friend to sign up for your e-newsletter to get 10% off their next order, two friends for 20% off, etc. Enter everyone who provides a referral into a drawing to win a valuable prize. If you are delivering quality products or services, customers will jump at the chance to spread the word about your brand. However, keep in mind that pushing for referrals is the surest way to break your customers’ trust and ultimately lose their business.

Taking a strategic and thoughtful approach to using email during the holiday season will help differentiate your business from competitors who will be overwhelming customers and prospects with non-stop promotions – and translate into more sales as the season unfolds.

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