How to Step Up Your Holiday Email Game

By Zoë Courtman-Smith in Direct Marketing on December 9th, 2014

Just because everyone sends a holiday email doesn’t mean yours has to be humdrum. Whether it’s a holiday card or a promotion, here are a few tips to help your season’s greeting stand out.


  1. Write a stand-out subject line.

    As we noted in our holiday marketing success post, retailers send 77% more communications during the holidays. Which means 77% more clutter for your customer to wade through. Since brands are bombarding everyone with sales messages, you’ll need to stand out. A few tips:

    ⛄    Be playfully different. During email testing for one of our clients, we found playful subject lines — without offers — passed the split test, every time. Especially for the holidays, find a way to make your message merry, e.g., instead of yet another Free Shipping! subject line, try Pay for shipping? Scrooge that!

    ⛄    Pique their curiosity. In a Carnegie Mellon University study on email users, more participants opened messages when they had “moderate levels of uncertainty about the contents.” In other words, make ‘em hungry to know more. It’s not hard: just leave a detail out, e.g., The gift that’s not on your list but should be.

    ⛄    Play around with psychology. Our brains value novelty — it’s what gets us to pay attention. We also love surprises. According to an Emory University and Baylor College of Medicine study, the brain’s pleasure centers light up when experiencing unpredictable but pleasant things. Try combining that with personalization to deliver a little holiday surprise, e.g., Hey, XAVIER! We have something for you!

    ⛄    Pick a pre-header that’s better. Think of the pre-header as the persuading party. If your subject line piques their interest, your pre-header helps confirm it. So use one to pay off the other. And since you have more characters to work with in the pre-header, you can give it…well, more character. Add personalization, slide in something funny and unexpected. Or go all direct response on them and repeat your offer.

  2. Give a gift.

    Speaking of gifts, think of your email itself as something of value, a unique and self-contained gift to your audience:

    ⛄    Even if it’s a thank-you-for-your-business email, it should give the gift of great content that’s useful, relevant and fun. (Hey, just because you’re B2B doesn’t mean you can’t be fun. Purchasing officers, design engineers and risk managers like to smile, too.) So inject a humorous subject line, a nifty graphic — something — into your email to bring a smile to your customer’s face.

    ⛄    For promotional emails, give the gift of service and relevance; instead of promoting the kind of gifts you have, try writing to the kind of gift-giver they are (Last-minute Santas, this one’s for you). Include an infographic of products by personality type, send an interactive coupon, offer a discount that really matters. You know, think about the person receiving the email and how you can make their day better.

    ⛄    Either way, make it keep on giving. Your copy or content (don’t know the difference? Read this.) should also give readers a reason to keep going. One tip is to remember the function of each part of your email. The only job of your subject line is to get the open. Your body copy cues up the reader emotionally, the CTA prompts the click through. Your landing page is where the converting happens. So make each step easy for the reader.

  3. Make it social

    ‘Tis the season to be social, right? That goes double for your content. Here’s how to give your message more mileage:

    ⛄    In that holiday success post, we noted 84% of customers look to word-of-mouth reviews when choosing products. So your first step is a no-brainer: include sharing links in product emails AND landing pages. Remember direct response basics, and emphasize the share messaging at the headline, callouts and the CTA. Pre-populate your share copy where possible to make it even easier.

    ⛄    Spread cheer. Seriously, spread it. Researchers at the University of California, San Diego, School of Medicine found that emotions shared online are contagious. In their study, negative Facebook posts prompted roughly 1.29 more negative posts, but positive ones prompted about 1.75 more positive ones. So if you’re a non-profit, for instance, use your email to kick off 12 days of stories via Twitter that show how you’ve touched lives, and watch the goodwill go on and on.

    ⛄    Know who’s sharing what and where. For instance, last year, StatPro  found that “hipsters” are less likely than others to share via email. Those deemed “altruists” share only via email. “Boomerangs” never use email, preferring Twitter and Facebook. Just knowing who you’re emailing helps you control your share-ability. Got hipsters on your email list? They’re innovators, so link out to a clever lander and get the share from there.

One last tip: remember the whole point of the holiday season is fun; your email is another way to help your audience enjoy it all. Even formal greetings don’t have to be stuffy; have fun with your copy, design, layout and colors. Be willing to take a creative risk, say something unique; it’s your annual opportunity to remind your customers (and your competitors) of your products, services and talent.

The holiday email isn’t just a holiday must-do, it’s an annual opportunity to put your brand in front of customers, to get creative and show what a gift you can be to your clients. And that’s saying something. 

Need help spicing up your holiday emails?  Get in touch with our experts today. Happy holidays!