Ghosts of Campaigns Past: Learning from Last Year's Holiday Email Trends

By assessing previous campaign strategies and their results, marketers can determine which holiday email tactics will likely resonate with consumers and increase brand engagement in 2015.

Despite the dog days of summer, visions of sugarplums are already dancing in the heads of many marketers. When it comes to email marketing, the holiday season presents an extended opportunity to engage shoppers and drive sales. However, marketers often struggle each year to develop holiday campaigns that strike the proper balance between relevancy and creativity to prevent fatigue and sustain interest.

Yesmail Interactive's recent "Engagement and Deliverability for Holiday-Themed Email" report examines key email metrics from top retailers, which reveal dominant trends and takeaways that companies should consider when developing their 2015 holiday season email marketing strategies. Researchers analyzed the themes and performance of email campaigns from 30 major brands throughout the latter half of 2014 by using search terms (i.e. 'Halloween' and 'Black Friday') to identify messages dedicated to specific holidays in order to compare their effectiveness to base marketing campaigns during the same period.

The following statistics offer marketers insight into the types of email campaign tactics that have been successful in the past for future planning:

  • In 2014, 83 percent of brands deployed general holiday campaigns (i.e. emails that reference the holiday or winter season without specifying one exact occasion), while Black Friday (73 percent) was the most prevalent email holiday in 2013. Halloween-themed email campaigns, however, were least popular among marketers in both 2013 and 2014 (23 percent and 33 percent respectively).
  • Back-to-school campaigns deployed up to two months prior to the school season faired worse than all base email campaigns (12.5 percent vs. 14.2 percent), while those campaigns deployed closer to the start of the school year (August) garnered open rates 32 percent higher than those sent in July.
  • 2014 Thanksgiving and Black Friday campaigns received better open rates (15.1 percent and 14.8 percent, respectively) during the period directly leading up to the holiday than those deployed further in advance (12.3 percent and 14.1 percent, respectively) since these occasions don't require as much advanced planning or gift giving. These emails ultimately serve as reminders. Halloween-themed campaigns, conversely, fared better in early October (15.2 percent vs. 13.3 percent), garnering increased engagement because the holiday requires preparation.
  • While Cyber Monday emails deployed during the weekend directly before the holiday achieved the highest open rates (14.8 percent), they only faired slightly better that the open rate of base communications (14.7 percent), indicating that consumers may be able to tune out the messages since they assume said emails will follow Black Friday communications.
  • Companies, such as Bass Pro Shop and Macy's, deployed "After Christmas Sale" messages after December 25th, garnering open rates of 21.8 percent and 19.1 percent respectively. Overall, post-Christmas campaigns achieved open rates of 15.7 percent-higher than any period leading up to the holiday-which may be attributed to well-crafted campaigns that addressed the potential needs of consumers.

Key takeaway: Candy corn first hit the shelves in July, indicating that, each year, the holiday season starts even earlier than the one before. Therefore, companies must prepare their campaigns well in advance to ensure that they've created an effective strategy that maximizes consumer engagement and conversions. Preferably, marketers must establish the correct balance between business-as-usual and holiday-themed campaigns in an attempt to reduce fatigue and maintain interest, as it's incredibly easy for customers to unsubscribe from any and all email communications. Marketers should increase email volume gradually during the latter half of the year, while ramping up relevancy based on the given holiday, if they wish to stand out among the competition. Most brands will be enacting the same basic best practices throughout the remainder of the year, meaning marketers will have to rely on relevant timing and creative content to keep their company ahead of the curve. Consumers' inboxes will soon be flooded with a steady stream of marketing messages, so companies must develop targeted strategies that help their brands stand out.