Holiday Season Already? Early Season Tactics to Try

Still on the fence about sending an early holiday campaign?

In my last post, I dove into some of the wider trends associated with early seasonal emails. In this post, I’ll detail a few considerations and highlight the first, best, and worst campaigns that came through during the 2015 season for each brand we reviewed.

Since I’m highlighting 18 campaigns in this post, I’ll save you the scroll and provide some top level findings first.

A few things to consider before unleashing the pine scented emails:

  • Locally sourced fair trade Santa? Early holiday campaigns may not quite score you cool points with subscribers. Depending on the demographic that you’re courting, sending holiday-themed emails may damage cache and contribute to a disconnect moving into the prime holiday season.
  • The flipside: Of course there are always those folks out there that have been counting down the days since January 1st and who are looking to knock their list out early and save a few bucks in the process.
  • Consider targeting: If you have the ability to leverage past purchasing behavior for targeting, this would be a great time to roll that out. While I personally may not be ready for your holiday emails, I’ve got a friend that is already talking about when it’s socially acceptable to start decorating. You can also include a banner within your creatives with a one-click poll—“Interested in receiving early holiday offers and promotions?” Those who love the holidays may lock in on to those holiday colors and snowflakes and click away.
  • And so we test: We’re email marketers. We always test… or at least we feel guilty knowing that we should test even though we don’t. If you can, do it. If you can’t, consider starting small then review your results and take notes for next year.
  • Track complaints: If you see a jump in complaints that is out of the ordinary, pull back. A jump in complaints is a clear indicator that the email isn’t wanted or appreciated so take the hint and save yourself a frantic call to Return Path to save your inbox placement and campaign performance.

Anecdotal Findings:

The following section includes suggestions on what to include (or steer clear from) when putting together early holiday campaigns. These findings are based on the review conducted, so be sure to consider your brand, subscribers, and past successes when determining what may work for your program.

  • Avoid talking about the work ahead: Campaigns with subject lines that insinuated effort on behalf of the reader (like extensive reading, sending holiday cards, preparing, etc.) were far more likely to end up in the “Holiday Bomb” category rather than “Holiday Bests”. The holidays are wonderful, but also include a lot of to-do’s for many people. Consider letting your subscribers come up with their own to do lists, especially when it comes to early holiday promotions.
  • Trigger the imagination: Campaigns that kept it light and inspirational seemed to land well with our featured brands’ subscribers. The smell of cookies, the pine and cinnamon, the nip in the air… If you’re emailing about the holiday season in September or October, best highlight the things we can get excited about rather than focusing on the chores.
  • Avoid commands: More heavy-handed copy with prominent commands seemed to fall flat. I could be projecting, but I just don’t think we’re ready to get yelled at about the holidays in September, October, and Early November.
  • Ease up the pressure: We saw several campaigns come through that may have unintentionally alienated subscribers or layered in some extra holiday pressure. Tread lightly with subject lines and content that may be misinterpreted. We all want a Pinterest-inspired, Instagram-worthy holiday, but definitely don’t make us feel guilty or insecure about it. While it may hurt campaign performance, the greater cost is the damage brand affinity.
  • Consider double duty subject lines: On multiple occasions, brands that mixed up holiday themes did well for themselves. Sending a winter holiday-themed campaign in late October? “Treat” subscribers to messaging that tips the hat to the holiday at hand.

Now let’s take a look at some of these tactics at play with the brands featured in this review. For each brand, we’ll look at the first holiday campaign seen, the top performing holiday campaign, and the holiday campaign that bombed.

For this section, we looked at campaigns sent from 9/1/15 through 11/15/15.

Hobby Lobby

The First:hobby-lobby-first-1


It’s Time to Pack a Shoebox! Operation Christmas Child

21 percent read rate

This initial holiday campaign had an altruistic focus and was sent both in the end of September and the end of October. While the creative included a coupon, the focus was on giving rather than buying—helping it stand out.


The Best:hobby-lobby-best-1


Christmas Items NOW 50% Off!

22 percent read rate

This classic sales campaign featured an aggressive offer and a clear emphasis on the holidays.


The Bomb:hobby-lobby-bomb


A Story of Christmas Savings

15 percent read rate

The inbox is a busy place and featuring a subject line that hints at an involved read clearly was not the most compelling. Can we skip the whole “story” and get right to the savings?



The First:nordstrom-first


Get festive! Holiday décor & more

16 percent read rate

The cool response to this campaign likely indicates that subscribers weren’t quite ready for the excitable command of “Get Festive!” Maybe “Ready to Get Festive?” would have driven better results.


The Best:nordstrom-best


Bobbi Brown holiday collection + a treat with your purchase

37 percent read rate

Interestingly, this holiday themed campaign went out on Halloween but still showed fantastic performance. Though the content was oriented around winter holidays, the mention of “a treat” acted as a great crossover for Halloween.


The Bomb:nordstrom-bomb-plus


Plus-size holiday style for all occasions

11 percent read rate

This plus size campaign showed very low read rates for the brand. Perhaps the tone or targeting rules were misaligned and rubbed subscribers the wrong way.


Pier 1 Imports 

The First and Best: pier-1-first-and-best


Christmas is in the air.

32 percent read rate

This subject line speaks to the coming season while piquing interest. It conveys holiday spirit without speaking to the tasks and pressures that often come hand in hand with holiday trappings. If you’re looking for simple and effective subject line inspiration for an early campaign, this is a good start.


The Bomb:pier-1-bomb


Get in the holiday spirit with today’s Daily Deal

20 percent read rate

Unless “daily deals” are part of your standard business model, this type of content can be off-putting. This subject line implies that subscribers are about to be bombarded with daily holiday campaigns. Not exactly a warm welcome to November for some.



The First: shutterfly-first


Oh joy! Get _ free cards + a holiday sneak peak.

14 percent read rate

Both the first holiday campaign and the holiday bomb may have fallen victim to the same subject line challenge. There is an inevitable amount of work that goes into sending out holiday cards. Reminding subscribers of the holiday work ahead and punctuating that with “Oh joy!” didn’t seem to have the desired effect.


The Best: shutterfly-best


50% off to welcome you back for the holidays.

32 percent read rate

Staring with strong a offer and continuing with a warm welcome of subscribers and the holidays made for a nice combination.


The Bomb: shutterfly-bomb


Get the holidays started with _ free cards.

13 percent read rate

As mentioned above, reminding subscribers of something often considered to be part of the holiday chores list did not appear to inspire strong read rates.


Toys R Us

The First: toysrus-first


Countdown to Christmas! Our Holiday Catalog Will Be Here Soon!

15 percent read rate

This campaign showed fair performance. Not good, not bad… perhaps inspiring excited clicks from some and eye rolls from others.


The Best: toysrus-best


For You & Baby! FREE Dr. Brown Christmas Bottle & Pacifier with Coupon

18 percent read rate

It’s hard to go wrong when you offer a free seasonal bottle/pacifier combo to new parents just in time for the holidays. “Giving free bottles to babies” just may be the new “taking candy from babies”.


The Bomb: toysrus-bomb


Simply the Best for You & Baby! 25% OFF ALL _ Christmas _

8 percent read rate

Given the high performance of the 11/1 “baby” themed holiday campaign, we may want to chalk the performance of this campaign up to poor targeting. As mentioned in the “Anecdotal Findings” section above, the “simply the best” messaging may have struck the wrong cord for families doing their best to make their babies first holiday a memorable one.


Victoria’s Secret

The First: victorias-secret-first


Dream big in new holiday-ready PJ’s!

18 percent read rate

This campaign drove a lukewarm response from subscribers. It’s interesting to consider whether a lighter touch would have been more effective. Maybe something along the lines of “Holiday-ready PJ’s! Cozy or Sexy? Your choice.”


The Best: victorias-secret-best


For your holiday haul—free weekender bag!

28 percent read rate

While subtle, this campaign included a nod to Halloween as well. Though it may have been unintentional, “Holiday haul” evokes memories of post-Halloween candy sorting.


The Bomb: victorias-secret-bomb


Get hot for the holidays. Lingerie, fragrance & nothing more…

15 percent read rate

Again with the commands… I love you, Victoria’s Secret, but don’t tell me what to do, especially right after I just wolfed down a handful of Halloween “bite-sized” candy bars.

Interested in more email insight? Join us this fall for our Return Path World Tour.



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