The busy marketer’s guide to the 2014 holiday season

Jeff Slutz


To help your content cut through the clutter all holiday season long, we joined forces with our friends at Outbrain to bring you the latest holiday marketing insights. We analyzed the trends from our customers’ emails during the 2013 holiday season and combined them with key findings from Outbrain’s recent holiday content study.

Smart marketing during the holidays requires equal parts strategic planning, flexibility and peppermint mocha syrup. You're on your own for the sugar rush, but this guide is packed full of insights and advice that can help any marketer make the most of these 9 busiest weeks of the year. Let's dig in. 

Week 1: Make the plan
November 2 - 8

According to Outbrain, marketers delivered the most holiday content during the first half of November in 2013. But consumers’ interaction with holiday content didn’t peak until late November and early December



Just because stores are selling Christmas decorations at Halloween doesn’t mean your marketing needs to follow suit. Make sure your holiday content push aligns with your audience’s timeline, so they can find you when they’re ready. And use the first week or two of November to map out the emails that'll spring subscribers into action. 

Week 2: Fine tune your content for the hustle and bustle
November 9 - 15

Outbrain reports that headlines focused on convenience and holiday inspiration (keywords like “ideas,” “tricks,” “quick,” etc.) have clickthrough rates (CTR) 22% higher than average.

The holidays can be a stressful time for consumers as well as marketers. Serving up some content that will make the holidays a little bit easier keeps readers engaged until it’s time to buy on Cyber Monday, which in 2013 was the biggest online spending day in history. Email marketers should use the language in your email’s subject line and preheader text to convey your key message – no one has time to dig right now.

We're not just busy, we're on the go. More Americans open and click on holiday content from smart phones than from computers during the last three weekends of November and on Christmas Day, according to Outbrain.



When people aren’t chained to their desks, they’re chained to their smart phones. Which makes sense -- we're standing in lines everywhere we go. Design emails for mobile readers and use a responsive email marketing template so your content looks great on any device.

Week 3: Let Thanksgiving have its time to shine
November 16 - 22

Emails sent through Emma the week before Thanksgiving in 2013 had higher open rates than average, and open rates for emails that had the word "sale" in the subject line were 22% higher than average.

Want to do one better? Emails with the word “Thanksgiving” in the subject line sent the week before T-Day had a CTR 48% higher than average [Tweet this]. Outbrain's study had similar findings: Even if Thanksgiving wasn't mentioned specifically, people were 20% more likely to engage with headlines simply related to the holiday.

The lesson? Don’t let Thanksgiving get lost in the Christmas creep! A quick Thanksgiving promotion could have you feasting on big results by the time Turkey Day rolls around.

It’s also two weeks until Cyber Monday, so now’s a good time to have your Cyber Monday emails close to finalized. You won’t want to make wholesale, last-minute changes when you’re mentally and physically checked out over Thanksgiving.

Week 4: Turn up the holiday spirit (and sell, sell, sell!) 
November 23 - 29

In 2013, Outbrain saw holiday content consumption peak on Cyber Monday with 26% more clicks than Sleepy Sunday before it (totally made up) and twice as many as Giving Tuesday after it (a real thing you should totally participate in). Emails sent through Emma with subject lines containing “holiday” had a 21% higher CTR and almost 10% higher open rate than average [Tweet this].

If you haven’t yet, it’s time to roll out that holiday content. People officially have the holidays on the brain and it’s still early enough in the season that they’re not completely burnt out yet.

Cyber Monday gets all the digital love, but online spending on Black Friday has increased 30% year-over-year, and Black Friday 2013 set a new record for online sales. A word to email marketers who have the day off: schedule an automated Black Friday email ahead of time to reach the folks who would rather shop from the comfort of their homes.

Week 5: Don't fall prey to a generic Cyber Monday message
November 30 – December 6

Heads up, retailers: We found that including the words “Cyber Monday” in the subject line of an email sent on Cyber Monday 2013 actually decreased open rates [Tweet this].

Take one look at your own inbox and you’ll know that subscribers are being bombarded with Cyber Monday messages. It’s the perfect time to split test different language in your subject line to see what copy is most effective at standing out in the inbox.

We also found that overall engagement with holiday emails begins a steady decline after the second week of December, so focus your holiday email marketing this week and next – when people are still paying attention.

Don’t forget about Saturday and Sunday! Americans are more likely to click on holiday content on the weekends, according to Outbrain. Put that knowledge to work and set up an automated email series. You can schedule an email to send each Saturday in December to reach your audience with timely holiday content when you’re not working. It's the email marketing equivalent of Santa's elves. 



Week 6: Make it ridiculously easy to buy
December 7 - 13

While November was all about inspiration and convenience, now your audience is ready to shop, so be sure to give an option to buy with every email. Outbrain saw that headlines related to shopping had a 21% higher CTR than other holiday content in 2013. Pro tip: Integrate your email marketing with your online shopping cart (e.g. Shopify) to easily track the ROI of each send.

Another way to capture attention is through video. Outbrain reports that holiday headlines promising video content saw a CTR 27% higher than average throughout the entire 2013 holiday season. Add product videos, testimonials, tutorials or behind-the-scenes vignettes to your emails and promote the video content in your subject line. About 65% of people are visual learners, and videos are an irresistible click magnet.

Week 7: Test for great results
December 14 - 20

Free Shipping Day is December 18, and Hanukkah also begins this week! One of the many great things about Hanukkah: It’s eight days long, which gives you plenty of time to adjust your marketing strategy on the fly. Keep a close eye on your email results and metrics so you can do more of what’s working and less of what’s not. And you really don't know until you test ideas with your own audience.

For example, Outbrain reports that headlines dedicated to Christmas performed 8% worse than average in terms of clicks, but emails sent through Emma with subject lines containing “Greetings” or “Season’s Greetings” were opened 52% more than average.

The lesson? Test, test and test again to see what content your audience responds to.

Week 8: The final countdown
December 21- 27

Last-minute shoppers are feeling the holiday pressure and they’re itching to buy, so tell them straight up that you have a sale. We found that email subject lines containing the word “sale” had a CTR 27% above average during Christmas week [Tweet this].

According to Outbrain, keywords with higher than average CTRs during the second half of December include “videos” (50%), “toys” (36%) and “shopping” (31%). Taking that into account, the perfect late-December subject line MIGHT just be “Videos of toys shopping” but you should probably test it out first. 

Week 9: Celebrate (and libate, because you deserve it)
December 28 - January 3

You’ve survived another hectic holiday season, fellow marketer! Kick back with a Champagne cocktail and get ready to ring in the new year. Or, if you're the overachieving type, share your recipe with your email subscribers as an end-of-year treat. After all, Outbrain reports that headlines containing the word “cocktail” have an 85% CTR during the last two weeks of December.



No matter how you cap off the year, plan on diving into your email results when you're back in the office. You’re bound to learn a whole bunch about your audience that you can apply in 2015. Serving up relevant content at the right moment is the surest way to carve out a permanent place on people's ‘nice’ list.


About the Author

Jeff Slutz

Jeff is a senior content writer at Emma. When he’s not geeking out over email marketing, he enjoys jogging short distances, chowing down on Mom’s cooking, appreciating a beautiful jump shot, and telling anyone who listens how underrated Ohio is. Usually not at the same time.

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