If you haven't begun planning your holiday campaigns, then you're already behind. The first salvo of holiday email marketing has already been fired, with 8% of major online retailers having already mentioned the holidays in their email campaigns. While most of those were running "Christmas in July" campaigns, a few were just getting in early references to be top of mind later in the season. August is traditionally a non-event for holiday marketing, but September will mark the beginning of a continued effort to win holiday sales that will continue into January.
As discussed in the recently released Retail Email Guide to the Holiday Season, holiday messaging goes through 18 phases:
1. Secondary Holiday Messaging. These take the form of boxes and banners that accompany non-holiday primary messages. Popular early references to the holidays include promotions of Christmas catalogs and pre-orders of highly anticipated holiday products.
2. Primary Holiday Messaging. Emails with primary holiday references generally start arriving in earnest in the days leading up to Halloween. These emails promote pre-holiday clearance sales, holiday collections and catalogs, gift ideas and services, and much more.
3. Thanksgiving Day Sales. Starting on the Monday before Thanksgiving and running until Turkey Day itself, retailers send emails promoting online-only sales, looking to take advantage of offline retailers being closed on Thanksgiving Day.
4. Black Friday Campaigns. Also starting on the Monday before Thanksgiving, retailers begin promoting their "Black Friday" or "After-Thanksgiving" sales. For retailers with stores, this messaging usually highlights store hours for Friday and promotes doorbusters -- those deep-discount, limited-quantity products available on a "first come, first served" basis.
5. Cyber Monday Campaigns. For the past two years, Cyber Monday has been the most popular retail email day of the year. Last year, 70% of major online retailers sent at least one email on the Monday after Thanksgiving.
6. "X Days of Christmas" Campaigns. About 19% of retailers ran one of these campaigns last year, with the majority of those being "12 Days" campaigns. Although retailers used a variety of start dates for the "12 Days" campaigns, the majority started around Dec. 1.
7. Deadline to Order Special Products. There are a number of products that take extra time to prepare and ship, including personalized and oversized products.
8. The End of Standard Shipping. There were quite a few outliers, but for the majority of retailers, Dec. 16-20 was the cutoff for guaranteed delivery for Christmas with standard shipping.
9. The End of Express Shipping & Guaranteed Christmas Delivery. The order deadlines for retailers' express shipping -- whether it's 3-day, 2-day or overnight shipping -- varied from Dec. 18 to Dec. 24 for the most part.
10. Shop at Your Local Store. Another last-minute option for those of you with brick-and-mortar locations is to promote your store locator, store hours and store-only deals.
11. In-Store Pickup Programs. If you have a "buy online, pick up in-store" or "ship to store" service to fulfill online orders from your stores, that's also a great way to encourage store visits during the days before Christmas and also create upsell opportunities.
12. E-Gift Cards. During the three days before Christmas (Dec. 22-24), 20% or more of all the emails tracked via the Retail Email Blog promoted e-gift cards -- some referring to them as the "ultimate last-minute gift."
13. E-Card Gift Announcements. For those shoppers who don't need gifts to arrive by Christmas or would prefer to avoid paying for express shipping, sending an e-card announcement may be attractive. It allows the gift buyer to send an email letting the recipient know that a gift is on its way.
14. Season's Greetings. If you'd like to take a soft-sell approach, consider sending a season's greeting email on Christmas Day or just before it. More than 14% of major online retailers used this tactic last year, up from less than 10% in 2007.
15. Christmas Day Sales. Just like on Thanksgiving Day, some retailers promote online-only one-day sales on Christmas Day, when most stores are closed.
16. After-Christmas Sales. Nearly every major retailer holds an after-Christmas sale and promotes it via email, starting on Dec. 26.
17. Redemption of Gift Cards. Last year, 15% of major online retailers sent at least one email encouraging subscribers to redeem their gift cards, with 53% of those sending more than one email including that message.
18. Follow-Ups and Upsell Opportunities. Lastly, some retailers tried to create incremental sales and engagement by building off gifts that subscribers may have received.
How many of these phases do you use in your holiday campaigns? Start planning now so that your messaging is optimized throughout every phase of the holiday season.