5 steps to make email marketing effective this holiday season

Banner for the blog on holiday email marketing.

Every year, the holiday season sees a torrent of emails flooding recipients’ inboxes, resulting in an increase in subscribes, opt-outs, and so on. The holidays are the time where you enter the race and either finish with maximum ROI or get lost in the deluge of other emails.

Emerging victorious from this challenging season is impossible without properly planning and executing your email marketing strategies. Our Expert Diaries 26 began the trend and today we’re taking it forward with some steps that you can employ for your upcoming holiday email marketing endeavors.

Know your contacts

Step 1:  Know your contacts 

First thing’s first, you need to plan your holiday email campaigns long before the holiday season. If you wait until the last minute, you might still be figuring out the right audience while all your competitors are already in their inboxes. Fortunately, you have numerous mediums to gauge the tastes and preferences of your audience. Let’s look at some of them.

Signup and pop-up forms 

Designing signup forms and pop-up forms that offer contacts a holiday email discount is a great way to learn about your most-interested audience. Include fields and sections that can fetch details like their geographical location and favorite topics.

Make the most of these incoming subscribers by creating new and specific mailing lists that include them. You can then associate these lists to your welcome series workflows or requisite ecommerce workflows based on their interaction with the form. If you are interested in a more direct approach, you can directly associate these forms to the necessary workflows created for the holiday season.

Try to pique curiosity among your contacts while gauging their interests. Let this information influence your email marketing over the holiday season and after.

Holiday season survey 

Now that you have a plan to learn about and acquire new contacts, what about the existing contacts in your mailing lists? How can you know if their tastes have changed?

Quite simple—try to conduct a holiday season survey including questions related to topics and preferences, such as what kind of emails they want to read and when they want to read them. Conducting a survey also allows you to create new segments among existing contacts. These will probably get you some engagement for the remaining season. Additionally, just like forms, you can add surveys to your workflows for a well-synchronized email marketing structure.

Manage your contacts

Step 2: Manage your contacts 

Your aim should be to reach out to only the active or recent contacts with your holiday email campaigns, because the possibility of getting meaningful metrics from them is higher. However, contact management doesn’t just mean cleaning your lists—it also includes accurately categorizing your contacts. This will ensure that the right campaigns are sent to the right contacts to achieve the required engagement.

Topic management

Your contacts will usually have varied tastes and preferences. However, certain content will be common among many of them. Each of these types of content can be considered Topics. The goal now is to try and understand which contact wants what content. For example, certain contacts might be interested in newsletters while others will be interested in webinars. And the ones interested in newsletters might say that they want to receive newsletters only about a specific product under your brand, not all newsletters you offer.

This specificity naturally makes it hectic for the email marketer to provide accurate content to every contact. But with the “topic management” feature, you can designate more than one specific topic to each contact.

In order to cater the content aligned to the preferences of your contacts for a period of time, you can include them in your workflows. It’s quite normal for contacts to over a period of time,  so you can include a topic every time you send out a message in the ongoing workflow. After all, your email marketing should be based on the behavioral pattern of your contacts.

List management

Whether you send out campaigns throughout the year or only engage with contacts seasonally or during holidays, you always check your reports, don’t you?

Well, if not, start doing so, because reports will project the engagement metrics of your campaigns among contacts. Try to keep contacts who never open your emails out of your lists. Include only the contacts who regularly or occasionally open your emails.

It’s not necessary to send out holiday season emails only to those contacts who have been active throughout the year. Sometimes even partly or relatively less-active contacts can be included in re-engagement campaigns. You have to carefully create separate lists based on the frequency of your contacts’ engagement.

Make these lists effective by engaging them in appropriate holiday season series. This will help you send appropriate emails to each list and associate them with the appropriate workflows when required.


Often you’ll have contacts in the same mailing list with similarities in geographical locations, purchasing history, lead status, and more. You can take advantage of these similarities by creating segments within that same list and carefully categorizing each contact. This sets you up to target them with content created specifically for their situation.

For instance, say you have a group of contacts, and while some of them have shown interest in your products and services, others haven’t. Among these contacts you can see who is a qualified lead and who isn’t based on their behavior and then create segments accordingly. Next, you can send coupon-based emails to the qualified leads while the rest can still be a part of your nurture series.

Segment your contacts according to their geographical locations and experience more accurate email marketing with geotargetting. Your content can be specific to a country, state, or even street. We’ll talk more about creating content for geotargeted emails in the next step.

Step 3:  Carefully craft your email with appropriate content and designs

The content and design of your emails determine engagement and interaction. A relevant approach can bring much-needed attention whereas an off-track word can irk contacts. Crafting an email during the holiday season should be done keeping in mind certain factors like contact preferences, avoiding spammy elements, not flooding contact inboxes, and more.

Carefully craft your email with appropriate content and designs

Email content 

Within a wider scope, email content includes everything from the sender name to the footer. As you know, there is an influx of emails during the holiday season, so if you want to engage your audience, every element of your email should resonate with the message you are conveying.

Provide the name of the sender and the brand as sender details so that the contacts can recognize your emails instantly despite getting innumerable emails. Try to align your subject line and preheader to the specific holiday theme. Do this carefully as most of the holidays are celebrated in quick succession—for example, Black Friday, Small Business Saturday, and Cyber Monday.

Try out merge tags for personalization and engagement in a time when your emails are prone to get lost among others. Be positive and giving with your content as much as possible, as that is what holidays are for—write subject lines like, “Make this Cyber Monday your fun day” and increase curiosity while providing an incentive.

Email design  

Emails during this season have to convey the idea of your brand and the spirit of the holidays. Combine your brand’s main color(s) with no more than two colors that are associated with that particular holiday. Try to keep a simpler approach as you’ll want your emails to be instantly accepted by the recipients’ server. A minimalistic email design also decreases the loading time of the email and makes the entire message visible irrespective of the platform.

Be careful to put no more than two images in your email, one of which should be your brand logo. Adopt a strategy of including CTA buttons and discounts that are clearly visible in the email. Making it easier for your contacts to read the email can accelerate purchases.

Much of your time during the holiday season might go into planning and strategizing, resulting in you not being able to invest time in designing email templates. This is when pre-designed templates come in handy, and with Zoho Campaigns, you can choose predesigned templates specially created for different holidays celebrated in different parts of the world.

Employ email marketing automation

Step 4 : Employ email marketing automation

Contacts in your mailing lists will likely have different behavioral patterns and purchasing histories. Some might be new contacts whereas others are certainly old customers. Some are seasonal enthusiasts and others happen to be seasoned purchasers. Even still, contacts and their behavior might vary—the holiday season radar mustn’t ignore any of the contacts. 

So, how do you aim to communicate with such a dynamic group of people all at once?

Simple—you should target them with the most appropriate email series using workflows.

Welcoming and onboarding series 

For the new contacts in your mailing lists, your most obvious approach should be to introduce them to your brand and take communication forward. Create a special signup or pop-up form for the holiday season and associate it with a workflow series. Then send relevant emails to them at each stage.

  • Stage 1: Begin with a welcome note and let them know how grateful you are for their business.

  • Stage 2: Follow it up with educational material and webinar invitations to help them make better choices with your brand.

  • Stage 3: After informing the contacts, nudge them to make a purchase by offering good seasonal discounts.

These series look to establish brand awareness among contacts and ensure that you realize the potential of each contact and engage accordingly over the next few months.

Re-engagement series 

Ask an email marketer about reminding contacts or updating them about an upcoming offer or sale and the examples would be endless. Re-engagement campaigns aren’t necessarily meant for inactive contacts alone. They are also meant to remind every contact about your brand’s existence, sometimes in the guise of cross-selling and upselling. You can approach this series with a cleverly engineered set of mechanisms.

  • Stage 1: Bring a set of fairly active contacts into your workflows and ensure that they are active enough for engagement.

  • Stage 2: Introduce the usefulness of a new product or the benefits of an upcoming sale, and provide a requisite CTA button to help them visit the website for more information.

  • Stage 3: The contacts who have already shown interest can be given coupons, whereas the unresponsive contacts can be provided with another reminder email along with a coupon.

  • Stage 4: Categorize all the active contacts after the second set of emails and put them in a separate list. Let the inactive contacts exit the workflows, and then put them in a separate list.

  • Stage 5: Now that you have the list of active contacts, you can continue your holiday email marketing with them.

Ecommerce-related series 

One industry that regularly sees steady traffic during the holiday season is the ecommerce industry. Not only are customers buying products online more often, they’re also abandoning carts with greater regularity. You as an email marketer need to capitalize on this. If a purchase is made, you should send out purchase follow-up emails. If a purchase is incomplete, you should send timely reminders with a series of cart abandonment emails. Let’s take a look at how you can make the most from someone abandoning a cart.

  • Stage 1: Integrate your ecommerce platform with your email marketing platform (Zoho Campaigns).

  • Stage 2: Associate a workflow that is automatically triggered the moment someone leaves your shop without buying the selected product.

  • Stage 3: Begin the “Cart abandonment” series with an initial reminder email, and then provide a requisite CTA button to help them return and complete the purchase.

  • Stage 4: If your reminder email doesn’t work well, provide incentives like shipping and delivery-related offers on the purchase.

  • Stage 5: Send the third reminder email informing them about the benefits of their chosen product and how they can complete the purchase.

Analytics and evaluation


Step 5: Analytics and evaluation 

Evaluating your campaigns’ success and failure is vital to both the holiday season as well as the next season. Your metrics, such as open rates, clickthrough rates, unsubscribes, unopens, and others, speak silently about your strategy. All these tell you who your active contacts are, when it’s a good time to send emails, which topics worked well, and what you shouldn’t repeat. Take a look at your reports to get a clearer picture.

The evaluation of your email marketing practices can be best understood by looking at the campaigns sent by you. For example, the campaigns-based report provides you an all-round projection of how well your contacts interacted with your campaigns.

Holidays and festivities can be common across regions differing in cultural practices.  You implement personalization in your email campaigns to ensure that you reach out to all these regions equally. With the location-based analytics in a campaigns-based report, you will be able to gauge how well your holiday campaigns performed in these different locations based on the engagement metrics they have fetched.

Last 30 Days 

A holiday email campaign series sent within a span of 30 days can be demanding. In order to check the cumulative “Open” and “Click” rates, you are required to check the report for each campaign sent during this period. Fortunately, the “Last 30 Days” feature in reports provides you the cumulative result without much hassle.


With the “Comparison” feature, you can check your holiday season engagement metric compared to the rest of the year or previous year. This will tell you whether your strategies worked or failed.

List-based reports 

Every contact in your holiday email list might be an active contact, but it’s not necessary that they will show the same enthusiasm every time. With list-based reports, you will be able to see how many of them have interacted with your holiday emails and who all decided to ignore them.


With every passing holiday season, the importance of email marketing seems to increase. People wait eagerly to read a catchy subject line or receive a worthwhile offer. In other words, it’s the usefulness of the medium that makes it so popular, and now you also know how to strategize your holiday campaign. It’s only a matter of time before you see a difference.


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