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Deck the emails

With Christmas fast approaching, many publishers will have already finalised their marketing plans over the festive period. But, writes Adestra’s Serena Elston, it’s not too late to make sure that your email marketing stands out from the crowd this Christmas.

By Serena Elston

Across the UK, many companies are poised and ready to add a simple Santa hat and some holly to their website, or a bit of tinsel hanging off the corporate logo. Is this electronic version of getting the Christmas lights out all it takes to inject some festive cheer into email communications and really maximise on opportunity over the period? Not quite. There is a little more to it and a few elements to be avoided.

As the Christmas season approaches, marketing managers far and wide are working on their festive promotions to capitalise on the peak sales period. From B2B marketers working on corporate gifts, to B2C marketers looking to make the most of festive offers, it all comes down to making sure you’re being relevant, encouraging sharing and standing out from the crowd. It’s not too late to plan - to ensure you are communicating appropriately with all your different recipients.

1. Relevance: just because it’s Christmas, it doesn’t mean that everyone is interested in everything Christmassy. Making sure your email content and editorial is relevant to your recipients is still key to keep that engagement going over the Christmas period. Making your email newsletter designs festive will inject some humour into your newsletter but this is not appropriate for all brands. Make sure your redesign will not cheapen your content and does not detract from your core brand values. As the voice of each newsletter is its personality, don’t be afraid to include mentions of invitations received / parties attended (after all, in some cases you may need to explain some rather sub-par editorial performances!).

2. Christmas is for sharing: people are more likely to share Christmas offers and email content with others over this period – use this to your advantage. Encourage people to forward your message on – this can often be done with an incentive e.g. “Share this with your friends to enter our Christmas prize draw for a free subscription of your choice for 2012”. This will then broaden your reach to like-minded recipients. Do also include a call to action to sign up for email communications on the forwarded email and you’ve then created a data-capture opportunity to expand your audience.

3. Try something different: if there is a time to try something different Christmas is definitely it. Perhaps a longer bumper Christmas issue or a choice of covers on their subscription with a slightly different feature in each. Good Food and Sainsbury’s magazines broke records by using these techniques. Trying something new in your emails too could make you stand out in the inbox and boost your open rate over the period.

4. Testing: if you do try something different, make sure you test it! Is it worth your effort changing your email content and design for Christmas or do people just want to receive your normal content that they subscribe to? This depends on your subject matter and readership. It’s always worth checking when you make major changes – a split test to a portion of your audience could give you the answer.

5. Christmas subscription emails for B2C: many people buy subscriptions as Christmas gifts for their friends and families. Record this valuable information and then you can remind them to renew it in the lead up to Christmas next year. If they’ve bought a subscription for others once, they’re likely to again.

6. It only takes tweaks: Simple tweaks to images within your emails allow you to almost ‘gift wrap’ your content. This low-cost method has been used by Google for a number of years, simply by dressing their website, so a simple, effective and consistent theme can be used both on site and in your email. Remember to try and include this in the preview pane (top 200 pixels of your email are often visible before the recipient has decided to open).

7. Warn subscribers about editorial breaks: Let subscribers know well in advance if you’re planning an editorial break. They will know not to expect new issues, otherwise it looks like you are ignoring them. Also it is a good idea to warn new subscribers, otherwise people signing up to your email promotion over the Christmas break will be expecting to receive communications from you when you’re not there!

8. Not everyone celebrates: Remember, not everyone celebrates Christmas as a national holiday. For international organisations, many of your contacts in the Middle East for example will be working hard over Christmas and won’t want reminding that you’re not working! If you have this data available suppress them from receiving your Christmas based emails – however they might still like to receive this if it includes offers!

9. Don’t forget email signatures: Across your teams, they’ll be sending hundreds of emails to clients, prospects and partners - encourage them to include a simple and consistent festive message within their email signature, while of course sticking to your core brand values. Not only is it free, but the potential reach is huge. Remember to keep this simple as images can often get stripped out as attachments meaning your message could be lost.

10. Timing: Adding festive messages to your email newsletter after a competitor has done it to theirs will make you look ‘me-too’ and unoriginal. Equally, don’t go too early. Ideally your festive messages should start at the beginning of December - it is a bit like supermarket Christmas music - if it starts too early it becomes tired and irritating. Remember, you are trying to reflect the festive mood not lead it. If your company has a break between Christmas and New Year, don’t forget to take your Christmas messages down and perhaps replace them with New Year messages. Otherwise, your website will look as stale as a leftover turkey sandwich.

Remember this Christmas to do something that makes you stand out from the crowd, but continue to be relevant, otherwise you risk alienating people. Lastly, remember Christmas is all about sharing. Have a happy Christmas.