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Prepare your holiday marketing playbook today with these 5 insights-driven tips

October 19, 2023

By: Rima Deming (principal marketing strategist), Georgia Gkolfinopoulou (marketing strategist), Yanling Meng (marketing strategist)

It seems that every year, the holiday promotions season starts earlier and earlier. But it’s never too early to start developing the marketing strategies and techniques that will drive revenue and engagement for the busiest shopping period of the year.

Last year’s holiday marketing efforts surfaced a number of valuable insights that can help marketers create campaigns that convert in the months ahead. These insights and suggestions can be found in Marigold’s recently released 2023 Effective Holiday Marketing Playbook, highlighting the actionable steps any marketer can take right now based on what worked, and what didn’t, in years past.

This included details on the content, the features, and the tactics brands are using to successfully gain traction with customers today.

1. Content: Cash is King

When it comes to the content in holiday promotion messaging, details around pricing, discounts, and other financial incentives are the most effective.

We found that price was mentioned in 50% of the email campaigns deployed, and percentage-off was the most popular discount that brands mentioned in their emails. Other related insights include:

  • 80% of emails sent included promotional content and a specific type of discount
  • 40% of emails included a free delivery as a promotional method and did not require a minimum spend
  • 25% of brands deployed email campaigns that included coupons or offer codes

This focus on price and savings also extends to the topics driving the most engagement rates, such as subject lines and click rates. Among the topics ranked as driving the best open rates, price mentions led the way, with 67% of brands reporting this as the top-performing subject line. Free shipping was a close second at 62%.

As for the email body, incentives like gift cards, store locators, and yes… price also make a difference. Emails that mentioned gift cards within the email body had a 48% uplift in click rate, with store locators generating a 15% lift.

In addition to great promotions and offers, it’s also important to give customers more choice over their preferred method of shopping. This means not restricting discounts or promotions to only in-store or online, but rather allowing customers to choose the best path for themselves. Only 6% of the brands we analyzed restricted customers to a specific shopping method. Of these, 98% restricted options to online only, rather than in-store (2%).

Takeaway: Be sure to include any information on deep discounts, specific types of discounts, coupons and offer codes, and free delivery. Incorporating holiday-oriented phrases such as "exclusive holiday deal" or "last chance to save” may also work to get the attention of recipients and embolden them to take immediate action.

2. Content: Get in the spirit

Price aside, many customers respond well to holiday-themed emails that evoke a sense of excitement, nostalgia and sentimentality. Themed emails remind them of their own special traditions, while helping them create emotional connections with their favorite brands.

According to our research, retailers begin sending themed emails in early October. Black Friday-specific themed campaigns peaked in the first week of November, and Thanksgiving campaigns followed the same trend, with some brands deploying campaigns using Thanksgiving content and themes in early October.

  • 55% of brands chose to incorporate a holiday-themed creative in conjunction with their regular theme
  • 20% of marketers deployed campaigns with creatives dedicated to the holiday season
  • 18% of brands deployed email campaigns with holiday-specific themes during Black Friday and Cyber Monday

Takeaway: By providing a delightful and personalized shopping experience during this special time of year, brands can tap into their customers’ holiday spirit, while taking full advantage of the creativity the season offers. Themed designs that include heartwarming visuals and festive colors provide consumers with an engaging experience that encourages them to take advantage of the offers presented.

3. Features: Interactivity and animation elevate email engagement

Customers love animation and visually engaging templates, so long as the content is displayed correctly across devices and platforms. According to our study, approximately 23% of emails included some type of animation.

Done correctly, these animations can draw attention to specific offers, products or calls-to-action as well as assist in communicating complex ideas in an engaging and visually appealing manner.

However, be sure to implement animated elements with restraint. Excessive animations will result in slower loading times and negatively impact the customer experience. Be sure to test and optimize animated emails across various devices and email clients to avoid any blowback.

Takeaway: Incorporate animations into holiday marketing to add excitement and creativity to otherwise static messaging. Animations include GIFs, video, or interactive visuals, used as both main or background images, as well as text highlights and other implementations.

4. Features: It’s a mobile-first world

Smartphones, tablets and other mobile devices allow consumers to not only receive promotional messages on-the-go, but also make immediate purchases as well. This shift has transformed marketing strategies of all kinds, holiday marketing included.

Embracing mobile marketing, allows brands to not only expand reach and boost engagement, but also build deeper connections with customers. But only 23% of emails we analyzed included a mobile-related promotion. So now’s the time to make mobile optimization a priority, to provide an innovative and personalized way to engage customers in a timely fashion on their device of choice.

Takeaway: Create mobile-responsive websites, apps, and mobile-friendly email campaigns as a first step. More advanced optimization includes location-based targeting, real-time engagement and personalized content, campaigns that include mobile push notifications, SMS marketing, and in-app promotion.

5. Tactics: Timing is everything

Timing can make a big impact with holiday marketing, both good and bad. Remember, the holidays are busy, sometimes even stressful. Consumers are inundated with promotions from dozens or even hundreds of brands.

So it’s important to take every advantage to stay top-of-mind amid this competitive environment. That means understanding the preferences and behaviors of your audience, segmenting email lists, and leveraging data-driven insights can help optimize the timing of holiday emails.

In general, most companies send email between 8 a.m. and 12 p.m. (depending on the time zone), while fewer (25%) send emails between 4 p.m. and 8 p.m. But don’t send more than two emails a day. While up to two same-day sends can increase engagement, anything more than two emails on the same day can negatively impact engagement performance.

As for holiday-specific timing, sending promotional emails on Black Friday (not just over the days leading up to it) can be a game-changer for brands doing it right. We found that customer engagement peaks the week before Thanksgiving and the week before New Year’s Eve, while customers are least engaged during the third week of December.

Takeaway: Consumers are proactively looking for the best deals and promotions during the holidays. A timely and compelling email that meets this demand can have an outsized impact, with real-time offers, flash sales and limited-time discounts, creating a sense of urgency and excitement for customers.

While consumers may only just now be starting their gift lists and holiday plans, forward-looking retailers hoping to serve them when the time comes are developing their marketing strategies now.

Whether you're a small business owner looking to maximize sales or a seasoned marketer aiming to revamp your holiday campaigns, Marigold’s 2023 Effective Holiday Marketing Playbook provides the knowledge and tools necessary to stand out from the competition and help you create a lasting impact.

Download it free from Marigold today.


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