present with red ribbon and brown wrapping

How U.K. and U.S. Brands Tackle Holiday Email Marketing

By Kath Pay

True or false: Christmas is the No. 1 shopping holiday in both the United States and the UK.

Answer: False! Well, sort of.

Did you get it wrong? It would be easy to understand why, especially this time of year as marketers work on their holiday plans and the pressure builds to meet or exceed company revenue goals by the end of the year.

How holiday calendars differ

School spending rules: Christmas is still the biggest shopping holiday in the UK. But, in the U.S., “back to college” has overtaken “winter holidays” (including Christmas, New Year, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa and the winter solstice) as the biggest spending event on the marketing calendar, according to the National Retail Federation’s annual Holiday and Seasonal Trends report.

Halloween is growing as a holiday in the UK, where spending has doubled since 2013 to £419 million. In the U.S., Halloween spending ($9 billion) is in 9th place behind back-to-college/school, winter holidays, Mother’s Day/Father’s Day, Easter, Valentine’s Day, and graduation season but ahead of the Super Bowl (first week in February).

Although the U.S. and UK markets share many cultural, seasonal and religious holidays and marketing practices, the U.S. has a longer list of national holidays that the UK doesn’t celebrate. Presidents Day, Memorial Day, Independence Day, Veterans Day and Thanksgiving Day also figure prominently in email campaigns.

Bank holidays and pay day: The UK recognizes “bank holidays,” or days when banks, government offices and most businesses are closed nationwide, such as on Christmas, Good Friday before Easter and the Monday after Easter, and Boxing Day (Dec. 26), but also two days in May and a summer bank holiday in August.

If you track email campaigns from UK ecommerce brands, you’ll also see a popular hook is the “pay day treat.” Payday for most employees in the UK is the last Friday of the month – hence, why retailers refer to this. Retailer purchase data also reflects a distinct shopping pattern tied to the end-of-month pay day.

UK, US marketers influence each other

Two events demonstrate this. Black Friday wasn’t a factor in the UK until Asda introduced it in 2013. Today, it’s one of the biggest revenue-generating periods. Conversely, Boxing Day, December 26, has been a UK cultural tradition for generations, but some US marketers are beginning to pick it up as a designation for the day after Christmas.

How UK and U.S. marketers compare on Black Friday and Valentine’s Day

To give you a quick look at how UK and U.S. marketers approach common holidays, I used eDatasource to select two holidays that are prominent in both countries: Valentine’s Day and Black Friday. I picked one brand that markets in both countries – Ralph Lauren, which has separate marketing teams and email programs for its US and UK operations.

Valentine’s Day is a formal holiday in both countries, although not a bank holiday in either one. Black Friday is a cultural phenomenon that evolved in the United States after Thanksgiving became an official government, business, school and bank holiday. Many people had the Friday after Thanksgiving off, and they used this day to surge into stores and kick the Christmas shopping season into high gear.

Results: I found the two campaigns for the same brand often varied significantly from country to country. Although they shared some creative content, including images and message templates, the frequencies and cadences were often different, and the emails emphasized different things.

UK email Black Friday campaigns (all senders)
MetricOverallLowHigh
Inbox placement82%15%100%
Read rate17.1%0%60%
Read-and-delete rate8.8%0%44%
Delete-without-reading rate18.6%,0%100%

 

US email Black Friday campaigns (all senders)
MetricOverallLowHigh
Inbox placement76%0%100%
Read rate16%0%75%
Read-and-delete rate9%0%100%
Delete-without-reading rate16%0%100%

Email examples: According to eDataSource, the Ralph Lauren UK email team sent 5 Black Friday emails over “Black Friday Weekend.” The US team sent 3 Black Friday email from Wednesday through Black Friday and then followed up on Saturday and Sunday with a Thanksgiving Weekend theme.

Both Ralph Lauren email programs sent messages on the day before Thanksgiving:

From the UK team:

Ralph Lauren promotes “Black Friday Weekend” in the U.K.
Ralph Lauren promotes “Black Friday Weekend” in the U.K.

From the US team:

In the U.S., Ralph Lauren showcases shirt styles.
In the U.S., Ralph Lauren showcases shirt styles.
UK email Valentine’s Day campaigns (all senders)
MetricOverallLowHigh
Inbox placement82.1%20%100%
Read rate18.1%0%50%
Read-and-delete rate8.6%0%33.3%
Delete-without-reading rate19.9%0%60%

 

US email Valentine’s Day campaigns (all senders)
MetricOverallLowHigh
Inbox placement76.6%0%100%
Read rate16.9%0%75%
Read-and-delete rate10.4%0%100%
Delete-without-reading rate17.6%0%100%

The US team launched its Valentine’s Day campaign on Jan. 18. The UK team sent a similar message but without the children’s promotions and a different perfume image.  Following those emails,  the US emails featured animated hero images that set the theme for most of the Valentine’s-related emails and had a higher frequency than the UK emails.

The US Jan. 18 email:

Ralph Lauren covers all categories in the U.S.
Ralph Lauren covers all categories in the U.S.

The UK Jan. 26 email:

The U.K. email skips items for children.
The U.K. email skips items for children.

 

Make the most of holiday/seasonal marketing

Even as chatbots, shoppable Pinterest pins and Instagram posts and social-video sites like TikTok grab attention, email is still the most reliable channel for marketers. This chart from Shopify shows segmented and general email offers are the most effective:

Email reigns supreme for attracting return buyers.
Email reigns supreme for attracting return buyers.

As I noted above, seasonal and holiday marketing can bring you a banquet of new subscribers, especially from motivated shoppers who use search engines to find your website. These tips can help you convert more of these newcomers into loyal customers and also retain or re-engage your longtime users.

Why run seasonal email campaigns?

Aside from the obvious one – you want to promote holiday and seasonal merchandise – there are three good reasons to tie your campaigns to holidays and other cultural and seasonal events:

  • They align with what’s on your customers’ minds and tap into the cultural zeitgeist.
  • Seasonal emails give your team the chance to unleash their creativity and differentiate your emails.
  • Emails with major purchasing components, such as Christmas and Valentine’s Day, help your customers look for inspiration and shopping for those holidays.

Seasonal emails activate the “nudge effect:” The nudge effect is unique to email. Once you understand it, you’ll think differently about your email and subscribers’ activity.

Email marketers usually get concerned when subscribers don’t open their emails. But among the reasons people don’t open emails – or unsubscribe – is because they aren’t in the market at the moment you send your message.

But it doesn’t mean they won’t be ready to buy, especially if they shop your brand only at certain times of the year, like the holidays.

Your emails that come into the inbox the rest of the year reinforce your brand just by showing up. When they’re ready to buy, your email will nudge them to act.

6 tips for better seasonal email campaigns

1. Strategize and plan well in advance.

A Shopify study found 43% of marketers don’t start working on their holiday plans until the third business quarter (July, August and September, and 25.5% start planning in October.

So, if you haven’t begun work yet, you’re not alone (we won’t say a word about the overachieving 6% who start holiday planning right after the New Year’s Day parties wind down.)

Still, don’t wait too long. It takes time to define your goals and strategy, to coordinate with all of the teams that have input into your email campaigns and to line up and test your creative content and messages.

2. Monitor the changes that your holiday planning will bring

Boosting your frequency can change your list dynamic. If you don’t handle it strategically, you could alienate your subscribers to the point where they unsubscribe, go inactive or click the “this is spam” button. That can affect your ability to reach the inbox.

Use a tool like eDatasource to monitor your deliverability, especially when ramping up frequency in heavy mailing periods like the week before Black Friday and the last two weeks before Christmas.

3. Get personal! Make your emails as meaningful and personalized as possible.

We know personalized emails outperform day-to-day broadcast emails because they speak directly to each customer, reflecting their interests, preferences and behavior. This means you need to get your data in order and accessible so you can use it to segment and target your messages or add content tailored just for them.

4. Consider suppressing purchasers from your remaining campaign emails.

As soon as customers purchase from a seasonal campaign, consider segmenting them out and suppressing them from receiving the remaining emails in your campaign. Likely as not, they won’t purchase again. If you’re not sure, segment your purchasers, keep them in the loop, but track them to see what your repurchase rate is.

5. Test and tweak your browse abandon, cart recovery and basket reminder programs.

Holiday shopping brings more people to your website, and all those extra shoppers mean more abandonment – carts, browse sessions, account creations, downloads and more. Your abandonment-recovery emails can bring them back to finish what they started.

Think outside the box, too. This exit-intent basket-reminder popover is brilliant both for converting unknown shoppers into subscribers and for converting more abandoned carts during peak periods.

Use a popover to acquire new subscribers and recover abandoned carts—at the same time!
Use a popover to acquire new subscribers and recover abandoned carts—at the same time!

Plan how to persuade new buyers to become repeat buyers.

As I mentioned above, the holidays bring swarms of new shoppers to your site. Besides getting them to join your email or loyalty program, develop tactics to bring them back to buy again.

This Kate Spade email sends a special incentive to bring back shoppers who purchased at a one-time discount event.

Kate Spade offers a special discount to flash sale customers.
Kate Spade offers a special discount to flash sale customers.

Wrapping up

UK and U.S. email marketers often take similar approaches to holiday marketing but also have distinctive differences that reflect cultural differences. But marketers on both sides of the Atlantic – or the Pacific – can use holiday emails to capitalise on current trends,  expand their reach to new audiences and convert more first-time buyers into loyal customers.

Originally published on Iterable.com on October 3rd, 2019. Updated October 2021.

Want some help getting through the above suggestions? Reach out to us for an email marketing audit to help identify what your needs are, or an email marketing strategy for your holiday programmes.

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