Three Holiday Retail Email Marketing Lessons for Non-Retail Companies by Karen Talavera @SyncMarketing

Karen Talavera - Three Holiday Retail Email Marketing Lessons for Non-Retail Companies

Three Holiday Retail Email Marketing Lessons for Non-Retail Companies

If yours is a services business, B-to-B firm or solo-entrepreneurship, this time of year it can certainly seem like all the marketing focus is on retailers.  Yet just because retail eclipses other industries during the holidays doesn’t mean non-retailers can’t take a few lessons from retail marketers and employ similar strategies in their own communications, especially email.

In the spirit of the season, here are three email marketing lessons non-retail businesses can swipe and deploy from holiday retail marketers.  Here’s hoping they enlighten your email for 2011!

Vary frequency and cadence seasonally

Retailers live and die by the holiday gift giving season (hence the term “black Friday” for the day after Thanksgiving, traditionally the biggest shopping day of the year on which many retail businesses that haven’t yet made an annual profit will go from “being in the red” to “being in the black”).  Even before the days of e-commerce, holiday messaging was much more frequent than advertising done at other times of the year.  This increase is easy to see in the email marketing frequency of retailers, which goes from monthly or weekly to as often as weekly or daily during November and December.

It may not be at holiday time, but chances are there is a period or there are seasons when it makes sense to increase your email frequency.  Perhaps it’s prior to the typical fiscal year-end for companies in your industry, right before your big event, prior to a warranty, service or lease expiration date, or coinciding with a major trade show in your market.  Or, it could make sense to increase your frequency during a particular climate season of the year, like spring for lawn care providers or late summer in preparation for back-to-school products and services.

Enlightened Emarketing Tip:  It’s important to have both consistency and variability in your email marketing programs.  While newsletters and other continuity programs provide trust, regularity and predictability, they should be supplemented with increases or decreases in the frequency of supplemental communications related to a specific topic.  The best email marketing programs have a mix of steady, reliable messaging and seasonally-relevant but changing cadence.

Tease, tell and remind

In case you haven’t heard, free shipping for arrival by Christmas ends in a day or two.  Really, you didn’t know?  ‘Guess you haven’t received one of the untold reminder emails flooding in-boxes this month!  I’m being sarcastic, but the point is a valid one.  As the tried-and-true axiom of good communication goes, you have to “tell ‘em what you’re going to tell ‘em, then tell ‘em, then tell ‘em what you told ’em”.  Whatever your pointed call to action is, whatever your offer – whether date-specific, deadline-or event-driven, or limited in inventory or availability – use your email to communicate it before it begins, as it is active, and while it is waning.

Enlightened Emarketing Tip:  Are you using alerts and reminder emails, or using them as much as you can?  It’s easy to remind after the fact, but what about tipping off your best customers to what’s coming with sneak previews, advance notices and teasers beforehand?  I encourage you to think about any email marketing campaign offer from three points in time: before, during and after, then craft a sequence of messages that fits into a time-line that covers all three periods in sequence.

‘Tis the season to be human, and personal

Although an increase in retail marketing can be one of the downsides of the holidays to some people, one of the nicest things about the season are the novel and often interactive holiday greetings companies and big brands send their customers.  Check out these great electronic holiday greetings I received from Delta and American airlines (each accessible through an HTML email invite linking to these pages).  I particularly like the fact that Delta offers a free gift that’s truly useful and engaging at this time of year.

Not to be outdone by consumer brands, here’s a B-to-B holiday greeting from email marketing services provider (ESP) Bronto that is sure to enhance your water cooler chat. You must, must listen to a few of the songs, all of which are written, sung and produced by Bronto’s own employees – what a talented team!

Take a tip from big brands like these and don’t be the friend who only calls when you need something.  Use the cultural context relevant to your target audience to acknowledge major holidays, gift-giving occasions, and opportunities for gratitude (The Thanksgiving holidays in the US and Canada are obvious ones).

Enlightened Emarketing Tip:  Thank-you’s and loyalty acknowledgments/rewards should be a regular part of your email marketing program.  Think about these and other communications that give back to your customers rather than ask more from them, and sprinkle them into your email mix throughout the year.  (Hint: are you acknowledging customer birthdays? anniversaries of doing business with you?).  Like Bronto, it’s okay to relate things back to what you do, but keep it fun, personal and human.


It may seem paradoxical, but one of the fastest ways to get new ideas for your business is to look at what companies from a totally different industry are doing. Whether you’re in banking, or insurance, or consulting or publishing or health care – don’t just study the competition.  Think outside the envelope (or in this case, your own in-box!) and take a lesson from retail marketers and others in unrelated sectors to see the marketing strategies they’re using that you can apply to your world.

Last minute example you can learn from.
Click here for the online version

Happy Holidays from the eec

Wishing you safe, peaceful and joyous holidays. Watch this blog in the next few days for my own holiday greeting to you where you’ll see me sing and dance as never before, I promise!

Meet the author:

Karen Talavera

Karen Talavera

Karen Talavera is an internationally recognized speaker, consultant, professional educator and thought-leader in email marketing. She has been praised as “a pioneer in bringing the power of email marketing to the forefront” and “diligent in staying on top of her field, mastering email marketing not just as a specific practice but also in conjunction with social media and other digital channels”. Karen’s enlightened direct response focus delivers results for clients ranging from ServiceMaster, Texas Instruments, Applied Materials, and the Chicago Convention and Tourism Bureau to associations and solo-preneurs. Karen provides custom email and social media marketing training, workshops, coaching and consulting/advisory services. For a complimentary consult to see how she can best help you, call 561-967-9665 or visit

Connect with: Karen Talavera

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  • Caroline Smith
    December 27, 2010 at 12:26 pm

    Great post Karen! Thanks for the kudos for the “Green Album” – we had a great time making the album and glad you enjoy it! We know it’s an nontraditional gift, but that’s what makes it unique. There are also great takeaways in the lyrics of the songs that allow us to drive home some great messages in a fun and upbeat way.

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