The holiday season represents a huge opportunity for marketers to connect with their audiences and drive sales. Holiday sales in 2015 are expected to represent approximately 19 percent of the retail industry’s annual sales of $3.2 trillion. Additionally, the National Retail Federation is forecasting online sales to increase between 6 and 8 percent to as much as $105 billion.

Email helps brands connect with their customers in a timely, personal manner, and during the holiday season, it’s a method that’s been proven to work. In fact, in 2014, the main sales driver for marketers was email marketing, which beat out online search—both free and paid—to become the primary driver of US online sales on Black Friday, accounting for 27.3%.

In this post, we’ll share new trends, important dates, and steps for holiday email marketing success.

New trends this year

In the past decade, technology has revolutionized how we market to our customers during the holiday season. To stay on top of our game, it’s important to know which trends are likely to occur, so we can make sure we’re doing all we can to deliver messages that resonate with our customers.

Here are a few expected trends for 2015:

Email marketing is the best tool

Email marketing is a highly effective method to reach people this holiday season. With 57% of email subscribers spending 10-60 minutes browsing marketing emails during the week, you’re likely to reach people no matter where they are.

Online shopping

In the past few years, online shopping has grown substantially. And, online shoppers put their money where their mouse is. In fact, the average online shopper plans to spend $931.75 this year, 16 percent more than all holiday shoppers.

During the holiday season, specialized retail holidays like Cyber Monday and Free Shipping Day further encourage shoppers to go online to get their gifts. That means your online marketing needs to be seamless and well-thought-out.

Mobile shopping

This season, brands can’t afford to miss out on what mobile has to offer. According to Flurry Mobile, a mobile app company, lifestyle and shopping app usage grew 174% from 2013 to 2014, far surpassing growth in any other category. IBM predicts that online sales via mobile shopping will increase 15 percent over a five-day holiday shopping period.

According to eMarketer, ”One of the main drivers is the fact that email is predominantly viewed on mobile. Mobile is getting better, and retailers are beginning to get that.”

That means your emails need to look great on smartphones and tablets, and that users can easily interact with your site, no matter their device.

Early shopping

Alongside the rise of online and mobile shopping comes early shopping. Practical Ecommerce predicts that about 25 percent of shoppers will purchase gifts before Halloween, which means you need to connect with your audience as early as possible. We’ve got heaps of helpful tips to get your holiday email marketing ready.

Emergence of social commerce

Customers can now buy goods via Facebook stores and Pinterest pins. Facebook and Pinterest began allowing retailers to sell goods via the sites, and other social sites may follow suit. If you run an e-commerce site, this may be relevant to you, and it’s certainly something to keep an eye on this season.

Mark your calendar

Here are this season’s most notable holidays to plan your email campaigns around:

Halloween – Saturday, October 31

Veterans Day – Wednesday, November 11

Thanksgiving – Thursday, November 26

Black Friday – Friday, November 27

Small Business Saturday – Saturday, November 28

Cyber Monday – Monday, November 30

Hanukkah – Begins Sunday, December 6

Green Monday – Monday, December 14

Free Shipping Day – Friday, December 18

Winter Solstice – Tuesday, December 22

Christmas Eve – Thursday, December 24

Christmas Day- Friday, December 25

Boxing Day – Saturday, December 26

Kwanzaa – Begins Saturday, December 26

New Year’s Eve – Thursday, December 31

New Year’s Day – Friday, January 1

Steps to holiday email marketing success

Step 1: Decide how the holidays fit into your marketing

Every company is different, and how you approach the holidays depends a lot on what you sell. For example, if you sell goods that can be given as gifts, you’re going to have a different email strategy than a software company.

As a marketer, it’s your job to decide how the holidays will fit into your marketing plans, and which ones you’ll be promoting. Will you be sending out season’s greetings emails to loyal customers, offering specials, or participating in events such as Small Business Saturday, Cyber Monday, and Free Shipping Day? Maybe you’ll provide educational content to your customers that’s particularly relevant to the holidays, or gift guides by price point or gender to make holiday shopping a breeze.

Step 2: Create a holiday promotion schedule

This holiday season, you want balanced communication. That means keeping in touch with your customers without sending them with too many messages. In order for your holiday email marketing efforts to work, you need to create a detailed holiday promotion schedule.

Sit down and think about how many emails you’ll need to send out to be successful this season. For example, if you want to create an email campaign encouraging people to visit your site on Cyber Monday, think carefully about how many emails you’ll need, as well as when it makes sense to send them.

Step 3: Break down tasks

The holiday season is notoriously busy, so it’s essential to make sure your team is organized. Who will write the copy? Who will segment the lists? These are decisions you need to make now before the season gets too hectic.

Step 4: Decide on success metrics

No email marketing campaign is successful without the measurement of metrics. Before you start sending emails, think about how you’ll measure success. Do you want engagement rates that are higher than average, or will you be happy if your holiday emails see the same rates as emails sent out at other times of year? Our reporting on lists & segments makes it super easy to see how parts of your list are performing so you can make improvements as you go.

Step 5: Execute

All hands on deck! Time to execute. This one is self-explanatory, but it’s an important step that involves good copywriting, seamless design, and thoughtful organization.

To craft perfect emails, these resources can help:

Step 6: Analyze

You’ll need to analyze your performance metrics throughout the season. How do they compare to last year’s holiday season? How did they compare to similar metrics at other times of the year? It’s only through analysis that you’ll be able to understand how you did, and where you can improve and shape your strategy for next year.

Tips for holiday success

  • Send save the date emails for any live events. If you’re holding a live event, send a save the date email before providing formal details. This will ensure that people put the date into their calendars. The holiday season is incredibly busy with many parties and festivities, so send save the dates before calendars get filled.
  • Consider the latest trends. Online and mobile shopping are trends that are here to stay, and they’re worth paying attention to this holiday season. Make sure emails look good on any device, and that people are able to engage with your site from their mobile phones.
  • Make your campaigns cross-platform. You may be focusing on email marketing, but the most effective campaigns are cross-platform. If you’re announcing a sale via email, make sure to share the same information on social media, as well.

Wrap up

There you have it– the holiday marketing trends, dates and tips that will help you create compelling email campaigns this season.

Using the information in this blog post and your skills as a savvy marketer, you’ll have the power to make it an awesome holiday season with email marketing.