5 ways to get your email marketing ready for the holidays

Even Santa needs a plan.

Looking for a strong showing in your email results this holiday season? Craft a plan now with our tips, featuring special appearances by North Pole guests.

If you haven't started your holiday plan yet, you still have time. And there's a tremendous opportunity during the year-end months for you to make the most of email marketing. You numbery types might like to know, for example, that email-driven sales were up 11% from 2008 during the 2009 holiday season.

Of course, your holiday email goals may not be sales-focused. Perhaps you're out to drive donations, promote an event, or just share a festive little greeting with your customers. A little holiday campaign planning really does go a long way. (Insert "making a list, checking it twice" joke here.) So, ask the big questions first. What do you want your holiday emails to accomplish? What are the main messages or offers your customers will connect with over the next few months? And how can email help drive the holiday initiatives you're planning offline?

Effective use of elfin charts.

1. Look for trends in recent response data.
As you're crafting your holiday sending strategy, spend some quality time digging into data that'll tell you what's been most and least effective over the last few months. For example, if you notice that click-through rates are higher in your more graphic-rich emails, design your holiday campaigns accordingly.

How to: In your Emma account, your Response page displays interactive charts of your mailing results that help you spot big trends at a glance before you drill down to see who's opening, clicking and more. If you'd like some help interpreting those charts, see some real-life scenarios and advice elsewhere on the blog.

Set the right pace with your emails.

2. Consider your sending frequency and volume.
In 2009, we saw the Emma community's overall sending volume increase 29% in the holiday-packed final quarter of the year. But think about your email frequency carefully — every fatigued subscriber who opts out in December is someone who won't see your emails at all next year. Send an email now that gives your subscribers the option to manage how frequently they hear from you, or start slowly ramping up your frequency now (and keep a close eye on ye olde opt-out rate).

How to: Your readers can update their own subscriptions by using the "manage your preferences" link at the bottom of your Emma stationery. You can find more details on customizing that subscription form in our Help Guide. Emma's survey feature provides another way to learn more about your subscribers, and we've got some helpful tips for creating effective surveys.

Reindeer can be sooo chatty.

3. Keep your emails social.
People stay busy during the holidays, but not too busy to keep up with their social networking. In fact, according to Experian, traffic from social network sites to retail sites during the holidays was up 37% last year. So make sure your subscribers have an easy way to share your emails with their friends and followers, and add easy-to-spot links to your organization's social networking sites, too.

How to: With Emma's simple built-in social sharing feature, recipients can share your emails with their friends and followers, and you can track your email's online reach. Read our 5 reasons to embrace social sharing, and then check out the video overview in our our Help Guide for more details about how it all works.

Find the right enticement.

4. Give folks a reason to join your list.

Are you planning on sending exclusive offers and content to your email subscribers during the holidays? Update the language on your website's email sign-up form accordingly.

That way, your casual site visitors will spot that juicy incentive and become more loyal email subscribers. Just to be clear, you may not want to involve actual juice with your incentive.

How to: You can customize your Emma-powered signup form and publish it to your website, blog or Twitter feed. Our Help Guide provides handy instructions for customizing your form and posting it anywhere you have an online presence.

Make newcomers feel at home.

5. Welcome new subscribers right away.
Here's one thing you can count on. When someone signs up for your email list, you know they're interested in hearing from you. Probably right then and there. So build a strong relationship with new subscribers right away with an automatic welcome note. Set a great foundation now, and you'll have more loyal subscribers through the holiday season. If you're already sending a welcome note, good for you, and also, take a fresh look to see if it could use a little holiday-specific tweaking.

How to: Welcome emails are a snap with Emma. See real-life examples, or check out the Help Guide for instructions on how to set up any campaign to send automatically whenever someone joins your list. For extra bonus points, consider creating an entire welcome series.

One last thought about your holiday planning: Consider special holiday creative. Since your subscribers get more and more emails in their inboxes during the holiday season, fresh and festive design can focus even the most fruitcake-addled attention spans. Rework your standard template design with a few holiday touches, or put together a memorably designed holiday card or greeting. Need email design help? Emma offers affordable custom holiday designs.

And happy holiday planning from all of us at Emma!

Illustrations by Taylor Schena, Emma designer extraordinaire

The Brainiac Guide to Welcome Email Automation

Giving back through backpacks

How one of our favorite causes helps feed hungry kids … and gives us elementary-school flashbacks.

Some backpacks pack more punch than others.

We recently participated in a Giving Back initiative involving backpacks, which made me remember my all-time favorite: the hot pink thread, the pseudo-embroidery and that sparkling, bodacious red puff paint spelling out my name. Oh, yes — that was just the beginning of my life as a designer, and I couldn't wait to get to school and strut the halls.

Here at Emma, of course, we appreciate function as much as style, and our friends at Feeding America have taught us how a backpack can truly transform a child's life, and not just with puff paint or even books. They're using backpacks to feed hungry kids.

Formerly known as America's Second Harvest, Feeding America is a hunger-relief nonprofit that supplies more than two billion pounds of food and grocery products to hungry families each year. In 1995, they launched a backpack program that sends deserving kids home with non-perishable food items to help them stay nourished throughout the weekend. Most children who qualify for reduced or free lunches often struggle through those two days without sufficient supplements, and a backpack full of food is a discreet way to help.

When we heard about the initiative, we knew we wanted to get involved. We had an upcoming sponsorship at the annual SXSW Interactive conference, and we wanted to give those conference-goers a way to get to know us and also to support a worthy cause. So we proposed a plan to fill 1,000 backpacks with the help of the attendees — to be specific, it was a plan to super-awesomify the backpacks — and then we let the rest of the world in on the plan as well.

Anyone and everyone could super-awesomify a backpack with flames, mustaches and more. And once we reached 1,000 super-awesomifications, we started the process of funding several Feeding America backpack programs. We picked the food banks closest to our Emma offices, so that means we got in touch with the organizations in Denver, CO; Nashville, TN; Victoria, TX; Spokane, WA; and Minola, NY (those last three are the ones closest to our offices in Austin, Portland and New York City).

We think this backpack program takes an innovative approach to a difficult problem, and we're so pleased to be involved. If you'd like to learn more, click here to find a backpack program near you. And if you'd like to see some of those super-awesomified backpacks, you can view them online at myemma.com/backpack, hot pink embroidery and all.

Resources
Feeding America's backpack program
More about Emma's Giving Back program

Emma 25 is here! Meet some past honorees

Every year, we give away a lifetime of free email marketing service to 25 deserving non-profits from all around the world. It's called Emma 25, and it's one of our favorite company initiatives. We're kicking off our seventh year of Emma 25 by looking back at three past honorees and how they're using Emma to strengthen and share their organization's message.

Pearl Alliance

Pearl Alliance
Pearl Alliance, located in Palmer Lake, Colorado, is an outreach program of Messenger International, which was created to fight against human trafficking.

They were awarded an account in 2009 and use Emma's signup forms to capture new subscribers. Hannah Cusack works in Pearl Alliance's online marketing department and says, "We've seen our list steadily grow, in part thanks to the painless sign-up process."

Sending regularly and providing timely content — including video clips, goal-tracking visuals and personal stories — results in consistently higher-than-average opens and click-through rates. Their June/July update, for example, saw a 32% open rate and 35% click-through rate. Their Aug/Sept update drew a 25% open rate and another 35% click-through rate. (For some context, average click-through rate is about 5% across all industries, according to the Email Stat Center. For non-profits, average click-throughs vary by organization size but hover around 3% to 5%).

One of the most rewarding parts of Hannah's work is forging connections between Pearl Alliance's subscribers and the girls the organization serves. Hannah shares one of her favorite Emma moments: "In May 2009, we sent out an email asking our email friends to submit video messages full of hope for girls who were rescued out of trafficking and were now being sheltered in a safe house in Cambodia. It was an amazing moment to use our Emma updates to connect the rescued girls with the allies who help to fight for them."

At Emma, we can't think of a better way to make the email experience personal, meaningful and memorable.

Find out more about Pearl Alliance:

High Hopes, Inc.

High Hopes

High Hopes, Inc., is an innovative preschool and pediatric therapy clinic based in Brentwood, Tennessee. The group helps kids with special needs by combining speech, occupational and physical therapy in their preschool classroom. They also offer outpatient therapy to patients up to 21 years old, and they teach kids without special needs as well, creating an inclusive, supportive environment for everyone.

And they rely on Emma for their email marketing. Holly Beth Roach, High Hopes' Fund Development Coordinator, says, "I love that we have an idea of how many individuals are opening the emails, which helps us know when another form of communication may need to be sent and to know what may be of interest. Through Emma, we can now reach more people because of the forwarding features to email a campaign or post it to social networking sites, developing new friends for our organization."

High Hopes' fans are certainly involved. The summer newsletter to 751 folks had an impressive 37% open rate and an incredible amount of traffic from Social Sharing: Just eight people shared on social networks, but the traffic from these shares reached 136 visits, fairly remarkable for a mailing of this size. The announcement of their new website launch in September elicited a 34% open rate and 40% click-through rate. (Check out the new website here.)

Holly Beth says, "Previously to Emma, our primary form of communication was paper. We still use paper but have reduced it significantly because of Emma. This transition has saved [us] both money and time. The immediacy of it allows a parent to get an email and respond right away instead of getting a flyer at the end of the day and having to remember to go back and address it. We have a more informed parent population, and have increased the number of parent volunteers through using Emma."

Find out more about High Hopes:

Children's Trust Foundation

Children's Trust Foundation
Children's Trust Foundation works to prevent child abuse and neglect in Washington state by providing support and child development resources to families. Located in Seattle, they send out monthly newsletters, event announcements and invitations. (Check out their lovely 25th anniversary celebration announcement.)

Johanna Wender, Marketing and Development Coordinator, says, "Emma is so user-friendly and simple to use. We've had an easy and enjoyable time managing our numerous email campaigns."

And they're doing it in a smart way, by sending consistent monthly newsletters and unique email campaigns during holidays or events. For example, take a look at the Mother's Day campaign they sent in May, created on a custom stationery by Emma's Jennifer Kasdorf. This mailing saw a 20% open rate and whopping 50% click-through rate.

As a nonprofit, they depend on the support and donations of their subscribers and fans, and in each newsletter, they have fun with their donation buttons. Check out the clean, blue button in June's newsletter and the cheery flower in September's.

Find out more about Children's Trust Foundation:

Feeling inspired yet?
Head over to our seventh-annual Emma 25 page to learn more.

Holiday card design showcase

In this month's design showcase, we're highlighting some fantastic holiday card samples by two of our lovely ladies of design. These are unusual showcase items since they're not tied to any particular client, but they're also interesting since each one is, by its very unbranded nature, a peek into the designer's unfettered mind.

Our holiday cards, of course, are all completely custom; these designs are merely samples of what our team can do. If you're an Emma customer, you can request your own custom holiday design right over here. Let's bring on some of that holiday style!

Sample: "Welcome to Fall"

Welcome to Fall greeting card sample
Designer: Elizabeth Williams
Design level: Custom greeting card

This fall greeting card flies in the face of convention, which should be no surprise to anyone who knows its designer. Elizabeth, known around here as the one who rides her Razor scooter to staff meetings, originally wanted to conjure a Thanksgiving feast with imagery of gourds. It turns out, however, that a good gourd can be hard to find. When her search for the perfect photo came up empty, she had to return to the drawing board. Via Razor, of course.

Instead of using typical "fall color" (reds, oranges and browns), she opted for a cool color scheme with hints of warmth for balance. And though autumn designs commonly use textures and typefaces that evoke early Americana, Elizabeth's card summons a different kind of nostalgia: home.

Her font of choice is not quite antiqued Western, not quite Deco, definitely quirky and decidedly vintage. The shapes and textures of the card itself call to mind an aged, clipped coupon and a classic, weathered money-clip made of engraved leather. There's also a touch of natural beauty from the sprig of rowanberries, though it's appropriately and seasonally sparse.

The feeling, then, is the spirit of fall on a smaller scale: familiar objects reminiscent of home, fall shopping with the family and minimalist, natural elegance. The gourds only *wish* they looked this good.

Sample: "A Joyful Thanksgiving"

Wishing You a Joyful Thanksgiving greeting card sample
Designer: Kelly McClain
Design level: Custom greeting card

When it comes to Thanksgiving food, Kelly is all about tradition: casseroles, macaroni and cheese, and all manner of pie. Come to think of it, though, Kelly is really just all about food, regardless of custom or holiday. That's why, I think, we all expected her sample design to be an unabashed tribute to dinner, and I'm still a bit shocked that it isn't.

In the end, though, it's also true that Kelly never fails to surprise and delight, and this card certainly keeps with *that* tradition. In this design, she uses a variety of contrasting textures and styles that still work together to form one cohesive design.

First and foremost, the antiqued "paper" and ship illustration reference the colonial era, as does the vintage font for the header. These more traditional elements, however, are balanced with the more playful turkey handprint, the strips of tape along the top and the line-drawing flourish in the top left corner, all of which allude to grade school crafts for the holidays.

If you look closely at the content text, you'll notice that it sits on top of a background image instead of a solid color. That means that, for this particular design, the text would need to be flattened into the image itself, instead of being highlight-able live type. That's because certain email programs, such as Outlook, do not render background images correctly when they're behind live text (the background images get stripped out).

We could, however, place live type in the middle area if it were expanded. Kelly did a brilliant job of smoothing out the roughed-up paper texture and ripped-edge borders in the middle so that, if needed, the design could expand vertically and accommodate more live text.

Sample: "Merry Holiday Season"

Merry Holiday Season greeting card sample
Designer: Kelly McClain
Design level: Custom greeting card

For her sample Christmas card, Kelly wanted something a little more understated and classic. Here, a shiny gold bow and a bit of sparkly wrapping paper transform the card into a gift, and the ribbon even appears to wrap the entire design. The rest of the image gets its depth from the shadowed curve that arcs across the bottom left corner.

Of course, the design wouldn't be complete without a touch of levity. Kelly's goal was really to create something conservative enough to work for a client of more traditional tastes, but still with a touch of playfulness to give the card an extra something special.

To that end, she added in a little paper snowflake, which peeks out from behind the ribbon in the top right corner. It's a subtle, minor addition, but it changes the mood and spirit of the card. It also introduces an entirely new texture, which keeps the eye interested. And maybe even more importantly, it mirrors the color of "Merry Holiday Season," which is the only other true white in the design. The snowflake and salutation work together, then, to make each other pop off the screen, all the while encouraging the reader's eyes to continue moving across the "page."

Sample: "Happy New Year"

Happy New Year greeting card sample
Designer: Elizabeth Williams
Design level: Custom greeting card

The background imagery of Elizabeth's New Year card is intentionally ambiguous, but unmistakably buoyant and celebratory. Those lighter spots in the content area could be the glint of the Times Square Ball, the flashes of cameras capturing the festivities or even a dance of light off a bubbly flute of champagne. The exact source or identity of those floating spots of light is not what's important — it's the spirit of the design, the depth of the field and the unusual combination of colors that still, somehow, feels like News Year's.

In the bottom corners, the shooting sparks of fireworks are softened with a play on blur and opacity. They visually echo and reinforce the circular logos in the *upper* corners, strategically placed on either side of "Happy New Year." Elizabeth brings in contrast with the texture of that banner, as well as the rougher smudging of "paint" behind the year. In the end, it all comes together to make a nuanced but festive design.

And until next time … hugs and holiday cheer from the entire Emma Design Team!