By Rogier van der Veen, UK business development manager,
Clang by E-Village (www.createaclang.com)

The festive season is already underway on the high street with Selfridges launching its Christmas season on 2 August this year, and the Harrods Christmas Shop opening on 6 August. And our advice to online retailers is that they should also be planning their Christmas campaigns.

Although consumers do not welcome the summer being interrupted by reminders about shopping for the festive season, E-Village notes that planning ahead is the key to successful Christmas campaigns. Most people are unlikely to begin their spending until October or November at the earliest, but brands must use the time before that to communicate with consumers in a way that ensures they are front-of-mind when the purse strings open.

To assist digital marketers to prepare for the biggest spending period of the year, E-Village has put together the following ‘Twelve Rules of Christmas Email Marketing’ as a checklist:

1.It’s about the recipient
The key rule for all retailers is that any email marketing campaign is about the recipient. (This marketing principle is often forgotten due to the ease with which technology has enabled messages to be sent very quickly to thousands of people).

2.No snowy scenes in summer
Snowy scenes and images of gift-wrapped presents are likely to alienate the target audience. Campaigns must work subtly to engage the consumer ahead of the biggest spending period of the retail year, rather than causing them to hit 'Delete'.

3.Evoke emotion
Emails should evoke desire in the recipient — ‘That’s the perfect Christmas gift for…’, 'I want one of those’, etc.

4.Get the picture(s)
Invest time and research into sourcing a series of images that reflect the brand and that will build momentum as the campaign moves from summer, through autumn and finally culminates in the Christmas spending spree.

5.Words that work
Good copywriting can be the difference between a Christmas sale and an email being deleted. As well as playing its part to engage recipients, text needs to provide essential information relating to the product or service being sold.

6.Check creatives
Throughout the Christmas campaign, send different emails (alternative subject lines, pictures, wording, design, etc) to different sample groups to see which generates the best response.

7.Test technicalities
Don’t spoil an otherwise beautiful creative by failing to test that it works in the majority of email programmes and web browsers. Offline campaigns transferred directly online rarely work and can result in problems such as distorted text and pictures.

8.Get to know your customer
The wise email marketer uses the months leading up to the Christmas shopping period to learn about the individual customer behind each email address.

9.Engage in conversations
Today's consumers demand conversations that acknowledge they are 'real' people with individual preferences and interests. Preparing for Christmas with two-way dialogue that listens to customers is also good marketing practise all year round.

10.I wish…
Get to know more about customers’ preferences before Christmas, and also engage with them on a longterm basis by encouraging them to build 'wish lists'.

11.The events before Christmas
Use occasions between August and December — such as ‘back to school’, Halloween, Guy Fawkes Night and Thanksgiving (for the expat Americans in Europe) - to trigger a ‘relationship-building’ email campaign. Supplement these with personal events in consumers' lives, such as birthdays and anniversaries.

12.CRM for Christmas
Overall, effective Christmas email marketing campaigns require adopting a CRM focus that should then be applied all year round. These gather and use as much information as possible about each consumer's needs, interests, preferences, online behaviour, buying patterns and upcoming events in their life to create personal profiles. Subsequent emails reflect this with content that generates customer loyalty as a result of being valuable and engaging.

The late summer months need to be spent planning Christmas campaigns so that when people are ready to spend money, they are already knowledgeable about the brand and engaged with it. This will see carefully designed creatives combined with a robust CRM focus that develops personalised, two-way relationships with customers. The two elements go hand-in-hand and are essential if a campaign is to be effective and deliver ROI. But email initiatives like this are not just for Christmas — the practices outlined above should be applied all year round.