Ideas for Holiday Email Subject Lines

ChristmasIf you’re like most marketers you’re probably thinking about Holiday 2011.

Email marketing is always important, but the holiday season is typically the most important time for many. Crunch time for many retailers and other businesses begins in mid-November (sometimes earlier) and runs through December.

There is much to discuss when it comes to prepping your Holiday emails, but for this post we’ll focus on subject lines.

Ideas for Holiday Email Subject Lines

Looking back on previous holidays and a few successful campaigns from earlier in 2011, there are a few themes worth noting as potential strategies for subject lines for your holiday campaigns.

New Products

Woman in JacketFor years, highlighting new products has been a winning strategy. In the subject line use the word “New” early in the phrase and really focus on how the customer needs to open the email and eventually click through to the site.

New products are exciting. They’re something the customer doesn’t know about and their curiosity needs to be satisfied. When inboxes are flooded with emails during the holiday season it’s important to focus on what differentiates your company from the inbox competition. Something new and unique to you can be what entices someone to click on your email instead of another.


Good: Just In! New styles for Winter!

New is used early in the subject line. It’s enticing; something different.

Better: Look at Our New Winter Styles

A call to action is always good especially in subject lines.

Best: Sneak Peek at New Winter Styles

Now you’re really providing value. Your customers will want to be take advantage of being one fo the first to see new products.


Macys CardUrgency is another common theme in holiday email marketing messages. Urgency is common in lots of marketing materials, but during the Holiday 2011 season you’ll see lots of exclamation points and urgency words used in subject lines.

“You must buy now! Or else!”

It’s an effective method. People feel urgency for various things and shopping is one of those. When the time is ticking down to make a gift purchase or any purchase around the holidays we all need reminders.

“Only 12 shipping days until Christmas!”

The time crunch that happens around the holidays sneaks up on everyone. Reminders are a great way to get people to open emails. It’s a fine line, however, between urgency and being overbearing. You don’t want to be off-putting. You’ll come off as annoying and receive unsubscribes.


Good: Find the Perfect Gift Before It’s Gone

Inventory is a tricky issue for some companies. You want to have enough for all the incoming demand. You can get a little urgent with the situation by asking customers to shop ahead of the usual sales rush around Black Friday and Cyber Monday.

Better: Free Shipping Ends Tonight!

A simple call to action and a reminder that a promotion ends soon. Reminder emails can be (relatively) low effort with good conversion rates.

Best: Shop Now! Only 5 Shipping Days Until Christmas!

Using unique timelines can be intriguing to customers – “Wait, I thought there was another week and a half before Christmas? I need to order so I allow time for the gifts to ship.”


Five DollarsPromotions have become the norm during the holiday shopping season. It’s difficult to compete without a solid promotion or discount of some kind. In the last year, consumers have been trained to expect great deal around the holiday season. It’s almost like consumers shop for promotions instead of gifts…almost.

It’s going to be a challenge to stand out if you’re not running an email campaign that’s on par with the competition. And we all know the response is high with promotions. Make sure you measure your promotions and determine if the additional response brings in enough sales to offset any discount you give in price. And focus on the long-term impact of your promotions.

One way to test the long-term impact of your promotions is to create two small segments. One segment receives your holiday promotions. The other receives no promotions. Run this test all the way through the holiday season and into the next calendar year. Compare response and profit of the two groups sometime around February or March. Results vary by business, but what you might find is your customers purchase from you in January at full price. A discount in November may have simply caused them to move up their purchase. And it might not be more profitable to run the discount.

Here are a few promotion subject lines that could get a bit of attention in the inbox.


Good: New Products Just In + Free Shipping

It’s a pretty enticing offer, but the promotion is the real offer. Test, though, and determine the order of words that works best for you.

Better: 25% Off Everything!

Promotion subject lines are pretty straight forward. People respond to the offer more than the subject line in most cases, but the subject is still important.

Best: 25% Off – Today Only!

A nice little combination subject line.

Subject Line Testing

One quick note on subject line testing – do it.

Make good use of the 10-10-80 method of testing. Come up with two good subject lines. Break out 20% of your email file, split the segment in half and email both subject lines. Take a bit of time to see the one getting better response and send that email to the remaining 80%.

Every business is different and testing subject lines can mean an increase in return this holiday season.


What has been your experience with subject lines?

What has worked?

What hasn’t worked?

Share your advice in the comments.

Christmas image courtesy of geishaboy500

Woman in Jacket image courtesy of Angelo González

Macy’s Card image courtesy of stevendepolo

$5 image courtesy of geishaboy500

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