My first full-time job was on the display team for a large department store. There I was in October, planning our holiday displays to match the advertising schedules the department managers were just beginning to work on. At the time, I thought October was way too early to be thinking about the holidays, but these days that is actually too late.

With the holiday calendar being moved earlier and earlier each year, it is now common for many brands to kickoff holiday marketing in October. To do that well, you need to start your planning process now. Sure there will be last minute changes, but the more you put in place in August the less you will have to worry about in November when you really want to spend your time selling.

This holiday email marketing checklist is designed to help you do just that.

Look Back and Learn from Last Year


  • Set your goals. How did you do last year? Is your goal to improve by 10, 20 or 50%? The size of your increase will impact how much effort you will need to put behind your holiday email marketing campaigns.
  • Review each holiday email marketing campaign you sent last year. Look at open rates, clicks, and conversions. These should be the starting point for your 2018 holiday season.
  • Look at the timing of your campaigns to find the peak of your sales cycle. Although I am focusing exclusively on holiday email marketing campaigns in this post, you can use this strategy to build any seasonal calendar. Don’t forget about social and web updates which need to tie into the email program to make it successful.
    • Your calendar should include a mixture of sales focused and informative emails. If every email is sales focused you will burn out your audience.
    • Be sure to participate in all BIG holiday dates such as Black Friday, Cyber Monday, etc.


  • Design your campaign theme. Pick colors and holiday images you will use consistently throughout the season. Remember to stay true to your brand and don’t stray too far. Coke does this really well with winter-themed cans and their familiar logo.
  • Create at least two versions of your early emails to allow you to test subject lines, calls to action, offer types buttons, and other promotional content. Plan on sending alternative campaigns to small groups to gauge which works better before you hit the main part of the season.
  • Test templates to ensure they are fully optimized, responsive in design, and that all elements are working properly.
  • Review your email list. Segment by interests or level of engagement so you can focus messages on specific audiences.
  • Plan at least one “come back we miss you” campaign to re-engage customers who have become dormant leading up to the holiday season. Give them reasons to reconnect with you during the holidays. And at the end of the season, clean your list and let go of people who did not open any of your holiday communication.


  • Start promoting your holiday email marketing campaigns on social media and your website to encourage prospective customers to sign up for special offers from you.
  • Create an “Oops” email. I hope you never have to use this, but let’s face it sometimes things go wrong. Having a simple email ready just in case will make handling the crisis that much easier if you need to.
  • Send the first of your holiday email marketing campaigns.
  • Build automated campaigns for the month of December. Maybe it is a countdown to the holidays or x days of deals. Setting these campaigns up ahead of time means they will actually be ready to go when you need them. Too often the best ideas never get executed once the season is in full swing.
  • Use click segmentation to build smaller special interest lists.
  • Continue to run A/B testing to improve open and click rates.


  • As you roll through the holiday season, traffic to your website will typically increase. Be ready to capture these visitors with POP-ups, and special landing pages which help you grow your list.
  • Track your progress and launch event specific offers and campaigns.
  • Now through the end of the year, your email should be mostly on auto-pilot staying in touch with clients, while you focus on sales.

Looking for help with your holiday marketing campaign?  Start by downloading our Holiday Marketing Checklist.

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