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Holiday email campaigns deconstructed

  • 8 min read
Breckenridge ski photo for holiday email

Hello and happy holidays! I wanted to get a quick email in before the New Year, and I know this one will be of use to you and your team. As an advisor to craft beverage, we belong to hundreds of newsletters and clubs for wine, beer, spirits and non-alcoholic producers. After seeing all the holiday email over the past 3 weeks, we knew and in-depth look at holiday email practices was needed. That is, after a quick ski trip last weekend to Breckenridge, CO, with friends from Chicago to get into the holiday spirit…

Just the easy way down, please >

First, of all the clubs and newsletters to which we subscribe, only 179 have email signups either on their website or Facebook page. Not all craft producers believe that email is still an effective means of communicating with current and prospective customers. We get that; however, we would argue that it’s a quick and inexpensive way to keep in touch with hand-raisers, or people who care enough about your brand to want to know when there’s something of interest. Today’s customer has a lot of choices, and there’s a certain pride or badge value to finding something first. Email and social – which we’ve discussed in-depth over the past two months – are the perfect vehicles for current customers to become ambassadors and for new customers to discover you. But remember, the important number here is 179 wineries, breweries and distilleries that we follow actively use email.

In the last 3 weeks since Cyber Monday, we’ve only received email from 51 beverage producers! That’s only 28% of those producers that use email to communicate with customers, out of an even bigger universe of hundreds of brands we follow. This number is staggering, but what’s even more mind-boggling is the missed opportunity to drive traffic, broaden reach and capture new sales from the industry in general. The table below shows the breakdown of topics and promotions covered in the emails we received:

Holiday Email Topic or Promotion Craft Beer Craft Wine Grand Total
Personal Family Message 1 11 12
Explicit Shipping Guidelines 1 25 26
Restricted Winter Hours 8 4 12
Party or Event Invitation 14 7 21
Tasting Room Discount 1 0 1
Forward to a Friend 1 0 1
Online Order Discount 5 14 19
“Last Chance” Messaging 0 6 6
Holiday Gift Set 4 24 28
Special Release Calendar 7 1 8
Social Hashtag or Content 2 1 3
Reinforces Brand Story 0 5 5
Club Membership 1 5 6
Giveaway Invitation 2 0 2
Merchandise or Gift Ideas 2 0 2
Holiday Food Menu 2 2 4
Gift Card Availability 3 2 5
Special Tasting Room Menu 2 0 2
Charitable Giving 1 4 5
Book a Holiday Party 2 0 2
“12 Days” Theme 2 0 2
Loyalty Program 0 1 1

We don’t have enough data on craft spirits or non-alc to reflect their holiday email use, so for now we’re going to focus on craft beer and wine. Though from what we’ve seen, the trends are generally universal and vary only on a producer’s ability to leverage ecommerce and shipping.

Worth noting:

  • Only 12 beverage producers include any sort of Thanks! message from the owners/family.
  • Traffic to the taproom is a focus of the small-to-mid-sized craft brewery, so it doesn’t surprise us that holiday hours are prominent.
  • Hosting an Ugly Sweater or NYE party is right in a brewery’s wheelhouse, so event promotion is important.
  • Surprising that virtually no craft producer tries to reinforce their origin, mission or brand story by email. Customers benefit from those stories being repeated in an appropriate, integrated way across any media we use!
  • Only 5 wineries promoted club membership and 2 advertised gift card availability. These are the perfect gifts for the wine lover in your life!
  • Craft boasts some of the most attractive, inviting production facilities of any industry. Yet promoting the space for holiday party rental is surprisingly absent. Remember – we’ve been tracking since Cyber Monday, so it’s hard to imagine that all parties were booked at that point…


Email tiles photo for holiday emailWe believe that email today is underutilized as a storytelling device for craft beverage. Perhaps you and your team would agree – likely what you see in your area is pretty stale and templated when it comes to email around the holidays. Especially in craft wine, where it’s standard to show a beauty shot of the bottle next to release, discount and shipping information with very little there to engage the current, let alone the prospective customer.

What follows is a best-practice approach to engaging your audience via email based on learnings from this year’s holiday effort. The point is that there are many times throughout the year where these strategies can be employed tactfully – the holidays just shine a spotlight on good and bad email habits.

Email campaign basics:

  1. Customers discover, research and buy digitally: with over 50% of internet traffic globally coming from mobile phones this year, email is still highly-relevant. Make sure your emails are designed for the small screen (responsive). Hint: just because it looks good on your phone doesn’t mean it displays well on all phones. Many email services like MailChimp provide a mobile preview.
  2. Engage early and often: the holiday season is more than just the calendar date. Begin engaging with customers as early as a month out for normal promotion and 3 months out for special event booking.
  3. Track performance: use link tracking to other digital marketing activities to show the effectiveness of email messaging and format.
  4. Listen to your email recipients: there are reports available for every email you send to your list. Make sure that your campaigns aren’t resulting in large amounts of brand fatigue and unsubscribes by keeping the content fresh and additive, not duplicative.
  5. Think like your customer: how is the experience for your recipient? Is there a simple call-to-action? How enticing is the landing page experience on the website?

Holiday emails that stand out:

  1. Write an engaging subject line: it’s okay to be clever during the holidays, but imagine your email subject line in an inbox with dozens of others…one way to stand out is using emojis in the subject, with those brands seeing a 45% increase in their unique open rates.
  2. Balance copy and visuals: customers tend to buy emotionally, especially during the holidays. Ask yourself: what feeling does your email evoke? Keep copy blocks concise and images relevant.
  3. Get personal and transparent: customers enjoy a note from the owners or producers of their favorite brands. Talk about how the team is spending the holidays as a way to introduce more mundane content like shipping guidelines, holiday hours or “last chance” messaging. Your company’s charitable efforts strike a deeper chord with customers in-season.
  4. Tell stories [in chapters]: imagine a 6-week calendar of email twice a week to your list. What if each email builds on the other, showing different scenes or usage scenarios? Can your customer see themselves buying, consuming, gifting or enjoying your brand?
  5. Prioritize your message points: not every copy block deserves the same attention. For example, promote a party early in the season and social campaigns or other activity the week of the event. Focus the recipient’s attention on one or at most two calls-to-action in any given email.
  6. Encourage pass-along: if you engage your list-member, chances are better that they want to share what they’ve discovered with their friends. Enable that pass-along with social and forward-to-a-friend tools embedded appropriately in the email.
  7. Enable instant-action: imagine a scenario where your recipient views your email on their mobile phone and reacts to the offer immediately. Design for ease-of-use, removing all barriers to action.
  8. Use personalization where appropriate: customers are increasingly skeptical of solicitation. Assuming that your email is GDPR-compliant, including a means to easily unsubscribe, then the more you are able to reflect your understanding of the customers in the body of the email, the more open they will be to your message. Especially during the busy holiday season.
  9. Provide value-add: we’ve seen some very natural tie-ins this season, including recipes/product pairings, gift buying guides and merchandise promotion. Think about how these items support your main call-to-action and save the ones that seem disconnected for a later email.

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