In the first post of our Holiday Reading Series, we considered how 2020 was a catalyst for email innovation and adoption of new technology. November saw major retailers launch their Christmas TV campaigns. For some, like John Lewis, it’s a major end-of-year media event, and consumers await each year’s new seasonal blockbuster with bated breath.
But the technology-fueled email fireworks show we expect hasn’t really happened. Rather, there’s a more muted sense of occasion with smaller-scale campaigns and more introspective messaging, recognising this won’t be a festive season for many people. Let’s review what this approach looks like in our inboxes.
- Reasons to be cheerful: The COVID-19 crisis created an incredibly hard year for many people. Laughter is truly the best medicine, and some brands are banishing the pandemic gloom by bringing a light touch to their Christmas promotions, designed to put a smile on customers’ faces.Tesco is good at gauging the temperature of the national mood, and this year’s campaign humorously forgives everyone’s bad behaviour, encouraging them to celebrate Christmas with a clear conscience. Note the tongue-in-cheek survey (“I’ve accidentally given a relative a dodgy home haircut”)—a great engagement driver.
TK Maxx introduces “Lil’ Goat”, whose farmer owner has bought her a designer outfit because she’s had such a hard year, aligning strongly with Tesco’s sentiment that everyone deserves to feel special this Christmas. This cheerful tone continues throughout the email, with readers assured the posh presents are “Queen approved”!
Lego taps into every adult’s secret yearning to revert to childhood with its “Rebuild the World” campaign. Lego products and children’s creativity result in fantastic scenarios that are often laugh-out-loud funny (watch the Star Wars AT-AT walker take a nap when it gets tired!).The email also showcases a great example of community-sourced content, with a “fan creations” section guaranteed to drive high open rates.
- A time to be kind: A big theme this year is empathy, with brands reassuring their customers they are here to help. As autumn gave way to winter and days got shorter and colder, empathy has further evolved to kindness. In fact, “Be kind” was the Mental Health Foundation’s message this year, commenting “We know from our research that kindness and our mental health are deeply connected, and that kindness is an antidote to isolation and creates a sense of belonging.”We are already seeing strong themes around helping the less fortunate this season.
Boots’ “What the World Needs Now” campaign recognises it’s been a year like no other and acts of care and kindness are essential right now. They are donating £1M of products to The Hygiene Bank and encouraging customers to contribute by placing items into in-store collection bins.
The Body Shop shines light on female homelessness using Rasheeda Page-Muir’s poetry to tell the story of Jamie, homeless in her late teens but now a successful dancer. The email is threaded with strong supporting calls to action, starting with the subject line (“Together, let’s raise £100K for homeless young women 🙌”) and perfectly complemented by the pre-header (“Join us for the sleep out”).
John Lewis has also stepped back from its previous blockbuster campaigns, adopting a theme of giving to charity rather than giving presents. The campaign supports FareShare (food poverty) and Home-Start (parents who need support). The email highlights multi-channel options to support, and John Lewis also offers advice on cheering up friends and family who are struggling during this period.
- Bringing shopping experiences to your inbox: With many countries still experiencing various levels of lockdown, retailers are delivering traditional in-store experiences to subscribers’ inboxes. In our previous post, we showed how Ray-Ban and M.A.C Cosmetics are offering “virtual try-ons” of their products.Upmarket French department store Galeries Lafayette recognises many subscribers will be unable to view their famous Christmas Windows, where huge crowds traditionally gather to view fantastic animated scenes with sparkling lights and tons of teddy bears. Instead, this wonderful email recreates the experience with a rich, animated GIF sharing some of the magic with readers.
Marks & Spencer harnesses a behavioural science called embodied cognition—how external stimuli like colour and temperature influence how people’s minds work. M&S excels using rich language and imagery. In fact, readers can almost taste the panettone and feel the effervescence of the champagne on their tongues. During a cold, dark lockdown period, providing subscribers with positive sensory stimuli can help with the mental fragility many people are experiencing.
Radley (famous for its Scotty dogs!) takes a simpler, but equally effective, approach. Recognising 2020 has been the year of Zoom, their “Bringing our store to you” email does just that! Customers can book a live-streamed personal shopping experience with store management to help with all their Christmas shopping needs.
It’s definitely different this year, and the seasonal promotions reflect a key email marketing theme of 2020 – less about offers and discounts, more about sharing useful information, and making real attempts to help people.
We’ve focused more on emotional hardship in this article, but economic hardship is also a part of the current reality and many consumers are struggling to make ends meet. Watch for the next post in our Holiday Reading Series, where we’ll review how email subscribers think about value… and how brands can deliver it.