June 19, 2013, 3:44 PM

Gift guides can work well for holiday e-mails

Delta Apparel also tries to make subject lines ‘crisp.’

Thad Rueter

Senior Editor

Lead Photo

If you haven’t started planning your e-mail marketing campaign for the holidays, ideally you should hotwire a time machine, go back a week or two and begin that work. And don’t settle for discount offers to gain clicks. Gift guides and personalization might work better.

Those are among the lessons offered by David Workman, e-commerce operations manager for Delta Apparel Inc., as e-retailers start their annual ritual of sweating their holiday marketing plans. Delta Apparel makes, merchandises and markets T-shirts and other casual apparel. It operates such e-commerce sites as SaltLife.com—beachwear and ocean-themed apparel—and Soffe.com—which focuses on clothes worn while playing sports.

“You have to start planning right now, like, literally, this week,” he says of e-mail holiday marketing plans.

He also says retailers should avoid the temptation of repeating last year’s marketing plan simply because it worked well in 2012. “You can’t do exactly the same thing you did last year and hope you will be successful,” he says.

That’s in part because you are likely to have better and fresher data about your consumers, information that can help you better segment them and target them with marketing messages more precisely. For instance, Delta has learned  that customers who buy its Junk Food vintage T-shirt brand include both NFL football fans and Star Wars geeks—two groups that might not have much in common. “The tighter your segmentations, the higher your conversions,” he says.

Delta, which for some five years has used Bronto Software Inc. for e-mail marketing services, also has learned to make better e-mail messages for the Salt Life brand. In 2011, for instance, many of its holiday-season e-mails focused on discounts, offering 10% off for purchases of at least 50%. For the 2012 holiday season, the focus shifted to relevance. The company personalized its messages for groups of consumers, and offered gift suggestions, complete what Workman says were “big beautiful buttons” that served as links to products. “Conversions went through the roof,” he says.

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