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Summer is more than over (in fact, we’re in the middle of PSL season) which means if you’re an agency, a retail store, or an e-commerce business, it’s crunch time.

It’s also the time of the year when MailChimp’s marketing team unveils a new wreathful of holiday tips. It’s become something of a ritual here — a little like bringing up the ornaments from the basement.

And so, as we do every year, we recently launched our new edition of the holiday tips microsite and email series. The site has 40 tips to help MailChimp customers improve their marketing, with topics like list management, social media, content generation, abandoned cart emails, inventory counting, and optimization, plus select quotes from current MailChimp customers.

All told, we published:

We wanted to take you behind the scenes on the production of the holiday tips site to discuss why we do this campaign each year, how we marketed the site to our customers, and what kinds of lessons you might be able to unwrap from this year’s campaign.

We also wanted to discover if a holiday tips campaign would prove useful for an agency, and if so, the best ways to market it to clients. To find out, we spoke with a few experts from the campaign team, including marketing managers Melissa Metcalf and Marine Den Boer and email marketing lead Bradley Gula.

Why go to all the trouble of a holiday tips site every year?

BG: Email marketing is seasonal for many of our customers. A lot of users come back to MailChimp at the end of the year. We want those customers to be prepared.

MM: The holiday season can seem daunting to many businesses. Gathering tips, categorizing them, and giving businesses some actionable advice helps take away some of the anxiety of the holiday season. The tips help our customers prepare.

MDB: We have a lot of content on our site, including the Knowledge Baseand blog posts, but we wanted to provide doors to those resources and inspire our customers to take action. Most of all, we wanted to make things accessible and easy for our customers.

MM: We also wanted to demonstrate implementations from other customers. People love to see working, real-world examples. They want to know that someone else is doing something interesting successfully. A holiday tips campaign is a way of saying, “You can do this, too!”

What were the goals of the campaign?

MDB: Our goals were to delight our customers with the tips and inspire them to take action.

BG: We wanted people to like the tips!

Ack! But what about metrics? How do you track “people liking stuff”?

MM: Metrics are important. First, we wanted to surpass last year’s signups. Second, social shares are very important, and we’re tracking how many people use those buttons and engage on social platforms.

How did you use MailChimp to market the holiday tips site? How could agencies do the same thing for their holiday campaigns?

BG: We started with the people most likely to be interested in holiday tips this year: people who were interested in holiday tips last year.

MM: First we considered sending to a smaller segment, but ultimately we decided the content was relevant to our entire customer base, so we sent it to our entire list

MDB: We also put out a blog post. Our collaborating partners shared on their channels, as well.

What was the most successful marketing channel?

BG: Probably the email, based solely on volume. Over half of signups came from our first email. We wanted to resend to non-openers a week later, based on information from Data Science.

MM: We initially wanted to follow up that soon. Why didn’t we?

BG: We had a lot on our schedule and we didn’t want to overwhelm our users with too much.

How much is “too much”?

BG: We’re working on that.

Because margins for service are always slim, agencies have to be aware of return on investment. That’s particularly true when you are building your own brand as an agency and not working on a client project. A holiday tips campaign takes a lot of work. Was the return worth it for MailChimp?

MDB: Yes. We think the tips help build the MailChimp brand and express our point of view on marketing.

BG: By the time we send out the Freddies at the end of the email campaign, we’ve built a lot of brand awareness.

MM: The campaign is definitely something that sets us apart. We want to educate and serve our customers creatively.

BG: Plus, the site is around until 2017. It lasts for at least a quarter of the year, if not longer.

What was your favorite tip?

BG: The one from Freddie and Co., because it shows that we’re still learning and there’s room for us to grow. I also liked Need Supply’s because they make really nice shoes.

MM: I’m partial to the brand section because those were my tips. But it’s important to keep your focus on branding, especially when you refresh your site. You have to speak to your customers in a consistent voice. It’s easy to get caught up in the technical, but branding tips are crucial for any business.

MDB: I like the tips that feature customer examples. We know our users are always interested to find out what works for others, and it’s also exciting for us to see how early adopters of features like abandoned cart automations and product recommendations, for example, have been successful.

Holiday Tips Pro Tips

So you’re going to build a holiday tips campaign to market to clients and potential clients? Maybe we can help! We asked Marine, Brad, and Melissa for some lessons from the MailChimp tips campaign that might also work for agencies.

  1. Start small. “The holiday tips weren’t built in a day,” reminds Brad. Instead of 40 tips, do 5 or 10, and customize them to your client base. “It doesn’t need to have the same breadth as something like MailChimp’s holiday tips campaign,” suggests Melissa. “A smaller version could be the highlights of what’s most useful to agencies’ clients.”
  2. Focus on your strengths. “What do you do best?” asks Marine. “We provided a wide range of tips, but people also like specific content. Our tips were very general, but an agency could be more focused while still making it feel fresh and relevant to their clients.”
  3. Leverage it. Use a holiday tips campaign as a stepping stone to longer-term goals. For MailChimp, that meant encouraging users to sign up for the What’s In Store email list. For an agency, it might be a regularly occurring newsletter (like Studio Science’s Periodic). Find a way to stay in touch in a meaningful, strategic way.
  4. Use email. “We’re at MailChimp, so of course we think of email first,” says Marine. “But using email is a proven, cost-effective way to deliver results.” Melissa added, “You don’t need a microsite. Our biggest traffic driver was our email. It’s a better point of entry into the brand. It’s easier. It’s less expensive.”
  5. Show up early. How early is too early? It’s never too early! “I have an uncle who sends out his Christmas cards before anyone else,” Brad says, “and no one ever says they get it too early. Sending early has become part of his personality.” Melissa added, “People joke about holidays being early every year, but it’s our job to help customers prepare for the holiday season.” And don’t forget to build in as much planning as you can. “Start as early as July.”
  6. Follow up. In addition to launching your campaign around the same time that Brad’s uncle is sending out Christmas cards, think about segmenting your list into non-openers. Brad suggests sending a follow-up email to non-openers within 5 to 7 days of your initial announcement.