Thought Leadership


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Thanksgiving email subject lines - lessons from 2014 worth gobbling up

Best Practices for Thanksgiving email campaigns

As some of the biggest shopping days of the year are approaching, we’re dedicated to providing our readers easy-to-implement tips to maximize the success of their year-end campaigns.

Last Wednesday we outlined helpful non-business-as-usual Black Friday tips to grab shoppers’ attention. In that blog post, we concluded that having a consistent campaign schedule over the weeks leading up to Thanksgiving and Black Friday, is imperative for marketers to build consumer excitement for the impending holidays. In addition to the higher engagement rates generated by seasonally relevant emails, Thanksgiving-themed campaigns provide an ideal opportunity to give thanks to customers for their continued loyalty and showcase a brand’s more personal side.

Interestingly, our analysis of 2014 Holiday-themed emails  shows that Thanksgiving-themed campaigns sent in the two weeks before the holiday, are most effective in capturing the customers’ attention. So, for those of you who haven’t deployed your 2015 Thanksgiving-themed emails, you’re in luck! For those who have, there’s still an opportunity to optimize creative and sending dates for the follow-up or reminder emails.

To help marketers determine effective promotions that would resonate with customers from the get-go, we took a closer look at the subject lines (largest factor influencing open rates) of last year’s Thanksgiving emails*. 

Most deployed message types vs. message types with highest open rates

Out of the retailers that sent Thanksgiving-themed email promotions, most opted to mention multiple deals and savings in their subject lines, but without including the value of these offers. While this is an understandable approach to accommodate the variety of Thanksgiving highlighted in an email, it was not the most attention-grabbing approach for customers. The emails that mentioned non-specific deals only ranked fourth in open rate, at 13.1%. 

 “Percent off” was the second most used term in Thanksgiving-themed subject lines, and it attained 16.4% average open rate, the highest for Thanksgiving emails. So while it did not perfectly match what consumers preferred most, marketers did acknowledge the effectiveness of this offer type in engaging customers.

In addition, emails that featured Thanksgiving tips and guides generated the 2nd highest open rates but only 9% of marketers deployed them, thus missing out on a major opportunity to connect with customers.

Takeaways for marketers this Thanksgiving

Based on our findings, we identified two notable trends:

  1. Include discount amount: Customers paid attention when marketers incorporated the discount amount in their subject lines –  “percent off” and “dollar off” took first and third place, respectively, in terms of average open rates. In fact, the Thanksgiving-themed email that had the highest open rate – 33.3% - was from Macy’s with a subject line that includes “Extra 20% off.”  To make it special, you could experiment with non-standard offer numbers that relate to the holiday, for instance using “26% off” for Thanksgiving this year. 
  2. Help your customers get ready for Thanksgiving: Customers appreciate value-added content. The Bed Bath & Beyond email below achieved a 17.3% open rate with a message that provided tips to help families prepare for the highly anticipated turkey dinner. Follow the lead and focus on content that helps your customers shop, plan, prep, or decorate for Thanksgiving. This can range from holiday how-to’s, comprehensive guides, and quick-tips to checklists like pantry must-haves, bestsellers, and top-rated items.

Ultimately, even if you’re not in the B2C industry, customizing your standard email content with Thanksgiving-themed creative and copy would be effective in getting your email subscribers’ attention. And don’t forget to capitalize on this holiday’s spirit by giving thanks to your customers for their loyalty and support!


*Methodology - We used Yesmail Market Intelligence to analyze the Thanksgiving themes and performance of email marketing campaigns for 30 major brands between September 1st 2014 and November 28th 2014. We used search terms like ‘Thanksgiving’, and ‘Turkey’ to identify emails focused on the specific holiday, measure their performance, and compare it to that of base marketing campaigns for the same period.

Author Bio

Gurjit Sandhu

Gurjit Sandhu has been in digital and direct marketing for over 6 years, delivering marketing and event management solutions in both fast-paced corporate and entrepreneurial environments. Energized by strategic thinking and the power of marketing technology, she collaborates closely with cross functional teams at Yes Marketing to spearhead multi-channel communications that highlight product innovations.