The holiday season remains the hottest battle of the year between brands for shoppers’ dollars. This coming season is already heating up, with the National Retail Federation (NRF) forecasting 3.8-4.2% growth. While every marketer with a stake in the game meticulously plans this season, are they wasting their efforts at one of the most critical points in the year?

Based on my own employer’s holiday report, more brands sent holiday-themed campaigns in Q4 2018 than in the year prior, but the performance metrics were lackluster. Average open rates for holiday-themed emails were 10.5%, whereas average click rates were 1% – both falling short of non-themed emails from the same period (12.6% average open rate and 1.1% click rate).

So what does this mean? That the holiday strategies and content from 2018 aren’t cutting it. It’s time to rethink your holiday strategy before it’s too late. Here are a few data-backed ways to refresh your messaging for each holiday this year.

Nail your brand’s core beliefs and values during key holidays

Thanksgiving: For some brands, there’s a direct logical tie-in to Thanksgiving promotions. For example, brands whose products or services cater to Thanksgiving shoppers – home goods, grocery stores, food prep, delivery services, etc. – can take advantage of this holiday by sending Thanksgiving-themed messages. If your brand is focused on offers this holiday, promoting a “% off” discount yielded the best results for brands last year, generating more than double the conversion rate of BAU (business as usual) messages.

Now, if you’re able to sell it to your CMO or are the CMO, I prefer not taking the sales-driven approach for this holiday (at least until after dinner, aka pre-Black Friday purchasing). Instead, marketers who promote and drive goodwill get rewarded. Marketers should consider this holiday an opportunity to highlight their philanthropy and humanize their brand. Thanksgiving is about giving thanks, not necessarily consumerism — so use this as a way to connect with your shoppers on a more emotional level while helping better the world. For example, since 2015 REI pre-empted Black Friday over the Thanksgiving holiday by encouraging its customers to #OptOutside instead of participating in the shopping rush.

Black Friday: As tempting as it is to focus only on your in-store Black Friday deals during Cyber week, marketers should consider that this holiday is moving online. Shoppers are excited for the deals on this commerce holiday – with conversion jumping 37.5% YoY – and brands need to ensure their digital channels are not missing out on the online expansion.

For many brands, promoting Black Friday deals earlier led to higher engagement with email marketing efforts. Last year, emails sent before Nov. 19 earned higher click rates and open rates than later emails, suggesting value in hyping the event earlier and getting customers thinking about their purchases long before the big day.

Cyber Monday: We all think consumers know free shipping is table stakes. But when subscribers are sorting through hundreds of Cyber Monday emails, ensuring free shipping is prominent is almost a sure-fire way to capture their attention. With more brands flooding this event every year, a simple basic like this could win this day for your brand. Last year, attention was harder to get as brands saw open rates drop more than 10%. But the brands that managed to grab that attention saw a significant reward, with conversion jumping ~57% YOY.

Christmas: Christmas emails often focus on building relationships with consumers over a holiday that focuses on togetherness – a strategy that continues to resonate. Christmas is ideal for marketers to focus on the human side of their brand by sharing stories from employees or customers or showcasing the charity work they do, and also by helping subscribers prep for the holidays through useful travel, gifting and decorating tips.

Differentiate your brand by telling your story

Your email marketing strategy can’t ignore any of the holidays mentioned above without wasting critical opportunities. Ensuring your brand stands out and is not just focused on sales will not only win this holiday season, but it will drive future success come 2020. Don’t forget to use this time to drive home the story of your brand by celebrating yourself and your relationship with your customers.

  • Make a New Year’s resolution. Focus on new releases, philanthropy or areas of improvement for your brand and share with your customers. That looks different for different brands. One idea: If you had any late deliveries throughout the year, admit it and layout a plan to eliminate or reduce late deliveries as your brand’s new resolution. This lets customers know you’re genuinely making an effort to improve their experience in the new year while showing a transparent human side.
  • Thank your customers. What’s a better way to celebrate your customers than a simple note saying thank you? Thank your customers and show them appreciation for their engagement with your brand. Highlight positive social posts about your brand while saying thank you. If you’re able, consider throwing in a gift card for those customers you highlight as an added gesture of thanks.
  • Tell your customer story. Highlight your customers’ journey with your brand. For instance, send a “year in review” email to remind your customers of the experiences they had throughout the year. For example, Lyft not only celebrates a year in review of its own accomplishments and goals, but also sends personalized emails to customers with details about the rides they took over the years. This works in every industry, so stop making excuses and get this on your calendar already!

Remember: When building out a holiday marketing strategy, first consider whether or not you’re listening to your customers and providing them with the content they need during the holiday shopping season. Authentic and relevant messages personalized to holiday shoppers will help foster customer loyalty and retention. Brands that fail to deliver on consumer needs risk falling behind and getting lost in a sea of promotions throughout the holiday season.

More about retail for the winter holidays

Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Marketing Land. Staff authors are listed here.

About The Author

Kyle Henderick is Senior Director of Client Services at Yes Marketing, a single solution provider who delivers relevant communications across all channels for mid and enterprise-sized companies. Kyle is responsible for helping major clients implement new programs, processes, and data-driven strategies to create campaigns that truly drive revenue. With a passion for technology implementation and a background in database, email, web, and social media marketing, Kyle turns his real-world experience into executable tactics to help clients see an incremental lift in revenue, subscriber engagement, and customer retention. A lover of all things Chicago, when Kyle is not reading up on latest marketing practices or focusing on improving client programs, he can be found enjoying the city’s great restaurants or wearing his heart on his sleeve while rooting for all Chicago-based sports teams. A curious individual willing to try any and every food that does not include raw onions, he is always looking for exciting dining options and new adventures around the city.


Uber tackles their biggest pain points with science.

Photo by Fabian Albert on Unsplash

I think Uber is just very different; there’s no model to copy.

– Travis Kalanick

Available in 600 cities spread across 65 countries with more than 75 million users, Uber has become the default transport choice for many.

The scale and speed of adoption have been incredible, and Uber cites its unique business model and experience as the drivers.

So what are the most significant issues customers have with Uber? And how has Uber used science to fix them?

Uber customers’ biggest pain point — the wait

Imagine you’re out at 2 am on a winter night, waiting for your Uber while shivering on the side of a dark street in a new town. Or you’re late for an important meeting that you might just make if your Uber is on time.

In these high-pressure situations, your perception of time is warped. Every second takes a minute, every minute takes an hour.

Not only that, but people will use this warped wait time to judge their entire customer experience. Why? It’s all down to a psychological principle called the Peak-end Rule.

The science behind an unforgettable customer experience

Image via UI

The Peak-end Rule says that people judge an experience based on how they felt at its peak and its end, not the average of every moment of the experience. And that’s true whether the experience was good or bad.

For brands, this means customers will remember their whole experience based on only two moments — the best (or worst) part of their experience, and the end.

Photo by why kei on Unsplash

Wait times are critical to a good experience — here’s how Uber applies psychology to perfect their customer experience

Because wait times are the key to a great customer experience, Uber has spent countless hours addressing this pain point.

In their research, Uber discovered three key principles dealing with how people perceive wait times: Idleness Aversion, Operational Transparency, and the Goal Gradient Effect.

1. Idleness Aversion

Photo by Fabrizio Verrecchia on Unsplash

“People dread idleness, yet they need a reason to be busy.”

– Researcher Chris Hsee

Recent studies into psychology, happiness, and customer experience have uncovered a principle called “Idleness Aversion”. It states that people are happier when they are busier, even if they’re forced to be busy.

How to apply Idleness Aversion

To keep people busy, give them information to engage with — animation, gamification, and visuals are ideal.

In the example from Uber below, they use an animation that keeps you entertained and informed while you wait for your ride.

Source: Uber Blog Australia

2. Operational Transparency

Photo by Sitraka Rakotoarivelo on Unsplash

“When customers are separated from the people and the processes that create value for them, they come away feeling like less effort went into the service.

They appreciate the service less and then the value the service less as well.”

— Ryan Buell, Harvard Business School

Operational Transparency is the deliberate inclusion of windows into your company’s operations, so customers can see the effort going into their experience.

According to recent research, Operational Transparency causes customers to value your product more highly and can even make people happier.

How to apply Operational Transparency

To keep people informed, make key information available, and help them understand where this information came from.

In the example from Uber Pool below, they provide information on how arrival times are calculated. It provides customers transparency but doesn’t overwhelm a non-technical audience with too many details.

Source: Engineering at Uber

3. The Goal Gradient Effect

Photo by Jonathan Chng on Unsplash

The Goal Gradient effect states that people are more motivated by how much is left to reach their target, rather than how far they have come.

And as people get closer to a reward, they speed up their behavior to get to their goal faster.

How to apply the Goal Gradient Effect

Think of the Goal Gradient Effect as a virtual finish line. The closer customers get to winning, the more encouraged they become.

You’ll often see the Goal Gradient Effect in UX elements like progress bars and profile completion — users are encouraged to complete a task by achieving objectives.

Uber applies this principle by illustrating what’s happening behind the scenes while customers are waiting. They explain each step in the process, making customers feel they are making continuous progress toward their goal.

Source: Engineering at Uber

The bottom line

There’s no doubt that a large part of Uber’s revenue comes from optimizing their experience using science. When an experiment was run with Uber Pool that applied Idleness Aversion, Operational Transparency, and the Goal Gradient Effect, the results were impressive:

“The Express POOL team tested these ideas in an A/B experiment and observed an 11 percent reduction in the post-request cancellation rate.”

– “How Uber Leverages Applied Behavioral Science at Scale

If you want to apply these principles to your brand, a testing mentality is critical. You have to be willing to test the application of the same principle in hundreds of different ways before discovering the best solution.

This experimentation mentality comes from the top down at Uber. As founder Travis Kalanick says:

“I wake up in the morning with a list of problems, and I go solve them.”


On a desktop, websites have the space to show the full menu, but on a mobile device that space isn’t there, and you want to hide the menu behind a toggle (like a hamburger icon) and show it when people click that toggle. How do you offer both in an accessible way that keeps your HTML simple, without duplicating your menu? That’s what the perfect responsive menu does.

Though the hamburger icon is well known by now, to better help people that are not familiar with it you can show the icon alongside the word “Menu”.

In this article, we’ll show you how to create a responsive menu that uses the same HTML on all viewports, is responsive and looks great. The perfect responsive menu.


We start with the HTML.

<nav id="navigation">
    <button aria-expanded="false" aria-controls="menu">Menubutton>
    <ul id="menu" hidden>
        <li><a href="/">Homea>li>
        <li><a href="/benefits">Benefitsa>li>
        <li><a href="/pricing">Pricinga>li>
        <li><a href="/blog">Bloga>li>

The basic menu is as you’ve probably written before. It’s a list of links (an ul) wrapped in a nav element. But two things are different.

First, there’s an extra button. The button has some attributes you might not be familiar with: Aria attributes. With these attributes we can help assistive tools like screen readers know the purpose of the button. In this case, the button controls the element with id “menu”, and it’s currently not expanded.

Second, The menu is initially hidden, using the hidden attribute. We hide it initially because we develop mobile first, and on mobile we only show the button.

The JavaScript

The button by itself won’t do anything. For that, we use JavaScript.

const toggleMenu = document.querySelector("#navigation button");
const menu = document.querySelector("#navigation ul");

toggleMenu.addEventListener("click", function () {
  const open = JSON.parse(toggleMenu.getAttribute("aria-expanded"));
  toggleMenu.setAttribute("aria-expanded", !open);
  menu.hidden = !menu.hidden;

When you click on the button, we call a function that will get the current value of the “aria-expanded” attribute, and invert it. It will do the same for the “hidden” attribute on the menu. The JSON.parse function helps us convert the attribute from a string to a real boolean.

At this point, the toggle is functional:

See the Pen wvwQwgo by Kilian Valkhof (@Kilian) on CodePen.


Support for the hidden attribute goes back to IE11, but if you need to support older browsers, then adding the CSS below will let you support them. (keep in mind you might need to change the javascript above too)

[hidden] { display: none; }

At a certain width, the viewport will be wide enough to hide the button and show the menu:

@media ( min-width: 40rem ) {
  #navigation button { display: none }
  #menu { display: block }

The width at which this happens depends on your design and the length of your menu, so while 40rem works for me, it might not work for you.

To show this in action, toggle the “CSS” panel in the pen below, it will switch between showing just the button and just the menu.

See the Pen The perfect responsive menu (responsive) by Kilian Valkhof (@Kilian) on CodePen.

The finishing touch: styling

At this point, it’s up to you how you want to style the button and the menu. You can make it as simple or complicated as you want.

For example, the mobile menu on the Polypane website uses an svg icon for the menu with an animated growing background and a staggered animation of the menu items. I switched to PostCSS (which allows nesting) to make things a little more readable, but it’s quite a lot of code regardless.

See the Pen The perfect responsive menu (styled) by Kilian Valkhof (@Kilian) on CodePen.

But it doesn’t have to look like this. With just this skeleton HTML and JavaScript, you can use CSS to style it in many different ways. You might choose to slide open the menu like a dropdown, pushing the rest of the content down, or you could have it slide in from the left like a side panel. And using css transforms you can animate the transition in any way you like.

As long as you keep the HTML and the core functionality of the JavaScript intact, you will have an accessible, responsive menu that uses the same HTML on both mobile and wider viewports. The perfect responsive menu.