Similar to there being a right and a wrong way to do end-of-year product marketing, there’s a right and a wrong way to do holiday marketing. As a marketer, I keep an eye on my inbox during the holidays in anticipation of varied approaches. Over the years, I’ve seen some brands hit it out of the park and others who should have thought twice (or at least tested their message with a customer advisory board).

Varied approaches aside, many brands avoid doing holiday marketing altogether because they’re apprehensive about screwing it up. This saddens me because they’re missing an opportunity to reconnect with their prospects and customers. Indeed, holidays can be a sensitive topic given everyone comes from different religions or backgrounds. But this shouldn’t be a factor so long as brands remember that not everyone celebrates the same holidays.

This Valentine’s Day left my inbox alarmingly silent. What gives, brands?! You stood me up on Valentine’s Day! I know it’s not Christmas, the only holiday most marketers think matters, but you lost a chance to tell me how much you love me! I mean, at least send me a non-strategic campaign with a coupon in it or something so I can cry less when I finally cave and buy your product. Sheesh.

But not all is lost, two brands pulled through this year and stole my marketing heart. Rover, the dog walker app, and Casper, the mattress company, took advantage of this ironically lesser-loved holiday.

Let’s take a look at Casper’s love poem they wrote me.

Who doesn’t love a poem on Valentine’s Day? While I actually enjoyed their 2015 campaign more because it’s more tongue in cheek, I love how Casper doesn’t run the same holiday campaign over and over. Doing so is a huge mistake because your readers tune out after the second year. Get creative and don’t be afraid to do something that’s “out there.” Casper has certainly mastered this. Perhaps it’s because as a mattress company, they know the same ‘routine in bed’ can get boring, and translated that to their marketing campaigns. 😉

One thing to note here is that the campaign does promote the product itself. Normally, I’d say this is less effective than alternatives (more on this later) but two things make it work. First, they disguise the product promotion by embracing the spirit of the holiday via love poem. Second, Casper switches it up every year. I argue that using alternate approaches, even if they do promote the product, are better than the same heart and cupid clipart year over year.

Casper Valentine's Day 2017
my dog ryah
Casper Valentine's Day 2017

Next up is Rover, the dog walker app I use for my basket case of a four-legged friend, Ryah.

Fun fact: She’s a rescued American Fox Hound who runs away and plays dead before every bath.

Want to steal my heart? Steal the heart of my dog. The header of this email makes it immediately clear that this is not about their product, or even me (I thought I was their customer but maybe their real customer is my dog?). Header, colors, those gross heart candies? Valentine’s Day, got it.

First paragraph? Instant connection with their audience and perhaps tears welling up in their eyes. I didn’t read this email, I felt this email. And as I’ve said before, people will forget what you said but they will never forget the way you made them feel. We marketers often forget that psychology drives our craft, not metrics. Want to influence behavior? Influence emotions. And the first paragraph did just that, by making me reminisce about my times with Ryah over the past four years.

Okay, grab some tissues or some ice, because the second paragraph will make you melt. We’re so glad you and your dog are part of our pack– because Rover really is a pack. It’s the largest community of dog lovers from coast to coast. Stop, pause and recognize. What are you feeling here? Inclusivity. Belonging. Camaraderie. Relationship. Even if you’re single, Rover gave you a valentine. You have your dog and you have the other dog lovers on Rover. Now Rover just needs to finish their Tindr integration.

Third paragraph? Product pitch, though indirect. If you still need a sitter for the upcoming three-day weekend, we’ve got your back. Remember how I said the best holiday emails are strategic? Not only is Rover reconnecting with its list by tugging on their heartstrings, they’re powering revenue for not one holiday but two! And they’re inviting you to share Rover with your friends to grow the community they made you love earlier in the email. Have friends with dogs? Invite them to join our pack too, and let’s keep building this awesome community together. And you know what I did? I clicked share. Because of the way they made me feel.

The bottom line

Effective holiday marketing should be emotive, not peddle your product. Casper and Rover stood out this year because their campaigns embraced the spirit of the holiday and made you feel something. Truth is, all people make decisions emotionally before justifying them rationally. So never forget that as marketers, psychology is our true craft, and holidays present golden opportunities to leverage the feelings associated with them to influence behavior.