The Ultimate Guide to Planning Your 2023 Black Friday Email & SMS Marketing Strategy

The right email marketing strategies can help you get the most out of your Black Friday/Cyber Monday and holiday promotions! Here are 10 steps to maximize your revenue during the busiest times of year for eCommerce businesses.

Robbie Fitzwater
Updated on

For eCommerce marketers and business owners, the buildup to and the holiday season can be rather intimidating. So much of this planning falls squarely on the email marketer, who is responsible for building anticipation, building a list, and converting that list when it matters most.

The strategy needed for e-commerce email marketers and businesses in this window is completely different than the strategy for the rest of the year.

Things can get a bit chaotic, and everyone is focused on how to maximize their email marketing during this season. And with the clock ticking until the holidays, there is no better time to start planning than now.



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Black Friday

Needless to say, we’ve seen plenty of mistakes leading up to and during Black Friday/Cyber Monday, so we wanted to help you avoid them!

We laid out some of the most common holiday mistakes we see made in holiday email marketing strategy so that you may avoid them and give you a smooth roadmap to follow!

What we’ll cover:

  1. 10 Steps to Prepare for Black Friday
    1. Plan it out in July/August
    2. Keep your offer simple
    3. Grow your email list now
    4. Analyze last year’s performance
    5. Build and maintain momentum
    6. Test your subject lines
    7. Test Your Operations
    8. Create Urgency
    9. Vary Your Messaging
    10. Retain holiday shoppers with post-purchase flows
  2. Conclusion 

If there is one question, we get over and over, it’s “What should we do to get ready for the holidays or Black Friday/Cyber Monday?”

The holidays can be fun and exciting, but if you are not prepared, they can feel pretty stressful.

So, we figured we could help you start getting ready for Black Friday/Cyber Monday early this year.

Yes, July/August is the time to start, so you can avoid playing catch-up until mid-December.

I wanted to walk you guys through some of the exercises and processes we use to help you get ahead of the curve and just press play on the holiday campaigns you have planned as opposed to worrying about every single small thing.

Black Friday/Cyber Monday planning visual, thinking about the holidays as a two month window. With peaks leading into BFCM and a final peak before New Year.

10 Steps to Prepare for Black Friday

1.    Plan it out in July/August

So, as I mentioned before that, by starting in July or August, we can get the most out of it. Because doing this will enable us to put as much firepower behind it as possible.

We always talk about like hygiene, hub, and hero content in terms of how we’re using our content and planning for different events.

Hygiene, Hub, and Hero model.

This one falls into the hero category since it is so many retailers’ chance to maximize revenue.

Especially if we talk about US-based audiences, they are kind of well trained to purchase in that window, and we should be taking maximum advantage of that.

For eCommerce stores, this is going to be the biggest or one of the biggest sales pushes you make all year, so be prepared to invest a lot of time and effort here. This is a level of effort you can’t invest into your marketing very often, bus as it likely represents the biggest sales peak of the year, this is one you want to do right!

2.    Keep your offer simple

The next step is… What should you be offering?

This makes you look at what you did last year or with your last promotional campaigns and use those as a baseline to create this year’s promotion.

You should typically be ready to offer a deeper discount or a larger promotion than any other time in the year. If you are struggling to come up with something, just offer an extra 5% off? Competition is high this time of year, so you will want to do something to stand out.

Also, make sure that your offers are in-line with the type of your business. For example, some high-end brands offer no discounts during Black Friday or Cyber Monday, and they’re upfront with it because maybe it doesn’t align with the kind of services or products they have to offer.

On the other hand, some brands send in offers for secondary purchases, like if you spend an XYZ amount, you’ll get a gift card for XYZ, and so on.

Examples of different offers for Black Friday/Cyber Monday. As I already mentioned, keep it simple and make sure your audience sees value in it.

But, be straightforward with what you’re offering and how long that promotion is going to last without making it complicated by putting in a lot of unnecessary details.

You can also piggyback off some similar promotion that you’ve had success with in the past and carry that momentum you’ve grown into, something that’s proved to be engaging and drove some action back then. 

Also, you can introduce a new product line in this window and tell them that we’ll just be releasing an exclusive number of products to create urgency and have fun with it. 

3.    Grow your email list now

Building your email/SMS list early in time will save you from paying more later to acquire an audience during the most expensive time of the year.

Starting in September, acquisition costs will start to increase because everyone will be getting themselves ramped up for the holidays. The ads will become more expensive with everyone piling on the top, preparing for Black Friday/Cyber Monday.

Plus, we don’t want to be bringing in cold traffic. Instead, we want qualified prospects ready to buy,

So we would ideally want to build that list organically, gradually, but early in time, and it doesn’t matter if they don’t convert right away. 

About this, I always think that all the work that you do to build your list now, and the work you’ve done before over the course of the year, it’s more like farming than hunting, like we’re not going out looking for new customers that will convert right away but we’re nurturing them and slowly preparing them to make their first purchase and then multiple purchases moving forward.

You’ve planted your seed and allowed it all the time to grow. The more seeds you plant, the more you’ll have to harvest in November and December.

Another way to do this is by building a VIP list.

If we have a list of people that have already purchased and that have shown a certain level of intent around high-value purchases, then that’s a great way to take advantage and add that into your communications, like, “Hey, we’ve got something exciting going in, if you join our VIP list now, you’ll have an early access to it or an escalated discount” etc. This will help them mentally reserve a space in their wallet for it.

You’ll even notice a change in their browsing behavior in the months leading to it. You may see sales slowing down a bit the closer the holidays get.

In the states, people stop buying toilet paper in October because they’re so ready for the Black Friday or Cyber Monday deals to come along. 

4.    Analyze last year’s performance

Analyzing what worked for you last year and what didn’t will ensure that you’re not missing any opportunity this time and not leaving any revenue behind on the table.

Simply put, your discount or promotion should be deep enough to prove valuable for people, wanting them to jump on it as opposed to anything else. Or your promotion should last a bit longer than it did last year when you lost the chance to have a few more people by ending it early. 

Think of this as a holistic holiday, the window leading up to Black Friday/Cyber Monday, Cyber Monday to the shipping cut-off, and then 12/26 to New Year’s day, and look for ways you can work on those different peaks.

Thinking in terms of the context of the buyer, ready to buy on a discount before and during BFCM, becoming less and less price sensitive leading up to the shipping cutoff, and then the last spending spree leading into the New Year’s Day.

Because people are more gift-card-rich starting Dec. 25, there are a lot of ways to drive purchases between Dec. 25th – 31st. If they didn’t get what they wanted for the holiday, on Dec. 26th, they are going to be burning holes in their pockets, so be ready to take advantage of that one last bump before the New Year.

5.    Build and maintain momentum

Then, building a steady momentum is really important, and here I’m going to walk you through the process of it. 

We’ll start with building a good audience ahead of time, and for that, we’ll start from November with all of our list-building efforts like pop-overs, invitations to the VIP lists, etc. This will ensure that you’re acquiring as many people as possible well in time before Black Friday and Cyber Monday arrives. 

Think of it like a musician releasing an album, many months out, you are communicating:

“Heyy, this is what we’re working on.”


“Here’s when it is going to be available”


“Here’s how you can be first in line”


“here’s a preview of that it will be like”


“It’s almost time to bring this to life”

With each step, you are building anticipation and excitement in your audience.

From there, you can work on inviting them to opt-in to a preorder or VIP list. Then continue to communicate it leading up to a cutoff, typically 3-5 days before you start your rollout.

If you are smaller and cannot handle a lot of orders at once, you can open things up very early and communicate that the discount will not be any higher on BFCM. To try to spread things out and make fulfillment more manageable.

Then the week of Black Friday, give your VIPs early access, and in the late afternoon on thanksgiving, open things up for your broad list. Around that time, people are usually bored and on their phones which makes a good time to reach them.

Now, moving on to our next phase, after Black Friday/Cyber Monday, start reminding them of the secondary things like free shipping and keep building that momentum for a little longer. 

Then on Black Friday and Cyber Monday, don’t be shy about sending a lot of emails, three each day and two on Saturday and Sunday. Assuming people’s inboxes will be saturated and they are not going to see every email you send, so to ensure you get the eyeballs you want, be ready to send a lot more.

After Cyber Monday, we like to run a 48-hour bounceback sequence to purchasers to work to drive the 2nd purchase. -“Just in case you missed anything in the holiday rush, here is your discount -CODE- to grab it in the next 48 hours. – Make this one 5% less than BFCM promo because they will be less price sensitive at this point.

Then work to keep your audience purchasing up until the free shipping and shipping cutoff dates.

For that, confirm the dates with your FedEx or UPS reps well in advance and communicate that to your audience after Cyber Monday.

We typically work to share some content with easy sales built in this time also to break up the consistency of a lot of promotional messages. This is also a time to recycle your hits. Highly engaging content performs well this time and warms your audience back up after the avalanche of sales.

And remember that at this point, people are going to become less price sensitive because if they have waited so long, it means they just intend to get when they need it, and they don’t care about a discount. Therefore, even if you don’t offer them a much lower price, they’ll get it anyway. 

Back to our main point, keeping the momentum built all the way even after Black Friday has passed is essential, and adding a secondary call to action such as “hey, free shipping is going to end soon, so make sure you get it early”. 

And then, from 26th December to 31st, we always recommend going for another round of active activation because, during those times, people again have gift cards to blow (before the new year). And as soon as the new year hits, people start to tighten their belts.

So you can be like, “Heyy, if you didn’t get what you want, here’s what we have in store for you until 31st.” 

6.    Test your subject lines

You should not be testing your subject lines when Cyber Monday/Black Friday is just around the corner; it’s something you should be doing all year round in months like July, August, September, and October.

So, the subject lines you’ve tried and tested before, the ones that please the crowd, are the ones you should be leveraging at this peak. 

We like to create a list of really engaging subject components that we hold off on using for all of November, then roll them back out to make the most impact.

7.    Test Your Operations

Knowing how much your fulfillment team can handle is also crucial before you get into that actual phase of promotions, so test your operations out well before time.

The smaller-scale promotions/events are a great way to test how fast your team can fulfill orders and how much is too much.

And, if you feel that you can’t handle it, you’ll have time to prepare for that and communicate what’s coming up to your fulfillment team as well. 

We always send clients fulfillment teams cases of Gatorade during the holidays because we are always working to keep them pretty busy.

8.    Create Urgency

We always recommend adding urgency from time to time in this whole two-month period. And to do so, you can try a few different things like using SMS and email in combination with each other. 

SMS works really great in the first 24 hours. This channel is so unique because suddenly, you can make someone’s Apple Watch-wearing wrist vibrate.

So first, reaching out through SMS and then email (which is a relatively slower burn) can follow up to capture more of the audience.

I know it seems like a lot, but that’s what being proactive is all about!

Also, once they have purchased in the BFCM window, we recommend excluding them from the communications afterward because we don’t want to overload them with all of those sales messages. 

Also, adding new product introductions with a limited amount of time can give mix different value props into the mix around this time too.

9.    Vary Your Messaging

Depending on what kind of audience you have, you can offer some really exciting things. For example, there are some people who are always looking for something exclusive because they highly price sensitive or because they always try to get their hands on something unique and novel. 

So apart from those promotions, you can infuse some content like “recommendations from our team or five gift ideas for this holiday” or some product guides, etc.

Basically, those are all little things you can do to add value to them other than constantly talking about your upcoming offers. Adding these into more promotional messaging makes your communications feel less like a used car lot around this time.

10.  Retain holiday shoppers with post-purchase flows

After Black Friday/Cyber Monday, we recommend running a post-purchase bounce-black-flow.

With this, you can again offer 10% or 15% off for a short time to people who purchased in your promotional window and let them know that in case you missed something in the Black Friday/Cyber Monday rush, making this discount good for the next 48 hours. We like to offer them a custom code through whatever email service provider you use.

We like Klaviyo for e-commerce businesses since it helps ensure we’re not getting those codes abused by everyone, and they feel special.

This is something that we love because if we can get 10% of holiday shoppers to purchase two times around the holidays, that is a big improvement in our holiday performance!


At the end of the day, I can’t emphasize this enough, start planning now!

Plan it well before time, so you don’t have to play catch up last minute because the only thing you’d want to be doing at that time is sitting back and making money.

You will be sending a lot of emails, so start building them NOW!

We wanted to make sure you are ready for Black Friday/Cyber Monday, and I hope that helps.

Other than that, if you guys have any suggestions or questions, please let us know in the comment box below; we always love having feedback!

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