It’s hard to believe, but the busy holiday season is nearly here.

In just another month catalog companies will start sending out the first holiday catalogs. Shortly after that the holiday emails will start hitting the market and for about two to three months consumers will be finding their inboxes full of offers, promotions and new merchandise.

The holiday season is important for many companies. Retailers count on the fourth quarter for much of their sales as people do their holiday shopping for families and friends. Businesses in other industries also take advantage of the holiday season as a time when people are opening their wallets for a variety of products and services.

Email strategy is important as the holiday season approaches. There is a lot of competition for the inbox. Consumers will be strained as they look through their inboxes every day. The tendency will be to delete more emails than normal, but with a good strategy companies can still win the inbox war.

Here are three items to remember as you plan your holiday email frequency.

Consumers Don’t Appreciate Drastic Changes

People don’t like change. Well, people don’t like drastic change. We become comfortable with the way things are and we don’t like to think about the unknown that comes with change. One of the biggest fears for people is fear of the unknown.

When you’ve been doing something for a long time like emailing your customers once a week or once every day your subscribers become trained. They appreciate the consistency because they don’t have to worry about the unknown.

The biggest thing to avoid with your holiday email strategy is to change your frequency fast and furious. People will freak out if you go from mailing once a month to every day. You’ll receive more spam notices and more people will unsubscribe.

A contest, like this one by Lee Jeans, can be a way to ease into more frequency. People typically like hearing about a contest.

Now, this might be worth it if sales increase, but it’s a risky bet. One thing you can do right now is to start testing into a higher frequency. People are more likely to accept slow change than fast change. If you go from one email a month to one email every two weeks you won’t see as much reaction.

Setup Your Testing Plan Early

Now is the time to create your testing plan. Many companies never stop their holiday planning. Since the fourth quarter is so important to the bottom line companies are always thinking about their holiday plans. In January, when the holiday season is fresh on everyone’s mind, companies will start working on strategies for next year. When the merchandise is set in the summer months a more defined strategy is honed and prepared.

If you are still unsure about your strategy for holiday then now is the time to start planning to test. Some are averse to the idea of testing during holiday, but I feel it’s a great time to test. People are engaged with email during the holiday. There is more competition for attention in the inbox, but people will pay attention to emails that are interesting and appealing.

Last chance emails like this one from LL Bean are often big wins for companies.

For your testing plans for this holiday season focus on the results that will give you the biggest wins. Frequency is definitely something that could be a big win. Start segmenting your subscribers now so that you can begin testing a higher frequency heading into holiday. If you find that an increase in sales with higher frequency offsets unsubscribe rates and spam rates then you might have a way to increase sales this holiday season with email.

Consider a Preference Center

Your subscribers are different. If you had the staff you would probably create more personalized emails for the various segments of people on your list (preferences, age, location, email activity, etc.), but it’s difficult to do this.

For the most part companies seem to be understaffed with creative email designers. It’s difficult to create more emails without more designers. You’ll also need more marketers and analysts to figure out what makes an email successful.

Email remains one of the best ways for marketers to drive response. Print is getting more expensive. Social media remains a mystery for many companies. It’s smart to invest in an expanded email program for your company. While that may be months or years away for you there is still something you can do now to get the information you’ll need when your email capabilities expand.

Preference centers have been around for years, but more companies are starting to use them to segment their subscribers. A preference center allows you to give control to your subscribers. They call tell you a variety of information points including what merchandise they want to hear about and how often they want to receive emails from you.

This is an example of a simple Preference Center by NASCAR. Users can select their favorite driver.

Tread carefully with preference centers. Sometimes customers don’t know what they really want. All people are this way including myself. A customer might only want to receive one email each month, but their opening habits might suggest they actually want an email every week.

Use preference centers to gather useful information that can allow you to better operate the email program. Make sure the goals of your business are center to your email program. A preference center can make this happen and now is a great time to start collecting information. You can use the holiday season to get certain information that you can use next year if not this year.

Final Suggestions for Holiday Email Frequency

Change is good, but move slowly with your change. There is no need to get crazy with your frequency heading into the holiday season. Your customers will overreact to fast changes. Focus on small, calculated changes. For the most part a higher frequency in the holiday season will yield more sales, but be sure to test this theory throughout the entire holiday season. Don’t measure each individual test. Measure the entire email program this year versus last year too.

Now is the time to have your test plan ready. Focus on the areas where your company can have big wins with the results. Changing colors can sometimes be a small win while increasing frequency can be a large win. Focus on tests with potential to pay off big.

Finally, start looking into preference centers. You can gather a lot of information from your subscribers that will lead to improved sales in the future. It’s understood that getting subscribers to take action with a preference center takes away from action that leads to immediate sales, but the focus here is long-term.

There are some tips to help you with email frequency this year.

Share your other tips in the comments.

About the Author: Dayne Shuda is a contributing blogger for Fluttermail, an email provider for small business. He has worked on a variety of email marketing campaigns including email newsletters and e-commerce emails.