The pumpkins come out, the days grow shorter, the weather cools, and there's no mistaking that the holiday season is upon us, even though we're barely past the back-to-school rush.

Already, it's holiday marketing time.

Yet, in recessionary periods, what is normally a festive season is not all sweetness and light—for consumers or retailers. Still, that doesn't mean advertisers can't find ways to add some luster to their email-marketing programs this season.

Especially during down times, here are three ways to make your holiday email shine.

1. Put an extra treat in their stockings this year

Most holiday email is focused on e-commerce, but it doesn't have to be all about simply driving sales. If you're still selling by way of promotion rather than service, you're missing an important opportunity to build brand equity and long-term relationships.

In the spirit of the holiday season, focus your email on both giving and receiving. What immediate non-purchase-related value can you offer for free?

How about some cheer, as OfficeMax has done for several years running with its Elf Yourself program? Or, better yet, feature additional, seasonally relevant and helpful content such as recipes, shopping tips, or ideas for a new holiday tradition. Or launch a holiday-themed sweepstakes or contest. There's no time like gift-giving season to award those big prizes.

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image of Karen Talavera

Karen Talavera is the founder of Synchronicity Marketing, a company specializing in digital marketing training, coaching, and education.