16 Holiday Marketing Campaign Strategies to Delight Your Customers
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Are you ready for the holiday season?
If the past few years are any indication, everyone will still be buttoning up their plans just weeks (and final hours!) leading up to the kickoff of their big holiday promotions.
So why not prepare in advance? There’s no better time than now to start thinking about your holiday marketing campaigns — plus, preparing early will set you up for success (and decrease the likelihood of a mad rush at the end.)
The retail strength of the holiday shopping season is felt throughout the globe. Although both Black Friday and Cyber Monday began in the United States, shoppers all over the world have come to embrace the two months of holiday shopping.
You don’t want to miss seasonal promotional opportunities or holiday sales — especially to your competitors who may have started preparing already.
That said, we have now fully entered into the planning phase: arguably the most important part of a successful season.
A lot goes into creating a holiday campaign in the increasingly digital year of 2019:
- Creativity is key in order to win mindshare, but channel distribution may be necessary to win sales.
- Returning and net-new customers have different purchasing behaviors, but simplicity makes it easier for retailers to quickly adapt.
- Brick-and-mortar shopping is persistently common during the holidays, but brands continue to create online innovation.
This is a balancing act between marketing and operations — two retail departments continuing to better blend as consumer expectations demand simple experiences.
We consulted with 15 of the top ecommerce marketers, agencies, consultants, and brands in order to gauge how your teams should be allocating resources across departments and customer touchpoints for holiday marketing campaign planning. In speaking to these experts, eight areas of concentration emerged.
We’ve ordered them in priority based on the number of respondents that spoke to each need.
Marketing Strategies to Consider This Holiday Season
The following holiday marketing tips and promotion ideas will help you refine your efforts to ramp up sales during the most profitable time of the year.
- Plan early, and plan more than you think.
- Err on the side of simplicity.
- Be ready to react and adapt quickly.
- Use a more content-driven approach.
- Be prepared for more competition than ever.
- Consider an influencer strategy.
- Avoid false urgency. Create a real reason to buy.
- Don’t forget about your existing customers.
1. Plan early, and plan more than you think.
If you haven’t thought about your plans for the holiday yet, you’re already behind.
In fact, it is a common best practice to go through a “code freeze” during the holidays where no large back-end changes can be made to your website, simply because of the risk of something accidentally going wrong.
Years ago, the holiday season used to just be three main retail-heavy events:
- Christmas, and
But now there is an entire gang of holidays in the last two months of the year — more than just the obvious Cyber Monday and Black Friday.
In fact, the Wikipedia article for multinational festivals and holidays lists nearly 50 events that happen around the world in November and December. That’s a lot of reasons for people to celebrate by gift-giving.
So it goes without saying: there’s a lot you need to plan for.
“Brands are so worried about what’s right in front of them, they forget the holiday buying season lasts over two months now, and there are immense opportunities to build your business for the rest of the year through what you accomplish then.”
— Jordan Brannon, President, Coalition Technologies
With the influx of traffic to your online store during the holidays, it helps to have your technical ducks in a row, according to Tessa Wuertz, Director of Marketing at Efelle Creative.
“You’re inevitably going to be busier during this time of year, so prepare yourself with easy access to FAQs, customer support chatbots, and testing your emails and website.
I’d also highly recommend making sure your site can handle as many API calls as you can potentially have. Nothing’s worse than a bunch of customers who want to buy from you that are stopped by your website.”
Holiday planning goes beyond getting landing pages, email marketing, and ad campaigns ready. It also is a good opportunity to look at your channel strategy, according to Courtney Hedges, Digital Marketing Director at LiveArea.
“Start early with planning, think through how all channels work together, take a step back and walk through the customer journey and ensure everything works with no friction all the way through promo codes/checkout, etc.”
It also helps to pre-plan your post-mortem for after the holidays. Starting January 1st, all of your wins and losses will be fresh in your mind, so take the opportunity to document them and come up with some quick actions for the next holiday.
“In the hustle and bustle of the holidays, sometimes January 1 hits and we (even as marketers) feel like we need to check out a bit for our own sanity. Use that downtime to look at what went well with your campaigns and make some notes for the upcoming year.
Successful holiday marketing campaigns start their initial planning in Q2. It’s really easy for that breath of fresh air in January to turn into getting distracted with summer hours, and then all of the sudden it’s the end of October and you are finally making time for holiday marketing planning. Plan, plan, plan ahead.”
— Kristin Mastantuono, Digital Marketing Specialist, Irish Titan
2. Err on the side of simplicity.
It can be easy to get caught up in the hustle and bustle of holiday planning. But it’s better in the long run to start small with your holiday campaigns, especially if this is your first holiday season as a brand.
Even larger retailers who have been around for decades often refer back to the basics during the holidays. It all depends on the amount of bandwidth your team has, and the amount of support your operations will have during the holidays.
The key to simple holiday campaigns? According to Mike Wittenstein, Founder + Managing Partner at StoryMiners, it is to pitch one idea, one benefit, and one emotion in each message.
“The IDEA is an outcome your product/service/gift can supply, the BENEFIT is what the buyer gets (not necessarily the recipient in the case of a gift), and the EMOTION is what draws them in and helps them remember.”
The holidays are not a good time to experiment with a new persona approach for customers, especially if you’ve done thorough testing and discovery throughout the year to nail down the correct messaging. There is too much on the line. If you want to be extra creative and try a new approach, consider doing an A/B test.
The reputation you’ve built with customers throughout the year will be one of the deciding factors when they choose where to shop for the holidays. Make sure you’re standing by with a customer experience that matches what they’ve been through when they purchased in the past.
Chelsey Dewitt, Marketing Strategist at DigitlHaus Agency, recommends using social media to connect with customers.
“Choose a strategy that connects with the consumer. Instead of just blasting off emails with sales price cross-outs and Black Friday and Cyber Monday in big bold font, choose to brand your campaign with a hashtag, something engaging that consumers will want to share through their social channels to feel like they are a part of something.
With this tactic, not only are you building a connection — you’re building trust and an audience, so when sales time comes peeking up around the corner, your brand is remembered.”
3. Be ready to react and adapt quickly.
The saying “all hands on deck” holds no greater meaning than when you’re a retailer during the holidays.
During Black Friday 2018, customers grew frustrated when their orders on J.Crew were not going through.
The tech problems lasted almost all day, so many customers simply shopped elsewhere.
Regardless of the size of your website, you’ll need to have a fast-acting team available to remedy any issues that may occur on your site, on your ads, and anywhere else.
“Make sure all relevant resource contacts are available and on call. The last thing you need is a problem with Google Ads or Facebook ads with no rep to help out during the most crucial periods.”
— Caleb Siegel, VP, Group8A
In addition, you need to react quickly when things aren’t going as planned.
“Put yourself in a position to react quickly when you launch a campaign. If things aren’t working, you need to be able to make changes in hours, not days.”
— Ryan Shaw, Director of Growth Marketing, Shogun
4. Use a more content-driven approach.
Online shopping has been around for the past quarter of a century, so customers are more familiar with holiday campaigns than ever before.
Because they often see the same thing year after year, their eyes may glaze over at the traditional sales and marketing tactics.
The same themes that emerged during the 2019 year in ecommerce will apply to the holiday marketing strategies as well — and you better bet that brands will mix them into their Q4 campaigns.
The main theme that will stay true during the holidays is the “content-first” approach that innovative and trending brands are using today. Using content marketing as a method to reach customers, we’ll see brands offer more personalized shopping experiences, like holiday gift guides, shopping assistants, and brick-and-mortar activations.
“Go a step further from general ecommerce, and incorporate a content/commerce approach to your holiday campaigns. Offer your customers some extra level of value, such as a gift guide for your various customer personas. This helps holiday shoppers get a full picture of your products and why they might be better suited for one persona over the other.”
— Jessica Lago, Manager of Marketing & Partnerships, iMedia Inc
Adding a content strategy element to your holiday marketing ideas can reap big rewards, especially if you keep search engine optimization (SEO) in mind. This will help drive organic traffic to your website as customers search for products that you sell — even if they’ve never shopped with you before.
If you’ve introduced a new brand voice or customer marketing strategy over the past year, be sure to weave that new messaging into your holiday campaigns — otherwise, it may result in a disjointed customer experience.
“If you have a new or expanded “purpose” initiative for your brand, prominently telling consumers of that effort and weaving the story throughout your holiday marketing can help motivate consumers to spend their money and align themselves and those they give gifts with supporting that purpose.”
— Ron Smith, The Digital Outdoorsman
5. Be prepared for more competition than ever.
With all the holiday promotions around the holiday shopping season, email marketing will be more important than ever in drawing customers to your online store. Make sure your email marketing campaigns help you stand out from the crowd clearly communicate the benefits of shopping with you over your competitors.
“Try to think outside the box. Leverage something interesting/unique you know about your target demographic and speak to that rather than just going with the traditional (easy) holiday-related subject lines.”
— Kaleigh Moore, KaleighMoore.com
But getting customers in the door is just part of the battle. Over 3/4 of shoppers choose to leave a site without completing a purchase. Cart abandonment rate paired with the rise in competition will make the 2019 holidays a troublesome time for retailers who struggle to keep up with changing customer activities.
“Make sure you have effective retargeting campaigns set up and in place before the holiday season.
You need to remind your customers why they visited your site or added that item to their basket in the first place. Incentivize with discount codes and free delivery to lure them back in and make you stand out against the competition.”
— Michelle Rooker, Content Specialist, 5874
6. Consider an influencer strategy.
The effectiveness of influencers wavers between industries, but more users than ever are expected to hop onto social media during the holidays. A 2016 research study from Sprout Social revealed that social media messaging to brands rises more than 30% during the winter season.
Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter are clear avenues for brand interaction during the holidays. Make your presence known to social media users by using an influencer strategy that carries through to the holidays.
“You can also leverage influencers to create sponsored, yet non-promotional-looking content that focuses on a particular holiday. You can ask them to show your products in use during the holiday festivities. This will influence their followers to try your products.”
— Shane Barker, Founder, https://shanebarker.com/
7. Avoid false urgency. Create a real reason to buy.
Online customers know how to spot a good deal. The holiday season is known for deep discounts that can only be found once a year. Shoppers are conditioned to search for special offers and the lowest prices.
When creating your holiday marketing plans, make sure you’re clearly incentivizing shoppers to visit your store and complete a purchase. For many, this happens by offering a discount.
“Whatever promotion you decide to run, make sure there’s a non-BS reason for customers to buy NOW.
For example, maybe your brand genuinely only holds sales once or twice a year — and this is one of those times. That’s compelling!
Or maybe you’ll donate a percentage of holiday profits to a carbon-offset organization to make up for the insane increase in air pollution from delivery trucks. That’s convincing!
Whatever your angle is, avoid false urgency… because buyers can smell it from a mile away.”
— Lianna Patch, Founder, Punchline Conversion Copywriting
There is a fine line between haphazard discounting or giveaways and creating a relationship with your customers. You don’t want to devalue your brand to the point where customers think it is cheap, because then they might not be compelled to make a repeat purchase.
“You have two main opportunities to hit — provide value for shoppers who are planning ahead of time with early access, pre-sale shopping tools, and reminders, THEN those last minute impulse shoppers with personalized messaging and specific offers. Those day-of, ‘up to 60% off’ blanket offers don’t resonate anymore. We all know you only have one product at that discount.”
— Julie Causseaux, eCommerce Strategist, Revenue River
The holiday season isn’t just about creating revenue — it’s also about establishing connections with customers who will return to purchase in the off-season. Make sure that customer retention is top of mind during any marketing decision you make for the holiday season.
So with that being said…
8. Don’t forget about your existing customers.
Chances are that the visitors who come to your website during the holidays will be a healthy mix of new and returning customers. The pathway to purchase for a repeat customer looks very different than a new customer, so make considerations for both while building out your plans.
“Do you have people who purchased last year who haven’t done so this year? Cool. It’s time to target them. Perhaps with a promo for a gift offering for someone in their lives? Maybe a product recommendation that’s the logical next purchase after the first? You should at least attempt something to get them to come back and buy again. It’s the low hanging fruit. You have to knock where the digital door is already open.”
— Scott Ginsberg, Head of Content, Metric Digital
The holiday season will make or break revenue goals for almost every B2C retailer — both online and in-store.
An increase in customers shopping online paired with a constant stream of competition makes it harder for brands to succeed during the holidays, but there are steps you can take in advance of Cyber 5 that can position your brand above others and earn loyal customers.
Start planning now, keep your customers in mind during every decision you make, and don’t forget about establishing lifetime value with your brand.
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