The holiday season is officially upon us.
If you haven’t already planned your holiday strategy, now is the time!
Don’t fret, we’ve got you covered.
This article will walk you through the steps you need to take to ensure that you’re ready to hit the ground running with your holiday efforts.
1. Review Last Year’s Results
Performing a postmortem on last year’s results can be a great place to start.
Which channels and campaign types worked that should be revisited?
Which creative was most impactful?
What audiences performed best?
Which promotions drove the most purchases?
Where did you outperform competitors? Where did they outperform you? (Customer service? Promos? Reliability? Experience?) If you don’t have this data from last year, it might be a little late to acquire it but a great time to start gathering intel on how competitors are performing now for present and future purposes.
If something worked really well last year, then there’s no need to fix what isn’t broke.
That said, it’s still worth testing new tactics, in addition and in replacement of those things that didn’t work.
2. Plan Your Funnels & Start Building Your Audiences
There’s no time like the present to start preparing your campaign mix.
As you think about the campaigns that you’d like to run, consider how you’ll move each prospect all the way through the funnel.
Audiences are a great way to connect the dots between campaigns and there are ample audiences and targeting options that can be used to create a multi-channel funnel.
Think about the audiences that you already have – as well as the ones that you would like to build over the next month. Examples could include, but are certainly not limited to:
Visitors who viewed a wishlist (and the subsequent content that they viewed, if you have a big enough pool to further segment).
Visitors who viewed a gift guide (and the subsequent content that they viewed, if you have a big enough pool to further segment).
Logins to loyalty programs.
Recent visitors – potentially qualified by content viewed, time on site, or the number of recent visits.
Wishlist creators, especially if you are able to connect that with data around whether their wishlist has been fulfilled.
Friends of those that like your Facebook page.
Those that engaged with content (on Facebook or Instagram).
Lookalikes of any and all of the above.
Combinations of any of the above.
Beyond building audiences, it’s a good time to start thinking about how audiences will be leveraged across platforms and how to track that performance.
Tip: Check out the Audience report within Google Analytics to see how Google Analytics audiences perform across your whole ecosystem – not just as part of your paid search campaigns.
Granted, this report only tracks audiences that have already visited and will not track all high funnel audiences for that reason, however, it does give great insight into the middle and bottom of the funnel.
This is a great way to see if your audiences are driving sales and, if not, to adjust your campaigns accordingly.
3. Re-engage Lists of Yore
Speaking of audiences, since the holidays bring in traffic and purchases from people that aren’t typically in our target market, those people are less likely to become repeat purchasers and may fall into dormant lists.
Heading into the holiday season, it’s a great time to dust off lists of people that purchased last year – even if they aren’t frequent purchasers.
4. Get in Front of Gift-Givers
As you already know, when the holidays roll around, your targeting widens to also include those that might buy your target market gifts.
It can be daunting to think about reaching a new audience, but there are a few ways that you can do that without completely losing your shirt on a high-funnel campaign.
With the audiences that you’ve built, you can expand your keyword lists into broader areas than you were likely previously targeting.
For instance, you could include relevant gift-oriented keywords that might not make your non-holiday keyword list and pair them with an audience that you’ve identified as gift givers.
With social ads, you can target friends of page likes to effectively (but efficiently) extend your reach to your target market’s friends and loved ones.
For example, you could promote a holiday-gift-oriented piece of UGC to friends of those that like your page. Those that clicked through, could be added to a site-based audience while those that didn’t click through but did engage could be remarketed with additional gifting options in order to get them to the site.
With third-party targeting options, you have additional options for reaching gift givers. You could target in-market audiences that are relevant to the holidays or gift giving.
For most retailers, these aren’t specific enough to be a standalone basis for targeting but they could be added to search campaigns as observation-only as an indication that the person had recently been shopping holiday-related items and, therefore is in the mindset.
You could also create custom affinity audiences and pair those with demographics to target on the display network.
5. Drive Brand Engagement
With the holidays around the corner, it’s a great time to start building some momentum around your brand.
There are two types of gift-givers: those who like to surprise recipients, and those who want a wishlist to purchase from.
Our challenge is to find ways to reach both types.
Drive User Generated Content (UGC)
User-generated content (UGC) is a great way to drive buzz around your brand any time of the year but especially leading into the holiday season.
UGC has numerous benefits, including:
Capturing the attention of the content creator’s friends who may have similar interests.
Capturing the attention of those who are planning to purchase gifts for that group.
Drive Wishlist Creation
Creating campaigns around wishlist creation can be a useful tool for supporting those gifters who prefer specific instructions.
Target your loyalists, which could include audiences built from repeat purchasers, loyalty program logins or email lists, and social media followers.
Propose items to add based upon their browsing and purchase habits and make it super simple for them to share.
Bonus points if you sweeten the deal with a promo for wishlist creators and wishlist-item purchasers.
6. Get Creative with Your Ads & Landing Pages
Ad creative is always important but it becomes especially important when you’re attempting to convince someone who is unfamiliar with your brand and outside of your target market to purchase something for someone else.
If you play your cards right, there are some great opportunities for creative to help build trust in your brand. For example, if you push UGC, then you build an arsenal of assets from actual customers.
For those folks that want to buy the perfect gift, but keep it a surprise, this type of creative can be both attractive and reassuring. The content can be used across ad creative and landing pages.
Creative can be fun and clever – inviting the audience to drop hints by sharing the ad to signify that they’d like to receive your product as a gift.
To drive more traffic through these campaigns, you can also build engagement campaigns with the goal of driving engagement from loyalists, previous purchasers, and your target market.
Beyond initial audience targeting, building out gift guides creates an opportunity to distinguish gift givers while also providing useful content for those that are relatively new to the brand.
Last, but certainly not least, you can customize search ads to improve engagement. You could customize the ads with:
Countdown information for promos, or shipping dates.
Promotional information: For example, promos vary on Black Friday. You could use ad customizers to manage that.
Audience data to help provide the most relevant information. For example, you could distinguish between your target market and gift givers to ensure that you’re delivering the best content for their interests.
7. Start Thinking About Your Promo Strategy
It’s a good time to start thinking about how you’ll compete with other retailers.
Will you put on a promotion?
There are several different discount structures and strategies that can be applied but not all promotions require discounting items. In fact, some are upsells! Others offer a promise of reliability.
Understanding what your market cares about is key to determining which promotion type is preferable.
For example, there are people who love to save money and spend as little as possible – they are truly driven by cost savings.
There are others who don’t mind spending money but want to receive as much as possible in return – they are driven not by cost savings but by perceived value.
Example promotions could include:
Time-stamped promotions, such as early bird specials and doorbusters.
A percentage off of the whole store, or certain items.
A dollar amount off, which could be qualified by a spend threshold. (Example: get $20 off when you spend $50 or more.)
A free gift, which could be promoted or kept as a surprise.
An add-on gift. (Example: spend $50 and be eligible to purchase a gift basket worth $100 for $20.)
Shipping guaranteed by a certain date.
A wider return window than usual. (In this case, the message is: go ahead and shop now – the recipient will still be able to return it if they don’t like it.)
Special deals for those that join or are part of a free loyalty member. (This is largely helpful for tracking purposes – we’ll get to that!)
8. Simplify Gift Shopping
It’s all fun and games until somebody gets frustrated.
A 2017 holiday recap by Bain cites a clear drop in Net Promoter Score (NPS) throughout December from shoppers dissatisfied with their experience in physical stores.
Customers cited “limited selection” or that the store “didn’t have what I wanted” as reasons for the decrease in NPS. The customer’s perception of the same stores’ websites remained flat for the same time period.
Ecomms aren’t getting off the hook that easily, though.
The Pitney-Bowes 2017 Global Retail study showed that 47 percent of online shoppers globally reported frustration with everything from shipping, to returns, to lost products and miscalculated duties and taxes.
There’s ample opportunity to improve the shopping experience and reduce frustration in an already stressful time of year.
Here are some steps retailers can take to improve the holiday shopping experience.
Inventory & Selection
One of the primary frustrations cited by the Bain study can be partially mitigated by making it easy for your customers to see your inventory.
This can be achieved through on-site item inventory checks, on-site purchase and same-day store pickup, and local inventory ads.
As a holiday shopper, I’m always a little surprised by the major differences in on-site vs. in-store experience. Some of that is hard to control, what with large crowds of people in-store and all.
However, there are some things that can be controlled:
The price of items online vs. in-store.
General ease of navigation and checkout.
Stores and sites both have their pros and cons as far as experience is concerned, but unless you’re intentionally trying to incentivize a certain action, creating consistency tends to decrease confusion and less confusion usually means less frustration.
Relieving Barriers to Purchase
Is it any wonder that Amazon’s NPS score topped the list through December according to Bain?
Common objections to online shopping – reiterated by the Pitney Bowes study – continue to revolve around shipping (cost, time, reliability) and the uncertainty of whether the product will be liked and, if not, the ease of returns.
Those concerns are likely amplified for gift-givers, as there’s more pressure to ensure that the gift is liked or can be easily returned and to ensure that the package arrives on time.
Taking a page from Amazon’s book to ease concerns around shipping cost and speed, and ease of returns is worth considering during the holiday season.
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Screenshot taken by author, October 2018
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