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How to Acquire Customers Over BFCM: Last Minute Ideas That Require $0 Paid Search or Social Spend

November 6, 2020
November 18, 2019
co-op commerce

Ad costs are a wild card between elections, COVID-19, and BFCM. Here are your next best bets for acquiring customers this holiday season – all without a dime spent in paid.

Table of Contents

The amount of uncertainty around what will happen now that the election is (nearly) over is high. Political spending is officially out of Facebook, where many companies are hoping CAC decreases between now and BFCM. 

That is unlikely to be the case. 

Larger brands, many of whom plan their annual budgets in January, have a lot of money to spend over the next few weeks. It is more likely that as Thanksgiving inches closer, it is the legacy and established brands that will be replacing the political ad spending. 

Unless you are Nike, this isn’t good news. Most paid media buyers have been warning their clients of this possibility for the last few weeks. November 2020 is a wild card for paid acquisition. We simply don’t know what cards other brands have to play. 

“Ecommerce businesses have become very reliant on paid media to the point where profitability is directly tied to average KPIs dictated by the media market. CPMs go up, profits go down,” Ben Lebowitz, Founder of West & Willow told MarketerHire. 

And yet, BFCM is a make or break moment for brands in 2020. This often the case every year, but with the rollercoaster ride that has been 2020, many brands have been forced to shift their marketing, distribution, and even product category strategies to make up for lost revenue or new consumer experiences. 

If you are landing on this article, hoping to get some last-minute tips for BFCM, you already know you are late to the game. There is no shame in that. With a major election cycle, COVID-19 resurgences, school delays and re-openings, and so much more, finding a balance between professional and personal life in which to plan out your BFCM strategy has been hard for everyone. This is true whether you are an executive at a Fortune 100 company or the founders of a newly minted start-up. 

None of us have been spared from the stress and anxiety of 2020. 

This article hopes to outline a step-by-step guide to ease those feelings as BFCM approaches. In it, you will find no recommendations for a paid ad strategy. The CAC will likely be too high, and for most, a paid media specialist will be required to manage your account, set proper expectations, and turn spend up or down with the fluctuation of the algorithms.

“2020 has changed the game in a lot of ways and made us realize the importance of diversifying our acquisition strategy,” said Lebowitz. 

Instead, everything in this last-minute BFCM checklist is free – except for the time you need to pay to set it up properly. Follow this guide and you’ll be able to acquire more customers, more effectively, and increase revenue for your brand this holiday season. 

“Traffic is getting more expensive and it is imperative to take advantage of any arbitrage opportunity for free traffic,” Sam Lewkowict, CEO of Black Wolf USA, LLC told MarketerHire.

Better yet, do this well, and not only will your CAC decrease, but your LTV will increase. This is about optimizing for your audience, building brand partnerships (fast), and making sure the work you put in actually lands in front of the consumers you are targeting. 

This is about marketing for the holidays, not about advertising. 

Brand Partnerships.

The first mistake many brands make when it comes to BFCM is going it alone. Building good relationships and partnerships with complementary brands can help you acquire new customers for far less, very quickly. 

These leverage the brand authority of each of your respective brands, and get in front of new audiences while adding value to your existing base. It’s win-win, if you can do it right. 

Here are two options.

Post-Checkout Partnerships. 

Far too many brands consider the post-checkout page to be the end of the road for a customer. It shouldn’t be. This page isn’t just about showing a customer what they already know (where they live, and that there will be an email confirming the purchase in their inbox). 

Hundreds of brands have started using a new tool called co-op commerce which uses the post-checkout page to recommend other, complementary brands. This helps to keep customers who are in a purchase mindset within an independent brand ecosystem (as opposed to going to Amazon). 


This is light-weight, scalable partner marketing done in a low-risk environment for your brand – after a customer buys. 

“We've always known that partner marketing is important, but when we had to throw out our entire marketing plan at the beginning of COVID, we quickly pivoted. We got our first glimpse into how massively beneficial partner marketing is in this uncertain environment after doing a campaign with 35 other female-founded, independent beauty and wellness brands,” Sarah Vincenti, CMO at Curie told MarketerHire.

“At a time when there was so much uncertainty, it provided incredible exposure to potential customers. We're so happy to be a part of co-op so we can continue doing partner marketing in a scalable way.”

Cross-Promotional Partnerships. 

Think through how you and a partnership can sell a complementary bundle that includes both of your products. It can be a special BFCM option for consumers, and you can promote that bundle in both of your social channels, email streams, and more. 

To do this, be on the lookout for complementary brands and products. You’ll want to make sure they don’t compete with you at a product level, and that their brand holds the same values as yours. 

Email Marketing. 

Email marketing is a marketing discipline that gets a lot of hate. Many have said the channel is “dead” for years. Others have used email marketing to jumpstart newsletters that turn into multi-million dollar businesses. 

What is true about email marketing is that what you put into this channel is what you get out of it. That is because email marketing is far more nuanced than many would like to believe. 

  • Yes, most of our inboxes are flooded with emails. 
  • Yes, most of us subscribe to lists to get offers we don’t use or use once and never open the email again. 
  • Yes, many of us say “I don’t read any emails from brands,” or languish over the brands that send far too many emails. 

Yet, time and time again, the data proves the consumer wrong. According to the Aweber 2020 Small Business Email Marketing Report:

  • 60% of business owners say email marketing is effective or very effective. 
  • Nearly 50% of business owners have an email marketing open rate of 26% or higher. 
  • More than 50% have an email marketing click-thru rate of 6% or higher.
  • 42% of companies with a list size greater than 500 find email marketing to be effective or very effective. 

All you need is a list of 500 subscribers, an open rate higher than 25%, and a click-thru rate of at least 6%. If you can manage that, it is likely you will see returns on your email marketing efforts. 

Now, let’s look at how to get there before BFCM.

Health & Email Deliverability.

Email deliverability is a much larger problem than people think it is. 

Email deliverability refers to how well your emails are delivered to your intended audience. And, to have a good email deliverability score (i.e. your emails aren’t landing in spam, promotions tabs, or bouncing out of email inboxes), you need to clean you list – often. 

A few tips to get your list cleaned and ready for BFCM:

  • Suppress all hard bounces from your email sends. This is a feature that is available widely in many ESP (email service provider) tools. Some of them do this automatically, many of them don’t. 
  • Suppress subscribers who haven’t opened the last 5+ emails form your brand. Send them an email to see if they still want to be subscribed. If they don’t respond, suppress them. You can set up automation flows in your ESP to do this regularly. 
  • Run your emails through an email deliverability tool. GlockApps is the best one I’ve found so far (Shout out to Anthony Burno for the recommendation!). It’s inexpensive, quick to get setup, and will allow you to send through a variety of emails and show you where you are landing in inboxes, and what next steps to take to solve for any issues. 

Flow & Funnel Optimization

Do you have a complete understanding of exactly how new subscribers are flowing into your system, and what workflows or streams they are put in to? You should. Use a tool like Miro to visualize this. You’ll be surprised to find that some streams are overlapping, sending multiple emails to clients, or just not working at all. 

That’s OK. This happens because brands often use a variety of email marketing freelancers and teams to run their email operations. Once a quarter, do this exercise, updates your Miro flow, and fix what is broken. 

For BFCM, do this now. Here is a Customer Journey Template from Miro to get you started. 

Segmentation 

Now that you know your emails are delivering, and how and when they are delivering, it is time to segment your lists. This helps to increase email engagement (which in turn improves email deliverability – a virtuous cycle). 

Segmentation is important because all of you customers or subscribers are not the same. Base-line segmentation for a DTC brand includes:

  • Engaged subscribers: This is an easy one. These are your highly engaged subscribers who open most of your emails, and are a core base for your brand. These folks may even become a future community. Treat them well. 
  • Unengaged subscribers: This list should be full of folks who are near suppression based on inactivity (read the Email Deliverability section above if you missed this). These folks may need something specific to engage them – and you’ll want to keep tabs on the size of this list. It is an early indication of your overall email quality and list cleanliness. 
  • VIP subscribers / customers: These are your customers who shop with you often, and typically buy at full price. 
  • Potential VIPs: These are your customers who either shop with you often, or have bought at full price. You may want to include anyone who has left a positive review as well. 
  • Previous sale shoppers (who didn’t really engage the rest of the year): These are your discount shoppers. We love them, but we know we need to treat them differently than our VIPs. 
  • Category shoppers: These lists are for brands with larger SKUs and various product categories These are your shoppers who bought in a specific category 2x or more. 

Drops

Drops have become incredibly popular over the last couple years. In a way, BFCM “deals” are a type of “drop” themselves. Vogue Business, however, reports that drops have become a go-to strategy for avoiding discounting

“Independent brands, which don’t have the option of reallocating stock in different regions given their smaller footprint and costs, are coming up with alternative methods, including limited drops and online sample sales, to avoid traditional discounting patterns,” reports Annachiara Biondi for Vogue Business.

“London-based Rejina Pyo has run limited, 24-hour sales drops tied to specific products using promotional codes on Instagram, usually redeemable only by the first 10 followers to use them. New York-based Mara Hoffman held a week-long flash sale early into lockdown in March before returning all products to full prices.”

Drops are typically the sudden release of new, highly desirable products. Some brands drop first to VIPs, and then to a larger audience if inventory allows. 

Drops require integrated marketing efforts for effectiveness. You don’t want to do them too often, but when you do, you want your email marketing channel to lean heavily on your segments to message in cadence to the customers most likely to get excited and buy. 

We’ll talk about this more in the SMS marketing section below. 

Pre-Sale

You’d be a fool to ignore David Perrell’s advice. He has become, after all, one of the leaders of the newsletter movement (i.e. he’s a master of email marketing). 


He’s not alone in his support of the pre-sale strategy. Vogue Business dedicated a full article to why pre-sale is working in the COVID era

“Small, agile luxury brands are sidestepping fashion weeks and choosing to do it their way, adopting a pre-order model wherever possible. The goal: to get closer to the customer and eliminate overproduction,” writes Kati Chitrakorn for Vogue Business. 

In many ways, the pre-sale is better for the brand, the customer experience and the environment at large. 

Setting up a pre-sale on either Shopify or BigCommerce is rather easy. You simply toggle on the pre-sale button on the product page, and start collecting emails. This should be another email marketing segment for your brand. 

SMS Marketing.

SMS marketing is on the rise, and is most often used hand-in-hand with email marketing. 


There are a variety of tools to choose from in this arena, from Postscript to Voyage, and everything in between. Tools like Postscript and Voyage though help you through the following steps, because SMS marketing is stricter than email marketing. 

Avoid compliance? You’;l be charged a mighty fine. 

Setting It Up & Compliance.

“Under TCPA, sending spam text messages is illegal and can result in fines starting at $500 per infringement, and reaching as high as $1,500,” reads the Klaviyo SMS marketing help documentation.

How do you avoid this?

  • Update your Terms of Service to include information on your SMS marketing policy, and most important, how folks can opt-out of it. 
  • Never automatically enroll anyone. Instead, SMS marketing requires that users knowingly sign up. This means you cannot just text customers whose umbers you already have. No, even if you are collecting phone numbers at checkout or on your site, if you are not explicitly asking them to check a box to receive SMS messages, you cannot message them. 
  • Allow for easy opt-out. This is where tools like Postscript and Voyage can be the most helpful. They have pre-built technology that will automatically unsubscribe anyone who texts back one of the several dozens of potential STOP words, including misspellings. 

Segmentation.

Match the segmentation lists you use in SMS to the ones you are already using for email marketing. This is about integrated marketing. You should be mindful of what and when you are sending to your various segments through SMS (and in email of course). This is because it is really easy to unsubscribe from an SMS list, and even easier to not engage a new subscriber, and have them regret ever joining to begin with. 

Be careful here. And remember, you are sending a message to someone’s phone. They will likely see it immediately. Make sure the send makes sense for the time of day (cookware brands often send recipe ideas near dinner time, for instance), the events of the day or week (swimwear brands often send bathing suit drops in early January for those wanting to escape the winter), etc. 

Drops.

SMS marketing can be especially powerful for drops. 


Celebrities use it. Gary Vee uses it. You should consider it. 

SMS marketing for drops make sense because customers see it immediately, and can purchase immediately. Remember, your drop needs to make sense. Make it desirable. And send it first to VIP customers so gauge desirability and give those customers an early perk. 

Website Optimization. 

Right now (before BFCM) is always a good time to check in on your website speed, SEO issues, and where you can embed new partnerships and experiences to increase sales. 

This is because outside of paid, you want to drive as much organic traffic to your site (SEO), make sure that the traffic you do drive sticks around (site speed and mobile optimization), and that you are driving revenue in new ways (brand partnerships). 

Here is what to do for this section ASAP. 

SEO Clean-Up. 

Use a tool like Ahrefs.com (99% a month) to run an SEO audit on your website. The tool does this one a week and sends you a report. It will show you your: 

  • SEO Health: You want this to in the green (above 70 on Ahrefs). Click into this on the platform once your score is determined, and it will walk you through a variety of reasons why you have a low score and how to improve it ASAP. It will include things like proper meta titles and descriptions, alt tags for your photos, 301 and 401 redirects and more. Much of this you can do on your own. Some of it, you will need a developer’s help. 
  • Domain Ranking: Your Domain Ranking (DR) is a crucial part of your ability to rank on Page 1 of Google for any key term. When you launch your site, your DR starts at 0 and grows. A good DR is above 50. A great DR is above 70. This will take time to build, but it is good to monitor. Ahref’s reports on and updates this number each month, and you’ll want to see small improvements here over time. Publishing regular blog content, and earning backlinks through press or partners helps grow this faster – as does a high SEO health score. 
  • Keyword Movement: In Ahrefs, input the target keywords for which you want to rank. If you are unsure, use the Keyword Gap tool in Ahrefs to see what your competitors are ranking for, but that you aren’t. That’s a good start. Once you tell Ahrefs which keywords you want to win, it will monitor keyword movement for you. This means, you’ll see your monthly improvements or declines in moving up the ranking for those specific keywords. 

Mobile Optimization Check. 

This one is easy – at least to see how you are doing. 

  • Go to your website. 
  • Left click on the page. 
  • Select “Inspect.”
  • A right-hand sidebar will pop-out. Use the upper navigation to navigate to “Lighthouse.”
  • Make sure you have “Mobile” checked, and then click, “Generate Report.”
  • Fix what it tells you to.

Increase Site Speed.

To increase site speed, follow the same steps above also for desktop. The report will show you how to increase your site speed. You may need a developer’s help for some of the tasks. That said, many things you can do on your own, like resizing photos (no photos should be bigger than 1,000 px on your website). 

A/B Testing & CRO.

You want to get all of your CRO (conversion rate optimization) and A/B testing out of the way before BFCM. Small updates can have massive improvements on conversion rate, and any small improvement in conversion rate means lower CAC and higher revenue for your brand.  

Often, the results are counterintuitive

Spoiler alert: The blue won. 

How do you A/B test? Use Google Optimize. It’s easy to get launched, and it connects right in with your Google Analytics account. It is a good set it and forget it system, and makes A/B testing incredibly easy. 

Design.

A/B test a variety of different designs to see if design can make a difference. Here are a few things to test:

  • Sending traffic to landing pages with or without navigation. 
  • Pulling customer reviews up higher on your site (maybe even above the fold), or getting press mentions up above the fold. 
  • Updating your checkout design. Maybe you want to test out Fast. Maybe you want to see if a one-pager checkout is better. 

Follow the data, not your gut. 

Copywriting.

Oh, there is SO much to test in the copywriting department. Start with the main message on your website. 

Good Marketing HQ’s Twitter account is a great place to find inspiration on copywriting tests and updates. Here is one of their recent posts:


Remember: Do not test multiple aspects at one time. In other words, don’t test a design update AND  a copy update at the same time, unless you are OK wth unclear results. If you test multiple things at once it will be hard to tell which factor led to the win or the loss. If your new example wins, that might not matter. If it loses, it will matter a lot. Make this easier on yourself. 

CTAs (Calls to Action)

Similar to example in the intro of this section, test your CTAs. Change their colors. Change their locations. Change what they say. See what works better, and determine why. 

Holiday Offers Strategy.

You don’t have to offer discounts or deals to your customers for BFCM, but it *is* BFCM. That is the consumer expectation. You can break the mold, or you can work with it. 


The key here is to plan these out. Determine which you will use, when and to which segments of your audience. 

Free Shipping.

They say oil prices are about to pop back up due to all the BFCM orders. That might be good for the economy, but can your business afford to offer free shipping? It’s a serious question to consider before you pop-in this offer for the holidays. 

Remember: All offers you use need to return a profit. Do not discount your goods below your ability to turn a profit. This includes overhead and CAC. 

If you can’t offer free shipping on *all* items, maybe you offer it only for orders over a certain amount. Or, maybe you offer free shipping only for those who also choose “gift wrapping,” which might be a service you decide to change for (and can offset the shipping costs). 

Whatever you decide, get clear about what you will offer right now, and then build out a plan for how you will message that to new and existing customers. 

Discounts & Promos.

2020 has been the year of discounts. Brands that had traditionally never discounted (like Away Luggage) did. But, just because everyone else is doing it doesn’t mean you have to. 

Content Strategy. 

Social Media Marketing & Influencer Marketing.

It is the era of influencer and social media marketing. 

“Our BFCM seeding program is focused on influencers, heavy engagement with our customers and followers on social and in our private groups, and brand partnerships with co-op commerce,” said Lewkowict.

Think you’re too late to get an influencer marketing program going before BFCM, or that you don’t have the budget Often, the bigger influencers aren’t the ones that perform the best. Use a tool like Trend.io to find influencers right now.

Blogging. 

With everything else on your list this season, blogging may be falling to the bottom. That’s OK. But, if you do have extra time and something to say, think through what you can publish and then, how you distribute that, which leads us to… 

Create a calendar.

Create a content calendar to sync email, ad and social content. Include email topics (by segment), social content, ad content, and blog content. Keep your messaging consistent across the board and lean on top performers (content and photos) and best sellers 

PR & Holiday Gift Lists.

Every year, the holiday gift lists go wild for the media. Do what you can to get your band on a few of these. 

  • Use HARO.
  • Scour Twitter for reporters at media brands in your niche. 
  • Use lists like the top retail reporter index from 2PM to start reaching out (You have to pay the subscription to see this, but it is worth it). 
  • Heck, even publish one of these on your own blog (and link off to some of your co-op commerce partners!)

This can drive a good amount of organic traffic to your brand. And, because it was recommended by someone else, these browsers often have a higher conversion rate. 

Conclusion

Maybe BFCM planning and strategy can be a welcome distraction to other end of 2020 activities for you. After all, this is a lot of work. It’s worth it. Follow these tips and you’ll see an increase in conversion rate for your brand, and be on the road to a successful BFCM. 

And for business owners and marketers alike, as much as we may complain about this time of year, we all slightly live for it. 

“I never have a boring day. Sometimes it’s immensely stressful, but at least it’s never boring and never mundane. I will never get tired of being an entrepreneur,” said Lewkowict.

And, the better we do right now, the further our dreams, our missions, and our ability to change the world one consumer at a time is spread. 

“I've spent my whole career in tech, and working at Curie has been such a rewarding new chapter. I love being a part of something where I truly believe in the mission and products,” said Vincenti. “Clean and sustainable brands are the future, and I get excited that I have the opportunity to share it with more and more people every day!”

co-op commerce
about the author

co-op commerce is a modern, scalable way for e-commerce brands to partner together. Our team has been on the other side of the table at Facebook, Instagram & LinkedIn. We saw the cost of customer acquisition unsustainably rising. And, we wanted to do something about it. Partner marketing is the answer.

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