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The Ultimate Guide to Holiday E-Commerce Marketing in 2021 [Updated]

September 6, 2022
August 23, 2021
Kelsey Donk

Hear those jingle bells in the distance? The holidays are coming, and marketers are getting ready. Here are the top challenges, tips and tactics that experts see defining the season.

Table of Contents

This post was updated on October 14, 2021 to reflect supply chain and iOS-related developments.

This year’s holiday season is shaping up to be pretty unusual, for a few big reasons: 

  • Supply chain issues have already hit a fever pitch, with U.S. ports clogged and some companies abandoning stock in China.
  • More than 70% of American adults are fully vaccinated against the coronavirus, but the Delta variant, new mask mandates, and rising case counts are shaking up sales projections.
  • The e-commerce space is hotter than ever, but that also means more competition for smaller fish. (The 10 biggest e-comm fish took up 60% of warehouse space last holiday season, CoStar Group reported.) 
  • Apple’s privacy update is shaking up everybody’s paid digital playbooks. 

Getting ready for the holidays always requires flexibility and innovation, and this year, that’s more true than ever. 

In fact, according to a poll in our weekly newsletter, nearly a third of marketers are planning a comprehensive overhaul of their holiday marketing plans this year. 

Source: MarketerHire survey

What exactly are they changing? And what’s that “other” a quarter of marketers are planning on? 

For SalesEnable’s founder Daniel Redman, “other” means he plans to “grow a beard and acquire a large red sack.” 

Actionable! We look forward to finding out how that goes.

What’s everyone else up to, though? We asked 60+ marketers how they’re handling 2021’s challenges, which channels are the most overrated, and what we should all be doing right now to win this holiday season. Let’s dive in.

Free MarketerHire Resource:

Guide to E-Commerce Holiday Marketing in 2021

An executive summary of our holiday marketing research — in 11 slides.

The biggest challenges for holiday e-commerce in 2021

The holidays may be festive for most people, but they’re grueling for the e-commerce sector. 

We asked the marketers in our network about the top challenges they’re facing this year as holiday planning ramps up... but that was before news of shipping delays started taking over #MarketingTwitter.

At the time of our survey, just 10.2% of marketers said logistics hiccups were their top concern for the 2021 holiday season. That made logistics less of a concern for our network than the pandemic, iOS updates, and competition.

Source: MarketerHire survey

Knowing what we know now — that ports around California and elsewhere were already clogged up by September — we’ve upgraded logistics and supply chain issues, sometimes nicknamed #Shippageddon, to Challenge #1.

1. Shippageddon 2.0.

Who could have predicted 2020’s run on toilet paper, kiddie pools, Nintendo Switches, and even plastic containers? Not us. 

Unfortunately, those days aren’t behind us. Some Costco shoppers say toilet paper is out of stock again, and  

Logistics teams everywhere are sweating, but the supply chain issues are also important to marketers working in e-commerce. Inventory is essential to holiday sales. 

One recent survey showed that the available selection of merchandise is among the most important factors to US holiday shoppers in choosing stores.

Source: Deloitte

That in-stock inventory will be hard to come by this year. Many factors contribute to the shortages we’re seeing right now, including: 

  1. COVID factory shutdowns: In early 2020, factories shut down in both the United States and China. Brands cut production, but the market recovered quicker than factories could ramp back up. 
  2. Quick e-commerce expansion: The early pandemic forced at least 10 years’ expansion of the e-commerce market into a few months, according to a McKinsey report. E-commerce retailers are still feeling the growing pains, and struggling to estimate when the stratospheric growth will slow. 
  3. Rising shipping container costs: The above factors combined to make shipping container space more expensive than ever. Some companies, like toy company and Amazon retailer Basic Fun, have weighed the rising shipping costs and potential for delays and decided to leave their merchandise in China
  4. Labor shortages: Retailers like Target are looking to fill thousands of supply chain roles to get inventory to shoppers during the holiday season — while  the United States workforce is still experiencing a Great Resignation. In July 2021, resignations were 13% higher than pre-pandemic levels. And nearly 5 million fewer people are working or looking for work than before the pandemic. 
  5. Lifestyle upheaval: Online, “popularity can turn on a dime and in-stock inventory can sell out in hours,” said Jeff Hogard, CEO of Marketing Ascendance. (It’s easier to order a trendy item onlinethan it is to get in the car and drive around looking for it.) This year, it’s unlikely e-comm brands will be able to restock unexpectedly trendy items in time for the holidays. 

Taken together, those factors can lead to a marketer’s worst nightmare: out-of-stock products, late deliveries and customer complaints in the comments. 

Unfortunately, we might not be able to get ahead of all of these challenges. Uunraveling an international crisis isn’t in a marketer’s job description. 

According to our experts, the best marketers can do is stay in lock-step with the sales department and fulfillment centers to keep track of stock to avoid promoting low-inventory items.

2. iOS updates and privacy concerns.

If you’re reading this blog post, you’ve heard of iOS 14.5, and it’s probably impacted your paid social campaigns already. You’ve also heard of iOS 15, and heard email marketers talk about the impact this latest update could have on open rates and email personalization.

Both updates pose a major challenge for marketers. “iOS 14 essentially restricts how Facebook [and other apps] can track,” said Vervaunt managing director Paul Rogers, “so it impacts how people can optimize and … the level of data that's being obtained around customers.” 

That’s a new level of restriction, and marketers around the world are hustling to adapt to the update, launched in May, before the holiday season starts. Mainly, they want to make sure they can still reach their target audiences.

The impact of iOS 15 is still unfolding for email marketers. At a Litmus webinar, email marketing experts said most brands won’t need to worry about changing tactics until 2022. But some email platforms are already noticing an uptick in hidden email addresses and false opens — which arise when Apple Mail pre-loads an email before recipients actually open it.

3. The biggest players in e-commerce are pushing out the little guys. 

For most companies — especially after 2020 — getting into e-commerce is common sense. The e-commerce market grew 33.6% in 2020, which meant overall retail sales grew 3.5% and finished out 2020 at $5.6 trillion, instead of shrinking, as many had feared

That’s great news for e-commerce marketers — but mainly for the ones at Fortune 500 companies. 

Last year, 10 of the biggest businesses sucked up nearly 70% of e-commerce revenues, CoStar Group reported. 

“Because of COVID, more businesses switched to a more digital strategy,” said Noah Vertefeuille, CEO, Outside the Box Design. “That means more people clamoring for attention and less space to stand out.” 

"Because of COVID, more businesses switched to a more digital strategy. That means more people clamoring for attention and less space to stand out.” 

Your customers’ inboxes and social media feeds will soon be full of ads from everyone else in your industry, “so establishing your brand differentiators is critical to stand out from your competitors,” said digital marketer Lindsay O’Connor

Even supply chain issues, which impact businesses of all sizes, may hit the smallest ones hardest.

Larger retailers like Walmart have commissioned their own cargo ships, which just isn’t possible for small businesses. The contrast CEO of trade publication TTPM predicted

  • Big businesses will have no problem sourcing 96% of their inventory.
  • Small businesses will find that 40% of their inventory is delayed or out-of-stock.  

4. Consumers are less predictable due to COVID (and supply chain issues)… 

What we can predict: People will be shopping a lot around the holidays. An eMarketer forecast puts expected 2021 Thanksgiving Day sales alone at $6.21 billion, up a whopping 50% from 2019 revenues. 

What we can’t quite predict: which demographics will shop, how they’ll shop and exactly what they’ll buy.

COVID is responsible for these big unknowns — but so are those supply chain issues we mentioned above. In fact, the results of an Oracle survey suggest that 66% of American shoppers worry that supply chain disruptions will never end.To address those fears, shoppers plan to buy in bulk, shop in person and buy more services and experiences instead of physical products.

“Brands that have been planning on the economy being back to normal are reevaluating their tactics due to the resurgence of COVID,” Dylan Rhodes, Principal at the Parker-Lambert Agency, told MarketerHire. 

“We’re in weird times,” said Omniscient Digital co-founder Alex Birkett.

To the extent that we can separate COVID and logistics issues, here are some COVID-related factors that marketers expect to impact e-commerce holiday sales: 

  • Changing careers and habits: As we’ve noted, a Great Resignation is unfolding — and while it started before the pandemic, the abrupt rise of working from home has only accelerated it. Roughly 40% of people are planning to change jobs in 2021. And as people’s income levels and occupations shift, their shopping habits tend to change, too.
  • Unexpected industry-wide shifts: When lockdown orders came in 2020, “some brands experienced surprising tailwinds,” said Birkett. Think alcohol delivery services like Drizly, which are still growing — so far, they’re seeing 87% higher sales in 2021 than they saw in 2020.  Other industries, like workwear, contracted unexpectedly. Similar surprises could crop up this year. 
  • Patchy mask mandates: The CDC’s recommendation that masks be worn in areas with "substantial" or "high" coronavirus transmission could drive e-commerce sales. But like the local transmission factor, the impact of mask mandates could “be uneven across the country,” said Kenneth Simon, owner of KBS Marketing. That means some areas might see increased e-commerce holiday sales, and others might see more in-store shopping. 
  • Exhausted shoppers: Shoppers are “tired of being online, tired of the barrage of emails trying to push them down the funnel and everyone is on edge,” said marketing director and communications consultant Meredith Goldberg. So you could see unexpected dips or plateaus in engagement. 

These factors are totally out of marketers’ hands, but Birkett said that they “will likely affect sales more than remarketing, subject line tests, and quirky offers will.”

3 tips for winning holiday 2021 marketing

1. Start now. Like, yesterday

In 2020, a National Retail Federation survey found that 42% of US shoppers had started their holiday shopping earlier than usual. And by early November, over a quarter of holiday shopping was already done. 

Source: National Retail Federation

This year, consumer-facing publications are recommending that shoppers finish their shopping as early as possible to avoid supply-chain related shortages.

To avoid letting shoppers go elsewhere for that 25% of holiday shopping they’ll do in September and October, you’ll need to focus on messaging, offers and segmentation now. 

“If you wait until the week before [the shipping cutoff] to launch some buzzy PR campaign or massive discount, you're not going to get the most value out of your holiday season campaigns,” said Birkett. 

"If you wait until the week before [the shipping cutoff] to launch some buzzy PR campaign or massive discount, you're not going to get the most value out of your holiday season campaigns."

Here’s what the pros recommend starting on extra early: 

  • Discounts and special offers: The time to plan holiday promotions was during the summer, as “brands are going to start promoting as early as October,” said Drew Blumenthal, founder and CEO of Digital Drew SEM. Sure enough, on October 5, Best Buy introduced a curious subscription service including access to hard-to-source products during the holiday season. Now could be a time to lean on existing loyalty programs to ration in-demand products.
  • Brand awareness: Impressions on awareness campaigns are a little cheaper in the summer than they are in the peak holiday season. By that time, if you’ve filled your funnel with an audience that’s already shown interest in your brand, “you can effectively retarget at lower CPMs during the holiday season,” said brand strategist Jared Rosenberg. (Due to iOS 14, you can't retarget people who haven’t opted into cookies — but retargeting is just restricted, not dead.)
  • Segmentation: Personalization is one of our top trends for 2021, but in the privacy-first age, segmenting for personalization requires preparation. “You'll have to lay the analytical foundations to track what you need to track and be able to use the data to deliver messages and experiences to those segments,” said Birkett. 

If you need to cut some immediate spending to make room for the above, the experts recommend hitting pause on conversion rate optimization (CRO). Return to conversions after you’ve built some brand awareness and dialed in key audiences.

“When holiday buying kicks in, there’s an urgency in the process that won’t leave much time for consumer research,” said digital consultant and content marketer Marc Tramonte. “Ignite the mindshare missile ... early in the game.” 

2. Lean on your CRM. 

No need to reinvent the marketing wheel by constantly trying to reach new audiences. You probably have prospects in your Rolodex. 

Work smarter by building audiences from past customers who may have abandoned carts or incomplete purchases. 

“Maybe the customer didn't purchase the first time they were marketed to,” said content marketer Matt Potter, “but as the holiday season comes to a close [remarketing to] them with a message about fast, free shipping may be just what you need to get them to convert.”

“Maybe the customer didn't purchase the first time... but as the holiday season comes to a close [remarketing to] them with a message about fast, free shipping may be just what you need to get them to convert.”

How to learn from the past and prepare for the future:

  • Reinvent old offers using customer personas. “[Use] the data you have at your disposal to really dial in your customer personas and understand what offers provided the best return in the past,” said Freelance Crew owner Andrew Sneddon. If you have a sense of who your past offers worked best for, you can develop new ones to serve those same customers’ needs. 
  • Think lifetime value, not first purchase value. “With rising ad costs, it can be difficult for many e-commerce companies to be profitable on the… first purchase,” said Ryan Redshaw, head of paid search and social at Boast Digital Marketing. That’s not a problem, though, if you target customers who’ve already bought your product, and make sure they buy refills or related products. 
  • Try a loyalty or referral program. Loyalty and referral programs lead to repeat business, which leads to better lifetime value (LTV). “Understanding customer LTV gives brands more flexibility in offering deep promotional discounts for the holidays,” said Rhodes.

As we mentioned above, start building those audiences now so you can reach out to them with offers over the course of the holiday season. 

3. Develop some workarounds for iOS 14. 

Apple’s privacy update came at the wrong time of year for marketers who were planning to rely heavily on paid social media over the holiday season. 

If that was you, start investing in emails and other owned channels so you can reach prospects during the holiday season without relying on cookies and other third-party data.

Another challenge brought to you by Apple: with iOS 14.5, analytics take much more work. 

To track attribution on the privacy-first web, you’ll need to create as many vertical funnels as you can, as 2XeCommerce and Commerce Accel founder Kunle Campbell told MarketerHire

That means developing dedicated landing pages that target specific audiences. For instance, if you create a landing page that’s only used for a specific ad targeting iOS users, you’ll be able to attribute conversions from that page to the iOS users you’ve targeted.  

9 tactics to adore and ignore in 2021

The holidays are a feast for some brands … and famine for others. A lot comes down to the marketing choices you make. 

“There are tons of opportunities to get seen during the holidays, but there are also lots of opportunities to hemorrhage funds,” said writer Sammi Dittloff.

“There are tons of opportunities to get seen during the holidays, but there are also lots of opportunities to hemorrhage funds."

To help you avoid a budget bloodbath, we talked to the experts about the marketing tactics they’ll be using this year — and tactics to avoid at all costs. 

IGNORE: Spraying and praying. 

We know you’ve heard it before, but “don’t spray and pray” has taken on new urgency this year. 

In 2021, iOS 14.5 has made paid digital attribution and segmentation harder, and you might be tempted to “just throw caution to the wind and send out an email, SMS or push notification without segmenting your audience first — and verifying their interest,” said Andrew Parker, director of marketing at RootsTech by FamilySearch.

But when the itch to spray and pray comes, resist. 

“Spray and pray might get you impressive send numbers but it almost always ends in the sadness of increased unsubscribes, lower engagement and, ultimately, lower sales,” Parker said. 

A good rule of thumb from O’Connor: “Be specific, relevant, and segmented in all that you do.” 

“Be specific, relevant, and segmented in all that you do.” 

ADORE: 1:1 email marketing.

The main goal of email marketing is to “get down to that truly personal, one-to-one message that finally gets that customer to take an action,” MarketerHire’s director of marketing, Tracey Wallace, said

The most skilled email marketers use a combination of behavior-based automations and audience segmentation to communicate with their customers in a personal way.

 Some brands resist getting into email out of fear that they’ll overwhelm customers. Over half of Americans say they get too much branded email, and critics say that’s because brands have “decoupled it from the customer’s experience.” 

Our experts confirm that. Especially towards the end of the holiday season, “some brands get aggressive ... rather than building trust in a relationship through this channel during the year,” said Angie Assennato, Digital Marketing Manager at TierPoint. 

Those brands give email a bad rap it doesn’t deserve. According to a MarketerHire survey, email is the “most underrated” channel for the holidays.

Source: MarketerHire survey

How to do email right? The short answer: nurture email leads throughout the year, instead of hard-selling to strangers during the holidays. 

“Nurturing your customers into brand evangelism is an overlooked, invaluable tactic that can give you a leg up on competition,” said O’Connor.

“Nurturing your customers into brand evangelism is an overlooked, invaluable tactic that can give you a leg up on competition.”

Think of your email list as your key to future sales. Even if you don’t get a customer to convert over this holiday season, you can keep nurturing that lead for the future, with emails that highlight your brand’s offer with personalization that doesn’t creep customers out. 

Researchers recommend following the norms of real life, even when personalizing online:

  1. Don’t overrely on third-party data. It can make customers feel like you’re stalking them — and it’s getting increasingly expensive. Lose-lose.
  2. Don’t make assumptions. Ask people for their preferences instead. 

“Marketers that gather contact information first, then nurture second are going to see good returns not only this year, but in years to come,” said Parker. 

iOS 15 adds an element of uncertainty here, but because it mainly impacts Apple's Mail app, which is only used by about 10-20% of iPhone users, MarketerHire’s lifecycle marketing manager Karina Vitale said. So it likely won't be as disruptive to email marketing as iOS 14.5 was to paid social media marketing.

IGNORE: Putting all your eggs in the paid social basket.

In a survey, marketers in MarketerHire’s network deemed paid social the most overhyped channel for e-commerce holiday marketing. A whopping 42% said paid social isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.

Source: MarketerHire survey

Why all the hate? 

  • iOS 14.5 has made attribution much harder. “With all of the iOS 14 changes, paid social could be a troublesome tactic for a little while,” said Zeldrick Martin, associate director of paid media at Mad Fish Digital. For instance, when the Facebook ad reporting window shrank from 28 days to 7 days due to iOS 14, it became much harder for marketers to know whether the ads they’re running were performing — or worth re-investing in. 
  • Ad costs are generally on the rise... “It can get expensive to acquire a new customer,” said Koby Wheeler, founder of KW Branding and Design. “I would stay away from trying to acquire new customers through paid social and paid search unless you have a large profit margin.”
  • … and CPMs always spike during the holidays. Paid social is always “so volatile and competitive during this time of year,” said growth marketer Alex Ownejazayeri.

Privacy policy updates and rising ad costs mean “a lot of brands are going to end up wasting a lot of [money]” on paid social, said Rosenberg. 

ADORE: Using paid social to gauge interest. 

The above doesn’t mean it’s time to throw in the towel on paid social altogether. You can reach huge audiences through paid social — Facebook has 2.9+ billion active monthly users, after all. Try thinking of this channel as a brand awareness machine, not a conversion-driver. 

Making paid social work for your brand requires:

  • Diversification: “Brands can no longer drive all their growth by scaling spend on Facebook,” said C Thru Labs founder and growth consultant Chris Darabi. Instead, evaluate your audiences and invest a little in every channel where they spend time. 
  • Audience building: It’s still possible to reach prospects on paid social. It’s just harder to track them. You can win on paid social if you think of it “as a way to gather contact info [and] gauge interest,” said Parker. For example: Rogers recommends running paid social ads aimed at collecting emails, and using owned channels to drive conversions. 
  • Creative tracking with UTM parameters and landing pages. Use UTMs to get detailed attribution information when folks click on your ads, Wheeler recommended.

To have success with paid social this holiday season,  think of it as a top-of-funnel tactic, not performance marketing. 

IGNORE: Over-relying on paid search. 

People love paid search for two reasons, said paid media strategist Antonio Costa

  • It targets high-intent traffic, so the customers funneled toward your site are usually actively searching for solutions to a problem. 
  • It’s easier to attribute revenue to paid search  than top-of-funnel brand awareness efforts, because it drives conversions. 

But paid search isn’t all rosy. “This channel is competitive, with costs increasing every year,” Costa said. 

And brands should expect to pay more each year per click. This year, Google CPC ads are up between 30 and 70% compared to last year. And the cost of a click on an Amazon ad, which is technically paid search too — just like YouTube ads — has risen steadily from $0.79 U.S. dollars in June 2020 to $1.20 in June 2021. That’s a 52% YoY growth in ad costs. 

For some, that means diminishing returns. “Unless you have a recognizable brand, great SEO, and product people are already searching for, money can be quickly wasted here,” said Marcus Genzlinger from MegaInteractive

“Unless you have a recognizable brand, great SEO, and product people are already searching for, money can be quickly wasted here.”

Even if you do have a big reach with paid search, it’s expensive to reach those customers again (unless they also connect with you on another channel).

To retarget, “you have to keep feeding the beast,” said Potter. 

ADORE: A tripod strategy that blends (at least) three channels.

Think of paid social, paid search and SEO as three legs of a tripod. 

Paid search and social alone aren’t strong enough to keep a company afloat anymore. But all together, the trio can pay off. 

It did for Outer, the DTC furniture company that was named the fastest growing DTC brand in the country months after implementing a synergistic paid search, paid social and SEO strategy. 

For a short, competitive burst — like the holiday season —  this can work for you, too. 

  • For paid search: Lean on this channel to drive high-intent traffic, maybe by retargeting prospects already in your CRM, or focusing on branded keywords. ”You want to get the lowest hanging fruit — somebody who is ready to buy,” founder of The GiftYak and growth marketing consultant Matt Lally told MarketerHire.
  • For paid social: “Focus on social platforms where people can discover your products and services,” said Genzlinger. “Besides Facebook and Instagram, look at Facebook Marketplace, Pinterest, Nextdoor, and TikTok.”
  • For organic search: Invest in brand and content, and practice patience. “It's hard to wait for results, but a good organic strategy will pay for itself in the long run,” said Potter. It might be too late to launch an SEO program for this holiday season, but you may have time to ramp up an existing one or start setting the foundation for the off-season. For example, Bearaby’s year-round SEO efforts help them rank for keywords like “weighted blanket,” so they can save on paid search over the holidays.

Pro tip: MarketerHire’s director of marketing, Tracey Wallace, recommends repurposing organic content on social media, and in email marketing to get a faster return on your content investment. 

ADORE: Circumventing the privacy-first web with SMS marketing.

In 2020, nearly 40% of holiday purchases were made on a smartphone. And the volume of holiday e-commerce purchases made on mobile has been on its way up for years. 

Source: eMarketer

If you haven’t been investing in mobile-first marketing, your brand is already behind. 

The good news: the holidays are a good time to focus your efforts on mastering tactics like SMS marketing. Our network rated SMS marketing the second-most-underrated channel for the holidays.

“More and more consumers prefer to communicate via SMS rather than email,” said Rhodes.

SMS is an owned channel, so it’s immune to the challenges brought by iOS 14.5. “If you can focus your efforts on gathering SMS opt-ins and then drive sales through text messaging, you can get around all the pixel issues that resulted from the iOS 14 upgrade,” Parker said. 

A text message reminder sent to a busy customer with a purchase link can be a great way to reduce friction and push customers through the funnel.

It “could be a lifesaver and bring in a ton of extra revenue,” said Blumenthal. 

A word of warning: 

Sure, SMS means you can reach customers in their pockets, but if you overuse SMS — or write texts that read like push notifications— customers will see you as spammy and unsubscribe as fast as they signed up. “Don't use SMS as a stand-alone tactic. Use it as a follow-up or supporting touchpoint,” said Hogard. 

IGNORE: Working with influencers just because “everyone’s doing it.” 

In 2021, spending on influencer marketing is expected to grow 33% YoY.

Source: eMarketer

All that spending doesn’t necessarily mean influencer marketing is the right fit for every brand, though. 

“Loads flock to influencer marketing as if it's the Golden Ticket to your problems,” said Kris Hunt, content strategist at Content Cure

Influencer marketing is a marketing strategy just like any other — it takes investment and a comprehensive strategy to make it work. 

Lately, some brands working with Instagram influencers have seen lower engagement rates. A Social Insider study showed that average engagement on all types of Instagram posts fell by as much as half after hitting a peak in July 2020. 

For many brands working with Instagram influencers, that means “the investment is not worth the return,” said Lorina Daiana, founder of Pin Perfect Studios

And brands are on the wrong track if they simply aim for partnerships with influencers with the biggest platforms. 

“Don't think for one second that someone with 10,000 [followers] can't outperform someone with 100,000,” said Josh Gould, founder of Flood Media

“Don't think for one second that someone with 10,000 [followers] can't outperform someone with 100,000.”

ADORE: Investing in long-term influencer relationships and micro influencers.

Even if your brand isn’t ready to take the influencer plunge and book a $1.5 million post with Kylie Jenner or Ariana Grande, you might still be able to capitalize on influencer marketing over the holidays. A good rule of thumb: knowing your target audience is key, Gould said. 

Our experts pointed out five worthwhile (and accessible) strategies for influencer marketing:

1. Scope out micro-influencers. Research shows that micro- and nano-influencers with smaller followings get better engagement than some influencers with millions of followers. Plus, they’re more cost-effective, so you can diversify ad spend. 

Source: Social Insider

2. Develop “white-labeled” paid social ads. These ads look like they’re coming from influencer accounts, but they’re really paid social ads. The goal is “to make the content seem as organic as possible,” said Jonathan Martinez, growth marketing manager at Uber.

3. Build long-term relationships. “Longer term partnerships with influencers are overlooked,” said Chelsea Bradley, social media strategist at Social Ocean. “Have them post about a product, naturally, over several posts [instead of] 1 major SPONSORED LOOK AT THIS post.” For an example, look to former Bachelor lead Matt James, whose partnership with Ithaca Hummus involved several charcuterie boards and even got some earned press

4. Look outside the Facebook ecosystem. “Take advantage of lower CPMs on channels such as TikTok that still haven't caught up to the competitive Facebook landscape,” Martinez said. And Snapchat’s often even cheaper than TikTok!

5. Pair influencer and affiliate marketing. Blogs and listicle features fall in the affiliate marketing category, but they can be a powerful, lower-funnel addition to influencer marketing. Influencers can cite lists and gift guides you’re featured on, and they can drive traffic to those posts. “Working with bloggers to get on ‘best of’ lists … [is a] great way to get recognized,” said Dittloff. “Shoppers rely on recommendations to make purchases.”

Pro tip: Influencer marketing and sponsored posts may have looked like the Wild West in 2012, but in 2021, there are rules to follow — enforced by social platforms and the FTC. Breaking those could threaten your brand’s ability to post ads and other content on social media. So study up!

The marketer’s (anti-BCFM) to-do list

Because of the shipping and supply chain issues addressed above, BCFM probably won’t look the way it used to this year. 

“The writing's been on the wall for [that weekend] for a long time anyway,” Jay Sauceda, VP of Logistics at, told MarketerHire. And now, Black Friday may finally be dead. 

Instead of dividing this season into the pre-BCFM and the pre-shipping-cutoff, most marketers will end up doing one long push until inventory is gone or the holidays have passed. 

To get you through that marathon stretch, we rounded up marketers’ most urgent to-dos, according to our network.

Gather customer contact information.

It may not put you in the holiday spirit like writing jingles or designing holiday displays, but getting on top of your owned customer data lays the groundwork for the rest of the holiday season. 

“The more people you can get to [opt into] communications from you before the holiday rush, the more likely you are to build a relationship with them before all the madness begins,” said Parker. “Build that database and segment it right. Then, send them a text message. It'll work.”

Start influencer outreach.

“If you’re looking to leverage influencers, the strategy and outreach to influencers should start now,” said Martinez. 

Influencer marketing requires a longer lead time than developing paid search campaigns. The strategizing needs to start before that first outreach. Right now, you should be “looking at influencers that could help create more brand awareness of your product or service,” said Genzlinger — and who can reach your target audience.  

Then you’ll want to start talking to influencers and reserve time with them before their books fill up for the holidays. 

Don’t forget to vet those influencers and check their actual engagement against the stats they give you. 

“Lot's of so-called influencers have fake followers and low engagement,” Genzlinger said. The 2014 “Instagram rapture” didn’t catch all the bots! 

Get your messaging in alignment. 

Trust us, it’s better to develop your messaging strategy early than end up with patchwork messaging in November. 

To avoid confusing customers later in the season — or being forced to rework messaging — “start creating full-funnel strategies where messaging aligns,” said Rosenberg. 

That means building out:

  • Top-of-funnel holiday messaging like ads, influencer campaigns, paid search and social
  • Mid- and bottom-funnel holiday messaging like email, SMS, content marketing, and retargeting ads

Throughout, keep the principles of effective storytelling in mind. 

“We're seeing a mass return to effective storytelling,” said Ross McDaniel, founder of Fencepost. “The combination of problem, pain, victory, and social proof is a timeless narrative that has won the hearts of consumers everywhere for a long time.”

“We're seeing a mass return to effective storytelling. The combination of problem, pain, victory, and social proof is a timeless narrative that has won the hearts of consumers everywhere for a long time.”

Check your (creative) list, twice. 

The best-laid plans can go awry. Because demand is unpredictable right now, you may end up running low on a product you planned to promote right before the holidays. 

And a product you planned to run out of might be languishing on the warehouse shelves. 

“Make sure you have enough backup creatives in place,” said Darabi. “Being able to quickly pivot to promoting other items can help you diversify sales as you approach the shipping cutoff when inventory management can become tricky.” 

Then, get all of your ads approved — as early as possible — or “face being a sitting duck for [two] days while everyone else gets those Shopify notifications of new sales,” said Juda Borrayo, growth manager at Vision. 

Prepare to pull back. 

If supply chain issues come for your brand and the logistics department says items won’t arrive in time for the holidays, you won’t want to keep marketing campaigns going. 

No one wants customers to get excited by an influencer marketing a product only to find they can’t use an affiliate link since products aren’t in stock. 

While you still have inventory in stock, try these tactics: 

  • Re-target! “Use a service like AdRoll to target the heck out of cart abandons and send [customers] offers they can't refuse,” said Dittloff. 
  • Publicize your shipping cutoff date. “Start to add in ad creative that speaks to your shipping deadlines,” said Wheeler. “Make sure your website is over-communicative about shipping deadlines to ensure a happy customer.” 
  • Consider the BCFM alternatives. Some marketers recommend raising prices, adding friction or closing stores in honor of the (former?) shopping holiday. 

After all, there’s no point in having holiday inventory if you can’t get it to shoppers in time for their festivities. 

As you wrap up 2021, look ahead

When the holidays arrive, you’ll be ready to collapse. Look out for your future self by planning post-holiday promotions and content before the new year.

After all, “some people are gaining more disposable income during the holidays,” said Willie Joe Marquez at Astro Optimized. “Cash and gifts cards are very popular. Make sure your products are set up with an appealing offer for those who shop after the holidays.” 

But before you look too far ahead, Brad Koettel, a growth marketer at Electric Kettle Marketing reminded us of a very important question you have to ask yourself in the week before holiday shipping deadlines: “Where are you going on vacation in January?”

Kelsey Donk
about the author

Kelsey Donk is a writer at MarketerHire. Before joining MarketerHire full-time, Kelsey was a freelance writer and loved working with small businesses to level up their content. When she isn't writing, Kelsey can be found gardening or walking her dogs all around Minneapolis.

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