It’s official –– the holiday selling season began October 13, 2020 with the launch of Amazon’s previously pushed back Prime Day.
Think that’s a bit too early? Think again.
Previous reports stated that holiday selling (i.e. when holiday deals start hitting email inboxes) begin around Halloween. Other reports say that even as early as back-to-school can be considered the true start of the holiday selling season.
To be fair, if you use Facebook Advertising –– and most of us do –– then the holiday season begins 180 days before your first holiday campaign goes out.
That’s because you can set a 180-day pixel on your pages for Facebook to re-target users.
That means, then, perhaps the holiday selling season begins mid-summer because it is at that point that you're building your retargeting audiences.
All this annual talk about the holidays, and more specifically a week of time that Shopify has now successfully acronym-ized as BFCM, which stands for Black Friday Cyber Monday, is exhausting.
This is especially true in a year in which nothing has been normal.
The pandemic has caused more competition online as brick-and-mortar stores have been forced to find other ways to drive revenue and keep their proverbial (and literal) doors open.
Consider the rapid growth of e-commerce as proof. According to the latest research, COVID-19 accelerated the industry’s growth by five years.
This is due largely in part to the pandemic but also due to shifting consumer shopping habits. E-commerce merchants enjoyed an extra $107 billion over what was already predicted to be the biggest year for online sales in history.
In July and August alone, year over year, e-commerce sellers across the board have seen an increase in sales by 55% and 42% respectively, a trend of growth that is expected to carry well into the holiday season and into 2021.
Malls and physical shopping locales were already on the decline before the pandemic, and with fewer shoppers than ever expected to hit the (literal) stores, retailers are bracing for a quiet in-person experience this holiday season. According to the New York Times:
“Customers have moved online in greater numbers, hoping to avoid crowds at stores, and retailers are already adjusting their holiday plans accordingly.”
In an already crowded online market, merchants are looking for ways to diversify and seed value to both existing and new customers. This involves:
- Leveraging new channels for ad spend (thanks to the upcoming election).
- Rethinking messaging.
- Introducing a seasonally specific strategy around SEO and email sends.
These 13 expert-backed tactics may not all be feasible in the short-term, but they’re worth considering for not only your seasonal holiday campaigns, but for your larger 2021 marketing strategy, too.
The goal here is to stay top of mind for your target audience, and help your company, whether it's a small business or a Fortune 500, leverage successful holiday marketing campaigns for 2021 success.
13 Expert-Approved Tactics to Improve Your Holiday Marketing Strategy
Whether your holiday plan is already in motion or you’re starting up a little bit later on, consider these ideas and tactics as a checklist of ways to level up your holiday messaging.
Not only will these help you get in front of new customers, they’ll help your current customers remember you amidst all of the holiday shopping noise.
1. Begin your holiday marketing planning early.
For every last-minute gift getter who boldly braves the mall on Christmas Eve, there’s a methodical shopper who starts looking earlier in the year for everyone on their holiday shopping list.
You want to capture both.
By getting ahead of your holiday messaging and seeding seasonal offers well in advance, you won’t miss out on those early-bird shoppers who make their list and check it twice well before the jingle bells start ringing. According to WebFX:
“Your target market should start thinking about your business and their holiday shopping before December rolls around. That’s why your team needs to work on its seasonal marketing campaign early, like in August or September.”
Not only should your messaging be tightened up by early Fall, but creative assets should be going live earlier than later, too. This includes curated graphics, holiday-specific email sends, blog posts, and video, which can lead to an 80% lift in conversions when incorporated on a landing page.
What to do right now:
- Double check your email lists: How big are they? Do you need to clean them before you launch your campaigns? Is your email deliverability ok?
- Launch pop-ups, offers or something to collect additional emails: The closer we get to the holiday season, the more expensive Facebook ads will be. Do everything you can *right now* to capture emails or phone numbers so you can market to folks without having to pay to get in front of them.
- Use a brainstorming and flow tool like Miro to chart the progression of your holiday campaigns, including launch dates, the customer journey, and more. It doesn’t have to be perfect, but this will help you to spot holes in your strategy or holes in creative, copywriting, etc.
- Not sure where to start? Use a tool like MailCharts to find examples of what other brands did last year. It’s a great way to find ideas, or show your designer exactly what you are looking for.
2. Email marketing campaigns can be huge.
There are few channels more crucial to your holiday marketing strategy than email (maybe SMS marketing now that it’s 2020).
In fact, 24% of holiday sales come from email marketing.
“Via email, you are reaching out to your most engaged audience — customers and subscribers you already have — and you can also create campaigns to reach out to leads. Showing any of these audiences the value that your store offers, particularly within the holiday period, is the secret to conversions.” [Opt In Monster]
Yes, the content needs to be relevant and effective to your key audiences, but the delivery should be equally as optimized.
Here are a few tactics to make sure your email campaigns are sending the right message, the right way:
1. Optimize for mobile.
There’s a lot to consider when you think about your mobile audience, since smartphones have become the device of choice for most readers.
Screen real estate is really important, especially for phones that don’t have a home button, so you want to ensure that the layout of your email is optimized for readability on these types of devices.
That readability directly relates to revenue — if they can’t see your email clearly, your audience isn’t going to make a purchase from it.
2. Segment your email list.
When no two buyers are the same, why would you send the same marketing message to your entire email list?
By segmenting your audience into specific lists based on interest, demographic, buying habits, even, you’ll be able to curate your messaging based on that lists’ specific needs.
3. Seed urgency.
Though it feels like the holidays last forever, they don’t. And plenty of customers wait until the last minute to purchase gifts, so they miss out on early-bird deals and last-minute shipping opportunities.
By using handy integrations like an advent calendar or a countdown clock or by creating that sense of urgency in the subject line, your audience will know that time is truly of the essence.
Last year, Casper cleverly played with this idea, urging their customers to take advantage of the soon-expiring sales:
This works particularly well for Black Friday and Cyber Monday, too — so you have to make sure your deal is enticing enough AND that the urgency to purchase is there when you send out that holiday email.
5. Be holiday-inclusive.
Christmas isn’t the only reason for the season, so it’s important that your subscribers feel included and acknowledged regardless of the holiday they celebrate.
The calendar is your friend, too, so you can create email sends around key moments throughout the season for other holidays that don’t fall on December 25.
6. Don’t know where to begin with your email marketing?
A sweepstakes is always a crowd pleaser. Plus, it boosts open rates like crazy, as do major sales and discount deals. Holiday gift guides and gift giving ideas are always appreciated, too, and it’s a good opportunity for you to promote particular products or product bundles.
“Highly personalized and segmented email campaigns will be a must as social media engagement declines,” says Justin Fennert, Content & Community Marketing.
“Email marketing has helped many brands keep doors open during the pandemic and even outperform their previous years numbers. These two channels will need to work hand-in-hand to execute a successful holiday campaign.”
3. Prepare your organic social media strategy.
An equally important piece to your holiday marketing ideas and mix is your social media presence, which should reflect — and amplify — the same messaging of your email, web, and offline efforts.
This is a crucial part of an integrated marketing strategy – and it's a lot more than just using the right hashtags.
Social media is the perfect outlet for not only converting current customers in your pipeline, but for creating new leads through brand awareness and community management.
This is especially important around the holidays, because the period of time one spends considering a purchase is significantly shorter than the rest of the year.
The first step involves assessing your strategy from last year, if there was one to begin with.
- What messaging or approach performed best?
- Which flopped?
- Have any of your audiences changed or grown since last year?
- Where did you see the most ROI?
Determining these metrics will help you set goals for this year’s holiday social media strategy.
After that, you want to collaborate with your brand marketers, designers, and copywriters to create a unique, holiday-themed campaign that you can center most - if not all - of your social media presence around before and during peak holiday season. Even after!
Make sure these creative decisions are informed by your audience(s) and have specific purposes behind each — be it to sell, inform, or entertain.
Next, you want to create a strategic content calendar. This doesn’t just include November and December, either. You want to begin seeding holiday messaging as early as October and continue well into the new year.
Look for specific moments on the traditional calendar, too, that help promote your campaign… or rather, your anti-campaign, as REI has proven to do successfully since the inception of their anti-Black Friday movement to #OptOutside.
Social media should be another arm of your holiday marketing strategy and promote messaging to an audience beyond those you already have in your purview.
We’re only referring to your organic strategy, by the way — read on to learn more about advertising on social media during the holiday season.
4. Have a holiday SEO strategy.
SEO is a huge component to any brand’s organic marketing function, but it comes even more into play around the holidays. There isn’t a ton of time left, but there are still a few tactics to employ going into the season.
Consider how many people are searching for the newest products, the hottest deals, and the best gifts for the people in their lives. Your SEO strategy has to be buttoned up starting well in advance of Black Friday and Cyber Monday, the biggest e-commerce days of the year.
Last year, online sales for these two days clocked in at just under $8B, and this year, it’s expected to exceed that.
Moreover, even if your customers aren’t purchasing online, they’re likely using the Internet to conduct research and inform their purchase decision prior to buying.
There are a few great ways to get included on these lists and start building backlinks.
“Inclusion in gift guides produced by content publishers and influencers are some of the most effective ways I've seen on a consistent basis to drive considerable sales during holiday shopping season,” says Mike Griffith, Direct Response & Growth Marketing.
“These can be paid, affiliate-based, or purely earned media and work for any brand size whether you have a $2,000 budget or a $200,000 budget and a PR/affiliate team. As an added step for any favorable placement, use the gift guide content in your top of funnel paid campaigns as a strong third party validation at a time when people are converting at the highest rates of the year.”
You can also use HARO to find gift guides to contribute to.
In addition, BigCommerce has an entire SEO strategy brief specifically around the holidays, but we pulled a few major components to building out your own plan.
If SEO isn’t your gig, don’t worry — we know plenty of experts.
1.Do your (holiday) keyword research.
“Google’s Keyword Planner allows you to segment keywords by month, which can be useful for identifying high-volume keywords during the holiday season. It’s just as important to target relevant keywords during the holiday season as it is during the rest of the year; however, with the increased traffic that comes along with the holidays, one could argue that it’s more important during this time.”
You could use SEMRush, Ahrefs, or Clearscope.io to help identify relevant keywords around specific topics you’re writing about. It’s helpful, too, to identify monthly and seasonal trends by region or by demographic and use those as keywords in your strategy.
2. Fix any bugs or lags on your website.
“Check your site’s performance regularly to make sure that there aren’t any ongoing issues that could be affecting its organic success. Keep an eye out for:
- Slow site speed
- Broken URLs
- An abundance of redirected URLs
- Lack of canonicals or incorrectly set up canonicals
- Duplicate content
- Lack of internal links
- Unsecured pages and page resources (no SSL certificate)
If your site is experiencing any of these issues, your organic presence could be suffering.”
How can you check on all the above? Grab you a free trial of Ahrefs.com, input your URL, and see what all you need to fix.
3. Create specific landing pages for Black Friday and Cyber Monday.
“To increase your chances of showing up on Black Friday and Cyber Monday related search queries, it’s important to create pages that target relevant keywords.
To find the best prices available, users will often search for terms that include ‘Black Friday deals’ or ‘Cyber Monday deals’ along with a particular product or category. Depending on the industry your business is in, it may be beneficial to create a Black Friday or Cyber Monday page for each product you plan on offering at a discount.”
4. Streamline SEO with paid search and paid social.
“To make the most of your holiday SEO strategy, your marketing efforts should work in tandem with your other strategies. This will provide users with a unified experience that shows them exactly what they’re looking for.
Create posts on social media that announce holiday offers and link to the corresponding pages you’ve created. Furthermore, include Black Friday- and Cyber Monday-focused keywords in your paid advertising. Businesses that invest in their omnichannel marketing efforts during the holidays are likely to reap a myriad of benefits.”
5. Invest in holiday ad campaigns (but beware of politics).
There are more than just holidays coming up in the next few months of 2020.
That presidential election that’s happening? Yeah, it’s driving ad costs, specifically CAC, up for everyone, specifically on Facebook and Instagram.
Leveraging new channels like Pinterest, which has been seeing a 3x jump in “holiday gift” searches, or Snapchat, where you can find nearly 90% of Gen Z, can ensure your ad dollars are working smarter, not harder.
Plus, you’ll diversify your audience and your content and reach an entire new suite of customers.
At any rate, when considering your paid strategy, remember that there’s a 180-day window during which folks will remain in your custom audience. The holidays are a great time to hit them with new, seasonal messaging — especially deals, discounts, and offers — to get them to convert.
These new channels can be particularly successful if and when you partner with influencers…
6. Consider working with influencers.
An influencer strategy is a powerful tool to have year-round, but that influence is even more important come the holidays (when people are often making multiple purchase decisions):
- 49% of consumers depend on influencer recommendations
- Influencer marketing campaigns earn nearly $7 for every dollar spent
- Nearly a quarter of all marketers say influencers are their most cost-effective customer acquisition channel
Tools like Trend.io function as search engines for finding the perfect influencers for your campaign that will closely resonate with your audience. Plus, once your organic content strategy is baked out, they can create content that falls in line with brand messaging and is timely for the holidays.
Consider this Google Trends query — every December, searches for “gift guides” spikes. Tasking your influencer with creating a curated gift guide within a certain budget or for a certain type of person can be a strong way to seed product value and see ROI.
“Using influencers to sell and promote products on social media since in-person events are cancelled for the foreseeable future,” says Jessica Zaleski, B2B Content Marketing. “We're all sitting at home scrolling through our phones for hours a day, so might as well take advantage of that space/increased social media usage!”
7. Don’t forget about current customers.
For every new customer you acquire, there’s a former customer looking to be acknowledged.
It’s easy to throw around promos, discount codes and offers to the newbies in the funnel. It’s harder to re-attract customers you’ve already won. This is a 365-day plight, but when you consider how much noise crowds the space at the holidays?
You have to differentiate. You have to make your customers happy.
By segmenting your email lists, social media audiences, and other retargeting strategies, you can roll out new holiday promotions, incentives and more that will not only encourage your current customers to make more purchases — they’ll want to share the wealth, too.
In fact, the holidays are actually the perfect time to roll out a referral program to your target audience.
Not only can you exponentially grow your customer base and meet revenue goals as a result, but you’ll have a much deeper pool of customers on the other side of the holiday season to recapture using fresh, new year messaging.
“Stay-in holiday celebrations, spreading love and positivity, giving back,” says Kate Tan, Growth Consultant. “It will be about the simpler things in life, and bringing the holiday spirit back home, in small intimate groups. It will also revolve around being aware of how blessed or lucky we are, and being able to share that joy with those around us.”
Where you’re offering new customers a special offer or discount, don’t neglect your current audience in the process. Use your retargeting strategy to offer them the same deal, if not better, so they’ll feel acknowledged and remember you long after the holidays have passed.
After all, retail and e-commerce isn't just about sales. It's about bettering our and our loved one's lives. Create digital marketing ad campaigns that tell that story.
8. Discounts and special offers can drive sales.
Naturally, consumers are more enticed to purchase if there’s a deal involved, right? Especially on products that are typically gate-kept from usual discounts, or if your company doesn’t regularly host sales.
This was proved by Everlane and Away each having their first real “sale” in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. According to Glossy.co:
“Discounts can instantly jumpstart sales, but Away and its DTC cohorts often avoid them like the—never mind. DTC brands say they’re already offering the most competitive price; discounts could undermine those claims."
"After the pandemic torpedoed revenue, DTC brands risked their reputations to recover business via markdowns.”
Despite the risk, Away had so much traffic influx to their site when the sale started that it crashed — a good sign that sales are likely on the up-and-up and that deals are enough to drive purchase consideration.
9. Analyze last year's data.
If you have data from your holiday marketing efforts last year, great: Use it to inform and improve your efforts this year.
Look cross-channel, too — at email stats, social media metrics, web traffic, sales, keywords that ranked, keywords that didn’t rank, customer demographics — anything that can help create a framework for a successful, holistic holiday marketing campaign.
If you don’t have data from last year to go on, set the precedent this year by equipping yourself with tools to track meaningful data. Then you’ll have a foundation to start from for years to come.
10. Implement SMS marketing.
Don’t sleep on mobile marketing — especially in 2020, where over 5 billion people worldwide own or have access to a smartphone.
The benefits of SMS marketing are plentiful and, when you compare them to those of email marketing or other similar channels, it’s hard to deny their impact.
Because our smartphones are so accessible to us at all times, the SMS delivery format makes accessing information and deals really, really easy.
Plus, when you consider how much more likely someone is to open a text message versus an email, especially within the first 3 minutes, (90%!) an SMS strategy makes a ton of sense considering how urgent making a purchase is during the holiday season.
Rather than separating your email and mobile marketing strategies, streamline them to make both efforts stronger. You can even reward loyal customers in ways that go beyond a discount or deal on your own product line. According to AdSpark:
“Now, don’t limit your campaign to discount codes to your own products. You can also use SKU rewards in your holiday SMS marketing campaign to reward loyal customers. You can use bCODE (now MTHL) to enable your customers to redeem rewards from Starbucks, Jollibee, SM Cinema, and other establishments by scanning the bCODE with the establishment’s barcode reader. A simple thank you gift like this one can incentivize your customers to visit your website or one of your stores.”
11. Get brand partnership work under your belt - right now (it’s easy!).
“Camaraderie” is the word of the year in 2020 — and DTC brands especially need to embrace this idea going into the holiday season.
Between an election, an Apple software update that could render advertising way more difficult for publishers, and a post-pandemic economy that will change buying habits for the rest of our lives, brand partnerships are going to be more of an asset than ever before.
There are tons of approaches to take for co-branding or corporate partnership opportunities, including:
- Sponsorship within sports, esports or entertainment events (such as festivals)
- Prize package giveaways with products or offerings from each party
- Brand activation at conferences or large ticketed events
- Brand promotions in-store, online or on-pack
- Licensing products
- Media or digital content product with Multi-Channel network businesses (Tastemade, Copa90, UniLad).
- Loyalty platforms providing rewards or incentives to new and existing customers
- Emerging tech partnerships that initiative new technique to engage
- Influencer or celebrity endorsement
- TV partnerships such as Jet2 and Love Island.
- Product placement through film houses
By combining efforts with a brand that has a similar audience and brand appeal to yours, both parties will capitalize on the increased exposure — so long as its newsworthy and mutually beneficial to all brands involved.
Though most experiential, in-person activations are put on hold due to the coronavirus pandemic, there are still plenty of ways to leverage online brand partnerships for the holiday season in the spirit of giveaways, staycations, or a co-branded product that can be enjoyed from home.
2020 has given us some seriously nostalgic brand collaborations like Blockbuster x Airbnb, but others like Travis Scott’s McDonald’s meal directly aligns with the fast food franchise’s goal to reach Gen Z and millennial customers. Plus, we’re sure Travis isn’t hurting with the royalties he’s earning from fans blasting “Sicko Mode” in the drive-thru.
12. Don’t overlook your holistic customer experience strategy.
Let’s be honest… things are, well, touchy around the holidays. Consumers are spending more money than ever while avoiding overly personal questions from distant relatives. It’s hard to find moments of respite during these few hectic months.
If nothing else, be a champion for the customers who are coming to you during this time by creating a seamless, painless customer experience from top to bottom.
For example, our friends at Passport helped the folks over at Native expand their international shipping options while fixing some of the pain points across their entire shipping strategy, including:
- Dead tracking numbers
- Quiet periods of tracking
- High number of return to sender shipments
- Limited data from carriers
These issues could put a serious dent in your holiday earning potential when e-commerce holiday sales are expected to generate between $182 billion and $196 billion this season.
Passport created a high-touch tracking system as well as support for customers awaiting their Native products. They also helped clear out any dead tracking numbers proactively and created a system that would notify customers about their shipment, which helped combat that pesky return-to-sender habit.
The customer experience doesn’t begin once they’ve already become a customer, though. UX/UI design, particularly on mobile apps where customers are doing a lot of the heavy shopping, can make or break their experience and determine whether or not they’re actually going to purchase something.
Easy wins that can be started today, though, include a holistic social media community management experience.
By engaging with your online communities, you’ll retain happy customers, problem-solve for unhappy customers, and reach the audience in the fringe that’s eager to make a connection with their next favorite brand.
13. Retention is the ultimate goal.
Above all else, this holiday season — more than others before it — is about setting yourself up for success for 2021 and beyond. COVID-19 has hit a lot of sectors hard, and the next few months are a good time to recoup losses and continue the momentum this new digital-first economy has created for many.
Here’s the good news: A lot of companies have gained new customers over the last six months, many of which were first time buyers:
“The rise of the digital-first economy, brought on by retail shutdowns and stay-at-home orders issued in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, has changed the way today’s merchants do business. In fact, 77% of merchants reported changing their selling strategy in response to COVID-19, with 35% of merchants launching an online store for the first time. Consumers have flocked to online stores in record numbers, and shipping volumes for merchants have hit record highs.
In addition, 56% of merchants reported an increase in new customers in the last six months, which is directly in line with Ware2Go’s consumer survey released in May, in which 55% of consumers indicated making a purchase from a retailer they had never shopped with before. Additionally, 28% of merchants say they have ordered more product than ever before, while 25% started selling new products, and 22% opened a new sales channel.”
The bad news? There’s a lot of noise to break through, especially around the holidays.
By leveraging new channels like SMS, rethinking SEO strategy, and utilizing other ad platforms besides from Facebook and Instagram to reach your audience, you’ll be setting up your holiday strategy for success, which will bring you into 2021 with a new suite of customers to build a retention strategy around.
4 Marketing Experts Offer Holiday Marketing Tips & Predictions for 2020
Don’t just take it from us, though — four expert marketers from our network have their predictions for what’s sure to be an unprecedented holiday season. From growth marketing techniques to affiliate-based content, read what they have to say about trends to try throughout the rest of 2020 and beyond.
Curated content by the individual, for the individual.
I spend much of my week in social building community and engagement and it continues to be a good spot for that but as we all spent more time at home, and on social, it became an extremely crowded channel and engagement began to drop for many brands.
The focus shifted even more so to the individual as the content creator and brands really capitalized with campaigns like Adidas #HomeTeam campaign. This is one strategy that I believe will help drive success as we near the holiday season. Brands will need to put the individual at the heart of their social strategy this year possibly more than any other. Its purpose will be to drive awareness and engagement, and that’s where the next strategy should come in to play.
Highly personalized and segmented email campaigns will be a must as social media engagement declines. Email marketing has helped many brands keep doors open during the pandemic and even outperform their previous years numbers. These two channels will need to work hand-in-hand to execute a successful holiday campaign.
–– Justin Fennert, Content & Community Marketing.
Curbside and contactless ordering versus in-person shopping.
Featuring and highlighting curbside pickup, online ordering and contactless delivery: This year holiday shopping will look more different than ever before as consumers are not going to want to go to the store in-person even more than ever before so brands are going to have to adapt to users shopping and doing everything online.
–– Drew Blumenthal, SEM & PPC Advertising.
[There will be a trend of] using influencers to sell and promote products on social media since in-person events are cancelled for the foreseeable future.
We're all sitting at home scrolling through our phones for hours a day, so might as well take advantage of that space/increased social media usage!
–– Jessica Zaleski, B2B Content Marketing.
Create a curated gift guide — then distribute it at the top of your funnel.
Inclusion in gift guides produced by content publishers and influencers are some of the most effective ways I've seen on a consistent basis to drive considerable sales during the holiday shopping season.
These can be paid, affiliate-based, or purely earned media and work for any brand size whether you have a $2,000 budget or a $200,000 budget and a PR/affiliate team. As an added step for any favorable placement, use the gift guide content in your top of funnel paid campaigns as a strong third party validation at a time when people are converting at the highest rates of the year.
–– Mike Griffith, Direct Response & Growth Marketing.
Conclusion: Start Early and Leverage Every Channel
If you haven’t already kicked off your holiday campaign planning, much less the execution of it, start now.
With noise around Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year’s, and all of the holidays in between starting earlier and earlier every year, getting started as soon as August or September can ensure that you have time to streamline your messaging, get your channel strategy in place, and have the time to dig into historical data in a meaningful way that will inform all of your decisions.
If you haven’t yet started or you don’t yet have the time, a growth marketer or a specialist in a channel you haven’t yet utilized could be a smart hire — even if just for the holiday season.
Oh, and happy holidays everyone! Good luck. And can't wait to see you in the new year.