This article was contributed by Mike Kujanek, Founder & CEO at Magnitude Digital, an award-winning full-service digital marketing agency. Mike recently co-hosted our webinar ‘Marketing Your Small Business Like the Big Brands (On a Shoestring Budget)’ . Watch the recording here

The holiday season has always revolved around gift-giving for family and loved ones, while scrambling to get things done before the end of the year.

For many eCommerce and service commerce businesses, it’s not uncommon for the months of November and December to comprise at least 50% of total sales and revenue for the year. Black Friday, Cyber Monday or rather Cyber Week—as the industry has grown to embrace it—kicks off holiday shopping during the downtime most Americans enjoy over the days immediately following Thanksgiving.

For more tips on marketing your small business like the big brands, watch our webinar.

It’s not too late to set your business up for success this holiday season with some strategic marketing efforts. We’re answering some of the most common holiday marketing questions below.

What kind of marketing efforts should businesses focus on around the holidays?

Small to medium-sized eCommerce and service commerce businesses preparing for the holidays should make an effort to, firstly, identify the equivalent of “door buster” deals or “hero products” that they wish to promote and heavily discount. This will serve to help businesses bring consumers to the site online or retail store. Typically, other nominal discounts are offered store-wide (10% off or free shipping on all orders).

Secondly, the business should plan to announce these sales with 1-2 weeks advanced notice to consumers across a multitude of different channels.

To re-activate past customers, a brand will typically lean on email marketing and on-site messaging to get the word out about the holiday promotion schedule. This can be further amplified by promoting the sales ahead of time across paid media campaigns, including but not limited to Search Ads, Shopping Ads, Paid Social etc. The bigger question is when and how to plan these tactical efforts for the most impact.

If time and budget are a concern, which holidays marketing strategy will bring small businesses the most ‘bang for their buck’?

With limited budget and time, an eCommerce business can still be very effective at promoting holiday sales and generating substantial revenue lift.

Assuming you have “hero products” identified and a promotional calendar already established, you can begin to draft your holiday marketing plan right now.

Anecdotally, there are a few key digital tactics for emerging brands to consider as part of their holiday marketing plan. Firstly, you want to engage past customers and inform them of the upcoming sales. Brands like Walmart or Dell (“Holiday Days of Deals”) are known to share a promotional schedule with different products featured by day.

Before the holidays hit, you may want to consider heavier usage of email and retargeting. This can be done during the 1-2 weeks preceding Black Friday.

From Black Friday through Cyber Week, emerging brands should plan for their highest levels of investment across digital acquisition channels. While Cyber Monday has traditionally been a record day for eCommerce, a 2017 study by Accenture has found that the prevalence of planned holiday offers during Cyber Week is stretching consumer demand out and away from the traditional Black Friday weekend. During Cyber Week, emerging brands should plan for all planned digital tactics to be active. For a business looking to capitalize on the holidays, tactics should include:

1. Email Marketing

  • Contact past customers
  • Schedule multiple messages leading up to Black Friday and Cyber Week
  • Friendly reminder emails sent during the morning of each sale

2. Paid Search (Google/Yahoo/Bing)

  • Target brand terms
  • Target generic and competing product terms
  • Retarget past site visitors

3. Shopping Ads (PLAs)

  • Google Shopping
  • Amazon Ads (AMS)
  • Retarget past product viewers

4. Paid Social

  • Facebook Ads
  • Instagram Ads
  • Twitter Ads
  • Retarget past site visitors
  • Look-a-like modeling can work very well here!

5. Display

  • Retarget past customers
  • Target look-a-like audiences based on purchase behavior

When is the right time to start running holiday campaigns?

Brands of any size should establish a rigid marketing communications schedule announcing featured sales as early as 1-2 weeks before Black Friday (as early as Monday, November 13). We do not recommend increasing investment levels or deploying new tactics until at least Black Friday. While Black Friday is known to be a big holiday sales day mostly via retail, online businesses typically see greater response to sales and incentives starting Cyber Monday.

What are the biggest marketing mistakes you see companies making around the holidays?

Our teams at Magnitude Digital have supported brands of all sizes with holiday marketing plans. While we strive to custom-tailor a plan to each brand’s needs, not all plans are accepted and executed as initially planned. Where plans have gone astray and jeopardized sales success is in the following ways:

1. Changing sales plans last minute

  • This can throw an entire marketing team and agency into disarray if all creative and digital tactics have to be changed last minute (i.e. landing page, banners, text). Make sure your plans are checked and reviewed several times in advance.

2. Trying to out-do your competition

  • It’s easy to get caught up in bidding wars with competitors during intense holiday sales days. Don’t give into it. If a large brand is targeting a non-brand keyword that is usually a revenue driver for your business, only bid to the extent that you can compete. Do not compromise your margin and jeopardize your plan. Same applies if a large brand is conquesting your brand name in Paid Search… Do not try to outdo the competing brand for the sake of serving an ad in 1st position. Do so only if there’s a strong business case. They are already incurring heavy costs to target your brand name and will likely stop doing so.

3. Do not test new initiatives unless fully vetted

  • The holiday season is not a time to test new digital tactics. Instead, it’s when brands double-down on tactics that have been tested over the past year and are proven to be effective. Some slight changes to plans may be acceptable where a publisher has accommodated for new ad formats or even offered other tactics as a value-add, but none of this should in any way interfere with the brand’s holiday plan. Where possible, try to secure performance guarantees (CPA or ROAS) with publishers and marketing partners, especially if new tactics are in play.

4. Not aligning all business teams in support of the Digital Holiday Plan

  • While marketing may be ready for the holidays, not checking on preparedness of other divisions within the company, such as, call center sales or customer service, can be equally as bad as a failed digital holiday plan. For one client of Magnitude Digital, a digital holiday plan was prepared, approved, and deployed at the start of Black Friday. At the time, the client had hired a new Call Center Sales Manager who, firstly, did not anticipate the higher inbound call volume and excessive waiting times for high intent customers. Making matters worse, the Sales Manager advised the team to only handle inbound calls and delay vital sales follow-up calls. In spite of a rigorously planned holiday plan, a lot of the customer demand was left unattended and sales conversion rates tanked. It goes to show how important it is to ensure all sales, marketing, and communications teams are aligned at all times.

What are some things an agency like yours can help companies accomplish around the holidays?

An agency like Magnitude Digital can help businesses strategize, plan, execute, and analyze digital holiday campaigns. For example, our teams in Paid Media, Earned Media (SEO & Content), and Creative Services have built and executed on plans for all business sizes from SMBs to Enterprise level. The planning process can be labor-intensive as it involves several meetings with publishers, devising creative strategy and a tactical deployment schedule, and lastly, ensuring all campaigns are set up and tracked accordingly.

Your digital agency team is there to provide the marketing strategy, access to publisher resources (often out of reach of small and medium-size businesses), negotiate media buys ahead of time where efficiencies can be secured, set up all digital campaigns with the approved creative, and finally execute on tactics to be active according to the approved schedule. Your agency should be an extension of your own team—they will be there to execute to the plan and be prepared for every possible scenario, good and bad, when you need them most.

How far in advance, ideally, should companies who rely on the holiday season start preparing their marketing efforts?

For enterprise-level businesses, digital holiday planning can start as early as May or June, often due to budget planning that requires at least 4-6 months advanced notice.

For smaller businesses not needing to following strict financial planning guidelines, you will still need to allow at least 2-3 months for sufficient planning and preparation time for your in-house and agency teams. Under pressure, a successful plan can still be produced within 30 days of Cyber Week, however, that comes with some words of caution as publishers start to limit resources as the holidays approach. Magnitude Digital does not recommend waiting too long.

What can companies whose business is not affected by the holidays do to make the most of the time?

Non-seasonal businesses can still capitalize on the holiday demand with themed sales incentives and promotions.

Magnitude Digital has done this a few times on occasion for service advertisers. The sales incentives are not typically expected by the consumer, but help to bolster conversion and revenue. On the front-end, consumer demand won’t usually show any uptick in traffic (i.e. search query volume on Google), however, the combined use of creative featuring the sales promotion and a trained response by call center agents can significantly boost conversion rate.

It’s a great opportunity for any business.

What are some examples of companies nailing holiday marketing?

Businesses looking for examples of success in holiday planning should look to brands, such as, Dell, whom many of our staff at Magnitude Digital have worked with in the past. Dell’s Consumer division was built upon a rotating annual schedule of “Days of Deals” offers. In a way, Dell had prepared and trained its consumers to seek price incentives during sales periods. By the time that Dell’s “Holiday Days of Deals” were announced, Consumers were alert and prepared to seize limited time “door buster” deals.

Dell’s multi-million dollar holiday campaign typically spans all key marketing channels, including DRTV, Print, Digital (Search, Social, Display, Affiliates). The massive effort between all in-house and agency teams is coordinated by a designated planning team that establishes the schedule and allocates budget to each channel to ensure the overall media mix is most effective. Dell’s holiday digital planning is among the most rigorous among Fortune 100 brands. Something to look out for this holiday season!

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Mike Kujanek

Mike Kujanek

Mike Kujanek is Founder & CEO at Magnitude Digital, an award-winning full-service digital marketing agency based in New York, Atlanta, Los Angeles, and Tokyo. Magnitude Digital works with Fortune 1000 brands and start-up businesses to devise and execute digital media strategies across all digital channels including Paid Search, SEO, Display, and Social. Mike is responsible for Magnitude’s business direction as well as leading digital strategy across agency teams and media channels.

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