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2016 holiday marketing best practices

2016 holiday marketing best practices Kent Lewis

The 2015 holiday season experienced a major milestone: For the first time in history, more people shopped online, than in stores (between Thanksgiving and Black Friday weekend). The upcoming holiday season is expected to eclipse $90 billion in revenue, as compared to $69 billion in 2015. At least half of that revenue will be generated online, so it is essential that your business is poised to take advantage. Let's take a look at best practices to maximize online visibility and revenue for your business.

A look back at 2015

To provide proper context for the upcoming holiday season, I thought it would be helpful to share a few statistics from 2015 research:

  • 76 percent of people used online means to do their holiday shopping in 2015 (Edison Research)
  • More than half spent five hours or more shopping on the internet (Ipsos)
  • 30 percent researched and made a majority of purchases online
  • Cyber Monday was the biggest day in U.S. online shopping in history last year
  • 24 percent of shoppers reported looking for deals online a month before Black Friday and Cyber Monday
  • By the end of September 2015, 36 percent of Americans had already started their holiday shopping (Nielsen)
  • 48 percent completed most shopping by Cyber Monday last year (Google)
  • 70 percent of people learned of promotions through email, 64 percent from searching online, 56 percent through online ads, and 38 percent from social networks (Ipsos)
  • Mobile shopping -- including tablets and smartphones -- increased by 59 percent (totaling $12.65 billion) in 2015 (comScore)

According to Nanigans' holiday e-commerce advertising report:

  • The average change in average order value (AOV) between holiday and non-holiday time periods was up 17 percent across all e-commerce advertisers studied
  • Biggest shopping days are Monday-Wednesday
  • The greatest change in spend occurred on holiday Tuesdays, which captured a 15 percent higher share of purchases than they did during the rest of 2015
  • Average 2015 holiday CPMs (cost per thousand) increased 39 percent on mobile and 180 percent on desktop
  • Mobile click-through rates (CTRs) increased 11 percent versus the rest of the year, while desktop CTRs exploded, with 104 percent growth over the non-holiday average

Planning for the 2016 holiday season

Far too many companies tend to react to the holiday season instead of plan proactively. Learn from the savvy digital marketers and create a plan in advance. In fact, if you're reading this now, it's already a little late in the game, as we tend to build holiday plans for our clients starting in late August. For starters, set a goal for the 2016 holiday season. It may be based on incremental revenue, year-over-year growth percentage growth, or a decrease in CTRs or CPAs. Other goals may focus on average rank in paid or organic search, revenue mix from branded vs. unbranded terms or organic vs. paid media. Next step, build a plan around the goal and associated metrics, including key strategies and supporting tactics. Set a budget against the plan, factoring in any internal and external resources, tools and ad budget. Lastly, reverse-engineer a timeline based on major season milestones:

  • Thanksgiving Day: Nov. 24, 2016
  • Black Friday: Nov. 25, 2016
  • Cyber Monday: Nov. 28, 2016
  • Green Monday: Dec. 12, 2016
  • Free Shipping Day: Dec. 16, 2016

Effective holiday marketing strategies

There are a variety of strategies that are effective at generating awareness, traffic and online sales. Here are just a few ideas to consider when developing a strategic holiday marketing plan

  • Use Google Trends and social media to identify popular products and searches during the holidays
  • Think cross-channel/omni-channel approach to marketing and promotions (coupons, shipping, in-store pickup, etc.)
  • Clean up online reviews and ratings (and incorporate into website)
  • Since 90 percent of shoppers find online reviews more persuasive than a sales pitch, incorporate online and offline customer ratings, reviews and testimonials into the shopping experience
  • Play off emotions (facts tell but stories sell)
  • Do good: Get the community involved. Share social responsibility and charitable work during the giving season
  • Be prepared to create real-time campaigns to leverage timely events (weather, celebrity fashion trends, news, etc.)
  • Build campaigns around profitability if possible… and re-invest to gain exponential sales
  • Develop personalized campaigns based on user demographics and preferences

Website optimization best practices

To ensure your website ranks, especially during the holiday season, consider the following optimization strategies and tactics:

  • Verify website bandwidth and security before the deluge 
  • Maximize site speed (especially on mobile)
  • A/B test for optimal conversion rates before high season
  • Update shopping cart with holiday-related products, imagery and messaging
  • Ensure website is optimized for search, based on best practices
  • Ensure site responsively designed (mobile-friendly)
  • Integrate mobile payment options: Google Wallet, Apple Pay, Amazon Payments, PayPal Credit
  • Build out special promotions/contest and offer pages
  • Create holiday-oriented blog posts, articles and FAQs
  • Create content around generic top-of-funnel searches like "gifts for mom" and gift guides

Inbound marketing best practices

  • Boost organic visibility in search engines and increase credibility within your industry by following these inbound marketing best practices:
  • Secure inbound links and citations based on holiday-oriented website content (buyer guides, FAQs, gift ideas, etc.)
  • Syndicate holiday content via corporate and employee social media profiles
  • Strategically leverage online coupon sites with 'special' offers (free shipping, free gift-wrapping)
  • Create shareable (viral) content that resonates with target audiences, ranging from creative campaigns to special offers and contests
  • Leverage user-generated content to amplify holiday marketing efforts

Paid media strategies for the holidays

While organic search traffic is highly desirable based on its affordability, paid media can generate a compelling return-on-investment (ROI). Here are a few holiday marketing strategies to amplify your current paid media efforts:

  • Create campaigns for unique holiday products and services (egg nog, wreaths, free gift wrapping) 
  • Update landing pages to be holiday-relevant (creative and content)
  • Retarget shopping cart abandoners
  • Focus on "recency" for retargeting customers and prospects
  • Monitor bids, pacing, and budgets judiciously
  • Manage inventory closely! Turn ads up or down accordingly

Google holiday marketing strategies

Google provides a host of new and evolving opportunities to connect with potential customers online. Here are just a few ideas, beyond the usual pay-per-click, display, and retargeting options:

  • Familiarize yourself with new interface
  • Expanded text ads are set to replace standard ads by the end of the year, signaling a need for longer line adjusted ad copy
  • Leverage PLAs, including showcase shopping ads
  • Test or expand YouTube presence, including product cards for organic and ad options via AdWords

Facebook holiday marketing strategies

Facebook has gained tremendous ground on Google, in terms of ad revenue. Much of this revenue has been the result of powerful and effective ad targeting options. Here are a few reminders to get the most out of Facebook this holiday season:

  • Leverage targeted ads, including product catalog ads
  • Retarget site visitors
  • Create lookalike and custom audiences
  • Leverage new in-store tracking capability
  • Test expanded video ad platform capabilities

Amazon holiday marketing strategies

  • According to BloomReach, 73 percent of customers plan to buy from Amazon this holiday season. As a result, consider the following tips:
  • Optimize product page for organic searches
  • Test or expand on ad campaigns
  • Test sponsored products

Socialize the holidays

  • Popular social media platforms offer a host of new features and ad capabilities. Here are just a few options to consider this holiday season:
  • Test or expand presence on Instagram, Pinterest, and Snapchat
  • Consider advertising on podcasts via platforms like Midroll, Triton, and Panoply
  • Evaluate rich media options: Pandora and Hulu
  • Test custom audiences on Facebook and Twitter

Email marketing

Email is more influential than broadcast TV when it comes to clothing purchases, according to an IAB study. Here are a few strategies to squeeze more value from your email marketing efforts over the holidays:

  • Clean up your email database before holiday campaigns
  • Schedule a drip campaign in advance
  • Create holiday contests via tools like Woobox

Leveraging last-minute shoppers

Did you know that 9 in 10 U.S. citizens have had to buy last-minute gifts? One of the largest buying audiences is the most difficult to plan for in advance. There are ways to appeal to the last minute holiday shoppers, however. Sixty-four percent of holiday shoppers praise gift cards as the best last-minute gift, according to Retailmenot's Shopper Trends Report. This is likely due to the fact that gift cards are easy to buy and fulfill as an online purchase. A few additional thoughts:

  • 72 percent more searches for gift cards take place the week prior to Christmas compared with the first week of December
  • Ramp up promotion as Christmas approaches to target procrastinators
  • Consider a promotion/discount of 15-20 percent to boost gift card sales (which is possible due to redemption rates)

The holiday season can make or break companies with a significant ecommerce presence. Following the above strategies and best practices will maximize your opportunity to make the 2016 holiday season the best ever.

With a background in integrated marketing, Lewis left a public relations agency in 1996 to start his career in search engine marketing. Since then, he’s helped grow businesses by connecting his clients with their constituents via the...

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