People often roll their eyes when they see their neighbors hauling out the Christmas lights in October or bristle at the thought of hearing Christmas songs on the radio in November – but for marketers, preparing for the holidays early is essential.
Q4 is full of special events and momentous occasions, and savvy marketers are already gearing up to take advantage. Spending in the U.S. during the 2012 holiday season reached a staggering $42.3 billion (Comscore). It’s set to break that record again in 2013 and every business owner needs to be ready to earn their share.
If you don’t want to get left behind this holiday season, we’ve already made a list – now it’s your job to check it twice.
1. Map Out Important Dates & Align Them With Campaigns
The holiday season isn’t just about Christmas. Cyber Monday, Thanksgiving, Black Friday, Hannukah, New Years’ Eve… all of these holidays deserve attention unto themselves. Start your prep work by identifying the holidays important to your customers. This will serve as your framework for everything that follows.
Know that you need to give your customers lead time; there’s value in advertising early and beginning the conversation well before the date arrives. Your campaign alignment should account for this, allowing sufficient time to create the necessary content, cue up ads and start sending out e-mails.
One note specific to paid ad campaigns: Make sure you’ve carefully planned out your budget across the holiday period – and plan on having it increase during this time. Your competitors will be ramping up; it’s the busy season both on and offline.
2. Set (Attainable) Goals
While you could simply optimize your campaigns and hope for the best, it makes far more sense to work towards a goal and benchmark your success against it.
If you collected any data last year, now is the time to reflect on it – both in aggregate, and across marketing channels. Don’t just look at total sales, but understand where they came from and which channels contributed so that you know where to best allocate your budget. Then, set goals on both a per-channel and overall level.
This is also the time to plan out the relevant key performance metrics you want to measure yourself.
3. Plan the Creative and Content for Each Holiday – and Start Creating it Now
You don’t want to be scrambling to design banner ads, adjust callouts and tweak calls-to-action days before the big day.
Something to keep in mind: Especially on those holidays that prompt shopping, like Cyber Monday and Christmas, users need states will change during the process from Discovery (what should I buy? How much is it?) to Intent to Purchase (I’m ready to buy – where’s my best offer? How easy is it to get my hands on?)
It’s essential that you plan content and creative messaging that helps users transition from one state to the other, and nurtures them while they’re there.
Determine the key calls to action and need-states of customers during that holiday. For example, Christmas shoppers may need prompts to help them find gifts for others, while Cyber Monday shoppers may respond better to messaging surrounding products for themselves.
Identify the supporting content for each channel– including your corporate blog or website.
Plan your seasonal blog content – and make it memorable! There are so many ways to aid, entertain and enlighten customers during the holidays, that not publishing specific content is a wasted opportunity.
Create the ad copy for your paid campaigns, and pre-load them all into your ad platforms.
Identify areas of interest and key persuasion pieces for your e-mail outreach. This is a good time to start crafting headlines and testing them in the weeks before those critical days prior to the holiday.
Get social media ready. Customers will be flocking to online stores and are bound to have questions. Not only that, but you’re sure to see them swapping tips on favorite brands, gift ideas, price comparisons and more. You need to be a part of that conversation.
Get your landing pages in check. Again, if you’ve collected data across the year, it’s time to look at which landing pages have been most effective and work to duplicate their success. You’ll need to create holiday themed landing pages and new pages to accommodate your special offers and promotions – something you absolutely do not want to leave until the last minute.
Set a social media strategy that encompasses not only advertising and promotion, but a means to provide a quick response to inquiries, comments and concerns
Create guidelines for social media usage if they don’t already exist. As you may need to have multiple people manning accounts, it’s important to have documentation and guidelines for keeping everything consistent.
4. Get All Teams on the Same Page
Though ideally steps 1 – 3 have already been a collaborative process with the different departments and leaders within your business, take the time to meet together to assign responsibilities and get everyone aligned on the messaging, goals and key performance indicators you’ve chosen.
This is the time to delegate and conquer.
5. Streamline & Automate Reporting
In order to respond to situations in the moment and make tweaks as new data arrives, you need to empower your teams by enabling them to spend less time pulling data and more time analyzing that data for actionable insights.
Because you’ve already set goals and established KPI’s, the next step is to make the process of monitoring and reporting on those KPI’s as simple as possible:
Depending on the channel you’re using, tools may be available to centralize and pull data. Investigate your options and find a solution that works for your objectives – and your budget.
Create custom dashboards in Google Analytics to bring meaningful metrics to the forefront. (eConsultancy)
Set up custom reports in Google AdWords to bring the data into one central location.
How you automate will depend on your existing processes, teams and capabilities, but don’t dismiss this point because it sounds complicated. When your team spends less time on menial data tasks and more time on value-added activities, your profit margins can only stand to benefit.
6. Methodical Beats Reactionary
There’s an awful lot of work to be done as we approach the holidays – and it can be easy to be overwhelmed. Holiday time may always be a bit hectic for businesses, but foresight and planning will always differentiate the big winners from the frantic, reactionary losers.
Which end of the spectrum do you want to be on?