It's Beginning To Look A Lot Like...
As anyone with a U.S. mailing address knows, the Christmas marketing season starts earlier and earlier every year. The notion that Christmas shopping (and marketing) began after Thanksgiving hasn’t been accurate for at least a decade. No, today you’re likely to start getting holiday offers in your mailbox and newspaper (for those who still get one) in early November.
And for some Christmas-related items, the shopping season has already begun. Google Trends data shows that searches for “Christmas Photo Cards” start to gain steam in mid-September and peak the first week of December. The “fruitcake” season apparently starts Oct. 1 and hits maximum velocity the week before Christmas, while interest in “overnight delivery” peaks just days before Christmas (with an interesting bump right before Halloween as well).
I say all this because it is now early October, time to start thinking about your Christmas SEM strategy (and, as noted, in some cases, the time has already passed). Over the last 14 years, I’ve worked with many companies for whom Christmas was vital for annual revenue goals, and I’ve been shocked time and time again at how many companies take an almost cavalier attitude toward holiday marketing planning. So with this in mind, I give you my five top tips for making sure this Christmas season is merry for both your customers and your marketing team.
- Coordinate with your product, customer service, and fulfillment teams. The best holiday marketing program in the world will fail if there are no products to sell, or if the products just aren’t very good. Help prevent this by providing your product team with estimates of the sales opportunity via SEM to ensure that the container ships bringing your products in are adequately full. You should be doing this now, not in late November when it is too late to get product in time. Equally important, ask your customer service and fulfillment team if they can offer free shipping and gift-wrapping during the holiday. If they can’t do it for all products, ask them to do it for top sellers. Adding “guaranteed delivery,” “free shipping,” and “free gift wrap” to your ad text and landing pages will help you close incremental sales during peak shopping times.
- Create a time-based retargeting program. Christmas shopping has one cardinal rule: The gifts have to be under the tree by Dec. 24. All of your holiday marketing efforts – your retargeting in particular – can be driven by this rule. For example, a user who clicks on an item on your site in mid-October can be sent 10 days of “early bird discount” messaging to encourage him to finish his shopping early. Someone who visits your site on Dec. 15, however, may need an intense 72-hour barrage of retargeting ads, with “guaranteed Christmas delivery” prominently mentioned. And of course, where possible, use dynamic retargeting to feature the specific items the user viewed.
- Plan for intra-day battles during peak shopping periods. At the height of the Christmas shopping frenzy, SEM bids change hourly. So if you want to maintain top position for a crucial keyword, you literally have to hover over your computer and react to competitive bid increases instantly. Typically, this sort of intense bidding cannot be done by your bid management software (I await cries of outrage from said software companies); the landscape moves too fast for a computer to adjust.
- Time your messaging to consumer intent. As with the time-based retargeting I mentioned above, make sure that your ad text, site extensions, and landing pages all reflect consumer intent at the time of a click. Guaranteed delivery doesn’t matter in November, but it does in December, while personalization may be much more important in October than in December. Christmas shopping is fraught with anxiety (did I get the right gift? Will it arrive on time? Will it be wrapped?); anything you can do to reduce this anxiety will increase your conversion rate.
- Don’t make the same mistake twice. Christmas happens once a year, which means that 12 months from now, you’ll be planning for Christmas all over again. The last thing that many marketers want to do in early January is to think about Christmas for the next year, but in fact that may be the most productive time to start your planning. Everything I mentioned above – coordinating strategy across multiple internal teams, creating robust retargeting, planning for peak bidding – is a lot less stressful for marketing teams if the kinks are ironed out months in advance. So even if this Christmas marketing season doesn’t run as smoothly as you had hoped, take your lumps and make a New Year’s resolution to plan for an even better season next year!
What did I miss? Full disclosure: I have never celebrated Christmas in my life, so surely some of the nuances of the season have been lost on me. I look forward to your tips!