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Written by Caroline Cox on Sep 22 , 2021

As much as 2021 has felt like “2020: The Reboot,” this holiday season is poised to be unique.

Here you’ll find:

  • Tips for creating optimized holiday ads
  • Expert insights into making your ads stand out
  • What makes up an effective holiday email campaign
  • How to tap into the mobile-shopping demographic

Do you smell that? Ah yes, pumpkin spice is in the air once again. 

And marketers know what that means: It’s time to talk holidays.

Simply recycling last year’s plan would be a disservice to your customers. However, going back to your pre-pandemic tactics because things are “going back to normal” would also be a mistake.

There’s a lot of nuance being overlooked between these two positions. COVID variants have many people still wary of shopping in stores. 

Making the online shopping experience as joyful, seamless, and stress-free as possible will be a top priority for many brands again this year. Conveying that message will largely be up to marketers. And with hybrid reality becoming a more prevalent way to shop safely, consumers expect options.

So, how can you leverage the latest tips and tools to ensure the holiday ads for your products or services stand out? We’re glad you asked.

1. Take advantage of all the latest resources

Many of the companies you already trust for business-related products and services also have helpful guides on getting the most out of them. As a bonus, they often provide them for free, so there’s no reason not to use them.

Here are a few to get you started.

Facebook & Instagram

If you’re not advertising on Facebook, now’s a great time to explore this option. Not only do they have a huge platform teeming with potential customers to show your ads to, but their data and advertising advice is top-notch. 

Facebook already released its annual holiday advertising guide with concrete steps for creating an effective holiday marketing plan. The Facebook-owned app Instagram also just released its own guide with the latest best practices to make your “holiday szn” a success.

Google

In 2020, Google launched a hub of holiday marketing resources to help brands reach customers across their various platforms. The mini-site features personalized recommendations to help businesses reach more online shoppers across the Google suite. 

This resource includes useful elements like the Local Opportunity Finder and Grow My Store tool. The latter can analyze your website’s customer experience to tell you how your performance stacks up against others in your industry or retail category.

Google also published a 2021 guide to driving sales for retailers and brands.  

holiday ads

Add a customized touch by personalizing recommendations to drive more sales. (Image via Unsplash)

Search Engine Journal

Speaking of Search Engine Journal, they have some helpful resources of their own. In fact, they compile an annual marketing resource listing wiith every holiday, celebration, and event imaginable.

They also include free templates for Google Calendar and Google Spreadsheets to make using the info as easy as possible.

HubSpot

When it comes to free resources, HubSpot has no shortage of materials. They recently released their State of Marketing Report for 2021.

It’s got 50 data points, information on marketing trends, important insights, and strategies to help make the most of your 2021 holiday marketing.    

Pro tip: Just in time for the holidays, Search Engine Land reports that “Google is launching new sections in its search results to showcase deals, rolling out tools to highlight promotions and expanding reporting capabilities in Google Merchant Center.”

2. Personalize your campaigns

Email marketing company Mailchimp suggests adding a customized touch by personalizing recommendations to drive more sales. This way, you can leverage sales data to offer relevant product recs, showcase best-selling products, and highlight new arrivals. (This can also help address the dreaded issue of cart abandonment.)

Nurturing relationships is, of course, always a key marketing component. Just like last year, personalizing your holiday ads is one of the most effective ways to do just that.

Simply adding each recipient’s name to an email campaign via a token can bring you significant engagement (more on email best practices below). 

3. Embrace authentic messaging

It’s easy to play into emotions with holiday ads. It’s a sentimental season that, for many, symbolizes things like family, reflection, and the year’s end. 

Injecting emotion into your digital marketing is an acceptable, and even encouraged, tactic — when done correctly.

HubSpot has examples of how emotion works effectively in holiday marketing ads. Frequently, these have a message focused on themes such as giving, nostalgia, and gratitude.

However, you don’t want your campaigns to come off saccharine or like you’re using emotion to manipulate your audience. You can avoid that by keeping authenticity at the forefront when building your campaigns.

As Adweek explains, video content is one way brands can appeal to emotion and help foster connection, particularly when you leverage creators.

Forbes agrees — they suggest partnering with micro or “nano” influencers. These smaller social media figures often have 10,000-100,000 followers max and a more engaged audience than bigger influencers.

This is especially effective if you find people that would likely use your product or service. Rather than scripting the message, you can simply give them some bullet points to cover. They’ll seem like the regular target demographic because they are

Need help with your digital marketing strategy for the holidays and beyond? Let’s talk.

holiday m-commerce

Social media apps have made m-commerce more convenient than ever. (Image via Unsplash)

4. Leverage email marketing

We’ve talked before about how email campaigns remain one of the most effective tools marketers have at their disposal. And the holidays are a great time to get creative with your marketing emails. 

Shopify reports that email marketing consistently converts better than other channels, and it’s the method 80% of businesses count on to bring in new leads and keep existing customers coming back. Take advantage of Black Friday and Cyber Monday in your email campaigns to provide deals and a little extra purchase incentive.

No matter the season, emails that get the best open rates often include elements like:

  • An eye-catching subject line
  • A hierarchy of content (with the most important info at the top)
  • A mobile-friendly design
  • A strong call-to-action (CTA)
  • An interactive element

For example, an interactive email featuring a countdown clock, noting something like a limited-time-only sale, can boost your conversion rate

Pro tip: Don’t be afraid to have fun and experiment with appealing visuals. Data shows more than half of marketers have used GIFs in email campaigns. 

5. Get social

The trend of mobile commerce (or m-commerce) continues to rise. Shopping via smartphone is projected to grow in popularity from 5.5% of total retail sales in 2020 to 8% by the end of 2023, according to Statista.

Social media apps have made m-commerce more convenient than ever. Because of this, it’s a good idea to have a strong social media strategy focused on the holiday season. 

People are looking for fun, kindness, and compassion in their paid social ads, according to Search Engine Journal, so keep that in mind when crafting your campaigns.

These days, it’s not enough to just share your values on social media. Consumers want to know the brands they support are making a positive impact and that they truly embody and live out the values they claim to stand for.  

The takeaway

Unprecedented times call for swift pivoting and flexibility. Luckily, these are skills many marketers know well. As you put your brand’s holiday ads into play, it’ll be helpful to keep the above tactics in mind.

Brushing up on the latest resources, getting creative with ad platforms and messaging, personalizing where possible, and staying on top of social media trends are all ways to keep your efforts in good standing through the 2021 holidays and beyond.

This article has been updated and was originally published in October 2020.

Caroline Cox

Caroline Cox

Caroline is HawkSEM's content marketing manager. She uses her more than 10 years of professional writing and editing experience to create SEO-friendly articles, educational thought leadership pieces, and savvy social media content to help market leaders create successful digital marketing strategies. She's a fan of seltzer water, print magazines, and huskies.

Questions or comments? Join the conversation here!

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Written by Sam Yadegar on Sep 15 , 2021

Much like last year, the 2021 holiday season is predicted to be especially lucrative for e-commerce brands.

Here, you’ll find:

  • Predictions for the 2021 holiday season
  • How to make your holiday ads stand out
  • Ways to optimize your website for peak performance
  • Why audience targeting will be especially key

Believe it or not, late summer is the prime time for brands to start making marketing plans for the upcoming holiday season. 

And this season, like 2020’s, promises to be a whole different ball game than years or decades past.

Last year’s holidays highlighted just how much the world changed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. With a massive shift of retailers moving online, e-commerce companies had to work around more competition than ever before.

Thankfully, the rising demand for remote shopping created new opportunities across many niches. Here are a few eMarketer stats from the 2020 holidays:

  • Total retail spending increased by 6.5% to $1.064 trillion.
  • E-commerce sales increased by 32.5% while brick-and-mortar sales increased by just 2.2%.
  • Cyber Monday 2020 was the biggest online shopping day in history — sales rose by 15.6%.
  • Black Friday sales went up by 22%, while Thanksgiving sales increased by 21.4%.

For 2021, predictions include:

  • E-commerce sales are expected to rise by 11.3% to $206.88 billion.
  • E-commerce sales on Cyber Monday and Black Friday may surpass $10 billion.

While holiday e-commerce sales are likely to be on the rise this year, one lesson learned from 2020 is that retailers have to account for unexpected changes. 

Here’s how brands can do just that.

holiday email from clothing and accessories brand ASOS

A holiday email from clothing and accessories brand ASOS. (Image via Printful)

1. Create a personalized shopping experience

Page journey tracking (or what Google calls flow visualization) can identify a customer’s cursor at every stage of the shopping process through checkout. 

Not only can this help you identify strengths and weaknesses on your site, but you can use these details to reveal different information and products to different customers based on their browsing history and content interaction. 

Add a call to action (CTA), reduce page length, or insert an exit-intent popup to help engage the customer more effectively. 

2. Leverage peak promotions

If it seems like every other company is blowing up ad space and social feeds with holiday catchphrases and Santa Claus memes before the holidays, that’s probably because they are. 

Black Friday and Cyber Monday are two of the busiest days of the year for most online retailers, with the month of December not far behind. 

Google Trends suggests people start their holiday shopping in September and are in full purchasing mode by mid-October. This means it’s wise to form a strategy early so it can be ready to roll before the big buying push, not afterward. 

To make promotions as effective as possible, figure out when peak purchasing times are and design campaigns to be released ahead of time.

Estée Lauder offers live chat and video options on their site.

Cosmetics brand Estée Lauder offers live chat and video options on their site.

3. Prioritize customer service

As the number of shoppers and purchases increase, so do the questions. You don’t want to run the risk of an unhappy customer — or a negative online review

Especially since we know that research shows it’s cheaper (and easier) to retain existing customers than attract new ones. That’s why your e-commerce customer service is especially important around the holidays.

Here are just a few FAQs to be prepared for:

  • How many days does it take to ship a product out?
  • Are there any additional promos or deals going on?
  • Will it be here by the holidays?
  • How can I find or track my purchase?

Live chat and automated chatbot options can often help answer common questions or link customers to a frequently-asked questions (FAQ) page. You can also consider outsourcing after-hours phone calls to a virtual assistant service provider.

Speaking of FAQs, make sure this page is updated with all the necessary information. You don’t want broken links or any info that’s outdated, since this will just frustrate your customer. 

4. Create holiday e-commerce email campaigns

Email is one of the most effective marketing methods you can leverage when it comes to holiday e-commerce strategies. 

Cyber Monday drives billions of dollars in sales each year. Holiday email marketing lets you meet your customers and potential buyers where they already are. But to stand out in an overflowing inbox, you’ve got to get creative. 

When crafting your emails, we recommend you:

  • Keep the message short and include eye-catching, themed visuals
  • Create a “holiday countdown” email that tells recipients how much time they have left to place an order for overnight delivery, free shipping, etc.
  • Always include a clear CTA that leads back to your site
  • Add a limited-time offer (LTO) — customers are more likely to take action when they know the deal won’t be around for long
  • Segment your email lists so you can send the most relevant products to each group
  • Optimize for mobile, as the percentage of people purchasing straight from their phone continues to rise

Is your company participating in any philanthropic initiatives during the holidays? Whether it’s donating to a nonprofit organization or volunteering, highlight this in your email. Consumers tend to favor brands that give back over those that don’t. 

Pro tip: Plan to launch your holiday campaign before Black Friday. Data shows that Thanksgiving Day and Cyber Monday are actually the fastest-growing days of cyber week for holiday e-commerce sales.

5. Focus on video ads

Video ads on sites like YouTube and platforms like Instagram’s IGTV can produce better results than a text advertisement in some instances.

The current generation of shoppers mostly prefers video ads, and this type of ad tends to be a better way to engage consumers. Live-action features like Instagram Live also make it easy for e-commerce brands to get traction through promotional videos.

In 2020, many social media platforms launched or reconfigured new ad formats. Consider exploring something like Instagram Reels Ads or even TikTok ads for your holiday e-commerce marketing campaign.

6. Use ad extensions and sitelinks

Because pay-per-click (PPC) campaigns encourage targeted traffic, they’re on the top of most e-commerce brands’ wish lists. When your company ad comes up, give customers the option to click on sales products, special holiday gifts, bonus offers, and similar promotions. 

Using ad extensions and sitelinks gives you the chance to add more context to the ads you publish. When a brand is searched for on Google, sitelinks can appear below the ad’s main URL. 

Similarly, Google Ads can include ad extensions that provide more info about whatever your ad is about through copy.

These sitelinks and extensions reduce the amount of work shoppers have to do, which can encourage them to click the link. You can also use review ad extensions to mention price reductions, special holiday shipping information, and more.

Outdoor clothing and gear company REI eco-friendly

Outdoor clothing and gear company REI has stated they’ll certify their headquarters, distribution centers and at least 10 REI stores as TRUE Zero Waste facilities by 2021’s end.

7. Target the eco-consumer

Customers value sustainability more and more — and it can affect a purchase decision. 

Get creative by highlighting any eco-conscious efforts you have at your company (hopefully you have a few). It may be the tipping point that gets someone to choose your product over a competitor’s. 

Consider, and follow through with, some of these ways to comfort shoppers concerned about the environmental impact of their purchases:

  • Reduced packing material
  • Reusable boxes
  • Recycled (or recyclable) packing materials
  • Eco-friendly package transportation
  • Packing a multiple-item order in as few packages as possible

Need more help managing your digital marketing this holiday season and beyond? Let’s talk. 

8. Create a holiday gift guide (or related content)

Who doesn’t love a gift guide? Adding a fun branded gift guide into your email newsletter can be a highly effective way to grab the attention of shoppers and help boost holiday e-commerce sales.

It’s a safe bet that subscribers are already familiar with your brand, so these guides connect with consumers through convenience as well. 

It saves shoppers from having to scroll through page after page or list after list of older or less relevant products and showcases the new merchandise or services alongside (ideally) special promos and ways to save.

If you only have one or a few products or a gift guide just doesn’t mesh with your brand, you can also consider creating holiday-specific content. This could be a gated guide or e-book that provides value to the consumer and incorporates your product.

Clothing brand Madewell allows you to shop via their Instagram posts.

Clothing brand Madewell allows you to shop via their Instagram posts.

9. Leverage social — and mobile

Holiday ordering through social networking platforms continues to grow, according to insights from Salesforce. Not only that, but they found mobile ordering and traffic shares skyrocket during Christmas and Cyber weeks as compared to the rest of the holiday season.

It’s yet another reason why it’s crucial for your site to offer an equally pleasant and easy experience on mobile, tablet, and desktop. Another great way to capture those who mainly search and scroll on their phones is by creating timely organic and paid social media marketing content. 

Platforms like Instagram and Pinterest have made it easy to purchase items directly from you, right from the app. 

10. Focus on review sections

When 91% of 18-34 year olds say they trust online reviews as much as personal recommendations, you know they’re incredibly valuable. Online shoppers tend to pass over products with no reviews or too many negative ones. 

You can beef up your credibility by adding review sections, making them more prominent on your product pages, or asking previous satisfied customers to provide reviews via automated emails.

User-generated content (UGC) is also becoming the driving force behind successful e-commerce marketing campaigns. Coupled with stellar online reviews, UGC can make a great case for your brand during the holiday season.

11. Pay attention to millennials

Nearly half of U.S. millennials say they plan to do more online shopping in the future, even after the pandemic is over, according to Adweek. And that doesn’t just mean big-name brands and stores. 

They also report that more than half of millennials plan to make most or nearly all of their holiday shopping purchases through small local businesses. 

Depending on your products, it could be worth it to come up with creative ways you can target millennials specifically for the holidays. 

Which items seem to resonate most with them? Can you experiment with organic and paid social in new ways to attract this audience? You may be surprised at the positive results you get. 

12. Ensure your site is speedy

Oh, what fun it is to shop on a site with an average load time of under two seconds! (…Right?) Experts note that most people will abandon a site if it doesn’t load within 3 seconds

There are ways to minimize your site’s loading speed, but working with a developer or your existing dev team is your best bet. They can help speed up your website through things like:

13. Explore influencer marketing

If you haven’t done it yet, the 2021 holiday season is a great time to start exploring partnerships with influencers in your industry. If this is your first influencer rodeo, you can look into micro- and nano-influencers first. 

According to Forbes, micro-influencers (those with follower counts in the lower thousands) have a 60% increased engagement rate and a 20% higher conversion rate than their counterparts with more followers.

Micro-influencers are often more affordable, making it easier to market your products to your target audience without breaking the bank. As a bonus, the engagement rate for influencers tends to rise during the holiday season.

The takeaway

The holidays should be a time of cheer — not a time to run yourself and your team ragged trying to keep up. 

Having a solid holiday e-commerce strategy in place that maps out how you plan to handle this busy season can help you and your team push through together — and come out profitable on the other side. 

This article has been updated and was originally published in November 2019.

Sam Yadegar

Sam Yadegar

Sam Yadegar is the co-founder and CEO of HawkSEM. Starting out as a software engineer, his penchant for solving problems quickly led him to the digital marketing world, where he has been helping clients for over 12 years. He loves doing everything he can to help brands "crush it" through ROI-driven digital marketing programs. He's also a fan of basketball and spending time with his family.

Questions or comments? Join the conversation here!

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