10 Tips To Avoid A Holiday Marketing Meltdown

September 24, 2015 – CMO.com Someone said that Sept. 1 is the last day of the year after which you can’t be sure you won’t hear a holiday song somewhere. Yes, folks, it’s that time of the year again. The holidays are right around the corner, and, with gift buying happening earlier and earlier all the time, marketers are already going big with their efforts to target early-bird shoppers.
And rightfully so. Last year, Nielsen reported, 22% of consumers began their holiday shopping as early as October. That percentage is expected to increase this year. For marketers looking to capitalize, it is important to remember that the rules of engagement change when it comes to holiday shoppers.
So, to help make the holidays very merry for our readers, here’s a list of 10 tips from industry experts for ways to ensure that your holiday marketing result in cheer.
Tip 1: Throw Out Conventional Thinking
Jeff Hasen, founder of Gotta Mobilize, told CMO.com that disaster is often the outcome of working from an old marketing playbook.
“In this frenetically morphing mobile era, a six-month-old playbook could be outdated,” Hasen said. “For the 2015 holiday season, throw out much of the so-called conventional thinking.”
For example, the holiday-shopping season is no longer between Thanksgiving and Christmas. Even the days of the week for purchasing change, with more purchases on the weekends versus the rest of the calendar, a Nanigans study showed.
“Plus, many of those who fail in holiday marketing wait way too long to build a relationship with a consumer,” Hasen said. “The time to solidify a relationship is now. Actually, it was in the spring and summer, long before back to school and the coming holiday period caused consumer distractions.”
The good news, Hasen said, is there is still a window remaining for brands to entice consumers to join loyalty clubs, for example, which is critical since only 26% of shoppers stay loyal during the holidays, according to a sessionM study.
“Waiting for the leaves or snow to fall is a recipe for disaster,” Hasen said.
Tip 2: Don’t Leave Customers On Hold
Each year, consumers make 270 billion 1-800 calls and get put on hold 80% of the time, according to Alon Waks, VP and head of product marketing at LivePerson. Waks suggested marketers look to messaging for one-to-one interactions with customers. Messaging is fast and efficient.
Tip 3: Use Real-Time Data To Avoid Lost Sales
During the holidays, product stock often shifts quicker than usual due to the increased purchasing cadence. Marketing needs to keep up, said Jess Stephens, CMO of SmartFocus.
“Use real-time optimization in emails to show live stock numbers that populate when the customer opens the message, not when it is sent,” Stephens told CMO.com. “This increases urgency to buy and avoids disappointment as items can be switched out automatically once out of stock, even after the email has been sent.”
Tip 4: Strike Early And Often
According to Michael Hayes, chief revenue and marketing officer at UberMedia, brands such as Kmart are launching their holiday promotions as early as September, and 48% of Christmas shoppers complete the majority of their shopping before Cyber Monday.
“Your holiday marketing needs to strike early, be bold, and rise above the snow flurry of clutter,” Hayes advised.
Tip 5: Be Fast
Today’s consumer expects instant gratification, according to Waks. LivePerson research found that online consumers won’t wait more than 76 seconds for support. “Any longer, and they’re as good as gone,” Waks said. “Offer access to digital communications, like chat and text, to enable quick responses, especially during peak holiday hours.
Kevon Hills, VP of research at StellaService, said that consumers have an increased expectation for customer service during the holidays, which overwhelmed retailers often struggle with, particularly during the Black Friday/Cyber Monday busy period. StellaService research from 2014 showed the average response time from the top 40 retailers from Black Friday to Cyber Monday was two minutes and thirty seconds. On opposite ends of the spectrum, the top 10 performers responded in 42 seconds, while the bottom five took eight minutes.
“To avoid a hoard of angry customers who expect immediate service this holiday season, make sure your customer-service bases are adequately staffed at the busiest times of the year,” Hills told CMO.com.
Tip 6: Optimize For The Opportunity
SmartFocus’ Stephens said customers are more open to influence at this time of year, when they are looking for inspiration. “Brands should complete an audit of their sales funnels online to ensure every touch point contains personalization designed to help the shopper with recommendations whileincreasing average basket size,” she said.
Additionally, for those brands that have personlization tactics active, they need to carefully watch algorithms before and after the holiday period.
“Your solution should be adaptable to account for the larger amount of gifting in the period,” Stephens said. “For example, if you use personalization on the Web based on click behavior, don’t assign a male persona to my record from first click when I might, in fact, be female browsing for gifts.”
Tip 7: Throw Out Last Year’s Media Plan 
Just like that ugly Christmas sweater, it is time to give up on that outdated media plan. This will be the most connected holiday shopping season to date, and there is no denying that strategic digital campaigns must include mobile, UberMedia’s Hayes told CMO.com. Emarketer expects U.S. mobile commerce sales to rise 32.2%, more than doubling the increase forecast for retail e-commerce sales. Further, consumers spend more time with their mobile devices than watching TV.
“Recognize the rise of mobile and adjust your media plan accordingly,” he said.
Tip 8: Don’t Overdo It
Matt Kates, VP of strategic services at HelloWorld, said that one of the biggest disaster risks is “overcommunication.” Because the holidays are a critical selling time for companies, they make the mistake of increasing communication with consumers by asking for more opt-ins for channels such as mobile and email.
“This can have a devastating long-term effect, as consumers may get so frustrated with the inundation that they actually opt out of a brand’s communication altogether,” Kates said. “Whether it’s for Black Friday, Cyber Monday, or Christmas, understanding the pitfalls of overcommunicating is crucial.”
Kates isn’t suggesting that brands just stick to the same old thing during the holidays. Brands can increase their communication, but it is important to test that the frequency of communication matches the ability to add fresh value to the overall objective.
“Simply reiterating more of the same information can lead to consumer fatigue and frustration, in any case,” he said.
Tip 9: Tie Together Bricks And Clicks
From a multichannel perspective, the industry is moving away from online only and other channel-exclusive offers. According to Stephens, the holidays are a good time to build a multichannel strategy and to stop forcing customer behavior into silos.
“Any offers should work across bricks and clicks; better still, online promotions can drive in-store behavior where merchandising can increase basket size beyond just the item the customer intended to purchase,” she told CMO.com.
Tip 10: Think Long Term
According to eConsultancy, 70% of companies said it’s cheaper to retain a customer than acquire one, and 49% said they achieve better ROI by investing in relationships over acquisition marketing.
Aim for real connections with consumers. They can boost, or sink, a brand with their social media megaphones and tales of interactions with online service. One LivePerson client, online retailer Backcountry.com, employs backcountry enthusiasts to handle live chat. They’ll chat on and on about products and adventures even if a sale isn’t imminent. The idea: A connected customer will be a long-term customer.
This article was originally published by Giselle Abramovich for CMO.com.

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