The holiday shopping season is nearly upon us. It’s that time of year when every article you read for the next few weeks will give you the same advice offered every year:
You. Need. To. Plan. Ahead.
But this year isn’t like previous years.
This year we’re facing challenges that most businesses and consumers have never experienced before. Things are different—for retailers, for shoppers, for the world.
It’s not just about planning ahead; it’s about building a strategy that helps you capitalize on Q4 and build a stronger online business next year.
To help, we’ve included nine actionable Covid-19 holiday marketing tips that can help you shape the right strategy for your business this holiday shopping season - and get a head start on 2021:
1. Build Your List In Advance
One of the best ways to reduce your costs to acquire customers during Q4 is to build and nurture your email list in advance. Online shoppers are going to be inundated with email campaigns and paid ads on Black Friday and Cyber Monday. You can cut through the noise by capturing customer emails now and engaging with them regularly leading up to the busiest part of the holiday shopping season.
Here are some creative ways to start growing your email list:
- Offer Pre-Black Friday Deals to Subscribers: Instead of waiting until Black Friday to launch your deal, create an exclusive, limited-time-only discount that customers can get access to now in exchange for opting into your email list.
- Create a Product or Company Education Email Series: Create a series of emails that help educate people about your brand and mission, your team, how your products are made, and who your customers are.
- Create a VIP Exclusive Product: Offer one of your products exclusively to email subscribers and only during the next few months. Drive urgency by only producing a limited quantity of inventory.
- Create Compelling Email-Only Content: Interview influencers in your industry and only publish the content in emails to your subscribers.
- Launch a Milestone-Rewards Program: Create an attractive members-only program that rewards customers for hitting different milestones when they purchase your products.
- Create a Seasonal Giveaway or Contest: Drive urgency by designing a campaign that offers customers the chance to win a free product or bundle of products in exchange for opting into your email list.
2. Be Strategic When Using Discounts
It’s important that you remain conscious about how you’re discounting during Q4. A lot of people will tell you that it’s OK to acquire customers at a loss during this time of year because it means you can nurture them again and again over the next 12 months, but as I mentioned earlier, I don’t agree with this strategy.
Over-discounting can be expensive and it can also create the wrong expectations with your customers over time. Consumers who buy on steep discounts are trained to only buy when there are steep discounts. They aren’t brand loyal.
Here’s how to build a discounting strategy that actually helps you:
- Give the Best Discounts to Your Most Loyal Customers: Don’t reward people who have never purchased from you before. Reward the people who return to your store regularly to buy your products. Customers who buy from you on Black Friday or Cyber Monday are looking specifically for the deal, they aren’t loyal to your brand. Give your most attractive discounts to your most brand and product loyal customers.
- Offer Rewards For Different Purchasing Milestones: Design discounts that customers can unlock when they hit different purchasing milestones, such as spending $100 to get a $20 off discount, or purchasing 3 products to get 10% off on shipping.
- Use Discounts on Slow Moving Inventory: Attach product-specific offers to items that you know you want to get rid of, or items that you know don’t sell very quickly.
- Create Timely Pre-Sale Campaigns: Create an attractive pre-sale campaign that offers a big reward to anyone who signs up for your email list before October 1st.
- Maintain Profitability: Don’t over-discount for the sake of more revenue. Evaluate every discount you want to send to your customers and ask yourself: is this helping me grow while allowing me to maintain profitability? If the answer is no, it’s probably not worth it in the long run.
3. Manage Liquidity and Trust Machine Learning for Paid Ads
You will be tempted to want to manually pull levers to improve the ads you launch on Black Friday and Cyber Monday, but that's a mistake.
The temptation to do so is particularly high when:
- Your CPA looks too high while things are still in the learning phase
- Spend is too high early in the day
- One campaign is getting more budget than the other even though it appears to have worse performance
- You really want to prove your worth and technical chops to your boss
Don't try to make the decisions manually. It might look like the system is not making the right decision, but it is. Trust the machine learning. Don't try to manage your ads on a day-to-day basis. Set up the constraints you want to have ahead of time. Be absolutely clear that everything in your ads is correct and working before you launch them. You will lose efficiency as soon as you make changes because your ads will go back into the learning phase.
Lean into machine learning and the optimizations of the systems created by Facebook and Google to put your ads into the right places for the right people at the right time. It will work.
4. Test Some Out-of-the-Box Ideas
This is the year to test out-of-the-box ideas. You have more time and your customers are more open to engaging with you in new and different ways.
Here are some ideas worth considering:
- Launch a Try Before You Buy Option: Most of your customers will probably not be interacting with you or visiting your store in-person during Q4, so take a page out of the Warby Parker book and give your customers the option of trying your products before they buy.
- Test a New Channel Like OOH or Direct Mail: Because online advertising and email marketing will be so competitive this year, it might be worth trying to reach your customers or prospective customers in new ways. Two channels you could look into more are OOH advertising (static or dynamic billboards) or direct mail.
- Invest in a New Form of Content Creation: If you have more time on your hands than you usually do around this time of year, consider creating a new form of content for your audience to digest. Produce branded content. Record a podcast. Film a video series. Design a magazine. Don’t be afraid to try something new to reach and build trust with your audience.
- Launch a New Partnership: Find a company you admire and figure out how to design a partnership with them that helps both of your companies. It could be a product collaboration, a content collaboration, or just cross-promotion of your brands and products.
- Tell Your Brand Story: Help people understand why your brand exists, what you’re trying to solve, why you feel like it matters, and how they fit into the story. Connect with people on a human level and help them believe that they need to support your business this year.
5. Transparency Goes a Long Way
Expect that there are going to be more challenges this year given the current state of the world. Work proactively to address and solve these problems by being more transparent. Here are some ways you can build trust and confidence with people:
- Make Sure Your Shipping & Return Policies Easy to Find: Share your policies prominently on your homepage and in transactional emails.
- Educate Customers on Your Approach This Year: Record a video or create an entire section on your website that helps customers understand how you are approaching and solving challenges related to COVID-19 this year. Be open about the fact that things might not be perfect. Upfront honesty will go a long way with shoppers.
- Help People Understand How to Reach You: Make it easy for customers to reach you via email, chat, phone, or social media when they need to ask you a question about your products or an order they placed.
- Respond Quickly to Customers: Make it a priority to respond as fast as possible to any inquiries that come through to your customer support team.
6. Give Yourself a Bigger Window
Don’t put all your eggs in the Black Friday basket. Don’t focus on one day alone. Make your window bigger. Black Friday is only important because retailers and the media say it is. You should be nurturing customers and investing in ways to drive growth profitably throughout the year to maximize value.
Think about it this way: you could drive $500K in incremental sales during Black Friday week at a 15% margin, or you could drive $300K in incremental sales over a 4 week period at a 30% margin. Which would you prefer? The latter is much more valuable for your business.
It’s tempting to want to get lost in the hype of one or two days out of the year, but don’t let all the buzz fool you—build a bigger window for yourself and invest in strategies you can repurpose throughout the year.
7. Elevate Your Customer Support
Your ability to respond quickly and effectively to inquiries from customers is going to be crucial this year. Make sure you are prepared for an increase in activity by taking the following steps:
- Hire More Customer Support Agents for Q4: Hire and train more people to help your existing team manage the uptick of requests and questions that will come in from customers over the next few months.
- Consider Outsourcing to a Call Center: Consider working with a call center partner to offer a phone number that customers can call to get immediate help with orders.
- Make Sure Your Social Media Team is Prepared: Give your social media team the tools and training they need to handle public messages and requests from customers across all the social media sites your brand is active on.
- Consider Investing in Chat Bots: Make it easy for customers to get help even when your team is away. Invest in a tool like Drift or Zendesk to quickly build out a chatbot experience in time for Q4.
8. Get Your Creative Done *Now*
A big part of whether or not your marketing and advertising campaigns hit the mark with your target audience comes down to the creative you develop and use. If you don’t have solid creative prepared for the holiday shopping season, you need to start now. That might mean creating new messaging for your products, taking new photography, and coming up with new, creative concepts that will cut through the clutter and persuade your prospective customer to act.
If that sounds like a lot to do and figure out, let our team do the heavy lifting for you. We’re seasoned professionals who can help you quickly develop and design the right creative strategy and components for your holiday shopping campaigns.
9. Earn Customer Loyalty
Don’t go into Q4 with the goal of driving more one-time purchases. Go in with the goal of creating loyal customers who will purchase products from you again and again throughout the year.
Here are some actionable ideas that can help you build loyalty with your customers:
- Create a Memorable Unboxing Experience: Because you don’t have the same opportunity to create the same buying experience as you would if you were interacting with a customer face-to-face, you need to work extra hard to create that experience with your products. One of the best ways to do it is by creating an intentional unboxing experience for your customers to encounter when your products arrive on their doorstep. Every piece of the packaging you use when packing and shipping your products to customers should be meaningful. That might mean using branded boxes, wrapping products in branded tissue paper and stickers, or including a handwritten note inside the box.
- Follow Up With a Thank You: Send a follow-up email or handwritten postcard to every person who buys a product from you for the very first time.
- Promote Your VIP Program: If you have a membership or VIP program, make sure new customers know about it! Promote it on social media, in marketing and transactional emails, and in printed material you send with your products.
- Tell More Stories About Your People: Connect to your customers on an emotional level. Introduce them to the people and stories behind your business and products. Make them feel like they are part of your community.
- Take Every Opportunity to Delight: Go the extra mile whenever you have the opportunity to interact with customers. Infuse personalization into messaging. Let your brand voice shine. Make it easy for people to know why they want to buy from you again.
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