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14 Mistakes to Avoid in Holiday Marketing Campaigns

Avoid these holiday marketing mistakes to get ahead and stay in front of competitors during this year's pivotal retail sales period.

Looking to lean into holiday marketing this year?

At 18% globally, online shopping represents is a growing percentage of retail sales and is expected to increase.

Whether you’re actually selling online or using digital marketing to drive in-store sales, you’ll want to avoid these 14 holiday marketing mistakes that can cost you online visibility, customers, and revenue.

1. Using Your Standard Website Instead of Landing Pages

Direct consumers to the most relevant pages on your site and highlight your offer. But how?

Make good use of targeted landing pages to attract customers with specific offers around that holiday.

No one has the time or capacity to redesign a major portion of their site but using landing pages keeps the content fresh, timely, and relevant while keeping design and development lift light.

A few tips to get you started:

  • Keep the design consistent with the larger site.
  • Include holiday offers on the homepage or banner in addition to the landing page.
  • Include links or navigation back to the main site in case users didn’t find their intended offer or service.

2. Leaving it to the Last Minute to Review Your Sales Funnel and Checkout Process

Are you confident that your customer experience is the best that it can be? Are you willing to bet your holiday growth goals on it?

When considering holiday marketing, it’s critical to walk through the process of a sale from beginning to end as if you were a new customer (as many likely will be).

See where there are gaps in the conversion process or where checkout friction could be reduced. For example, is your site search or main navigation easy to use to find what you’re looking for?

Check that all parts of the checkout process work quickly and efficiently on both desktop and mobile versions of your site. You’ll want to complete this ahead of your holiday promotional period so that any changes or updates can be made and tested before launch.

If SEO is a key priority for launch, plan months ahead so that your pages are visible in search results when customers are looking for them (ideally 6-8 months out, but it’s not too late to start now).

3. Not Optimizing Your Mobile Site

Being accessible on mobile is table stakes for marketing, and especially true during busy shopping periods.

Holiday shopping is shopping on the go for many consumers, and ecommerce sales are expected to be at least 50% mobile-driven in 2021 for the first time ever. Good mobile experiences are also likely to boost site conversion rates.

We also are all aware that Google prioritizes rankings for mobile-optimized sites. In short, make sure your experience on mobile is just as good as desktop experience for customers.

4. Ignoring Opportunities for Voice Search Optimization

Voice search may not be the industry earthquake it was anticipated to be, but that doesn’t mean it should be ignored. This is especially true in key categories in entertainment, like recipes, which are a hot category during any holiday season.

It’s still important to think about how you can optimize your site or product pages for Alexa, Siri, and Google Home.

Answer questions about product use and FAQs that could become featured snippets by applying the right kind of structured data and fully answering user queries in a natural way that can be cribbed for voice results.

5. Not Preparing Your Site for an Influx of Traffic

Your website needs to load before your would-be customers lose interest. Do this by making sure that your servers are able to withstand higher-than-normal levels of web traffic when your sale or promotion launches.

Ideally, there should be little to no impact of the traffic increase on the customers using your site by:

  • Looking into the possibility of a “failover” site, a backed-up server site that can handle traffic if you can’t get in touch with your host if your site goes down.
  • Confirming that your payment processor can handle a large volume of orders in a short amount of time.
  • Checking in with your merchant services ahead of the holiday to learn how the system operates under these circumstances and what their backup options are, or what other integration methods they offer to help distribute some of the checkout burden.

6. Assuming That All of Your Customers Celebrate the Same Big Holidays

This gaffe is generally aimed at year-end holidays. In short, don’t only focus on big holidays like Christmas and Thanksgiving.

Not all of your customers will celebrate these holidays, so keep messaging sensitive to this fact.

Additionally, if you have an international audience, you’ll want to do a larger gut check year-round for well-intentioned mass emails around US holidays. (E.g., Mother’s Day in the U.K. is in March vs May in the U.S.)

Competition in the ecommerce market is unreal between Black Friday/Cyber Monday and New Year’s.

Also consider the impact that smaller, relevant holidays may play on your brand. World Gin Day probably doesn’t make sense to celebrate for the vast majority of companies, unless, of course, you’re a gin-based distillery. In that case, you can lean into a “holiday” that virtually no one else has a voice in and position your brand and offer in a fun and fresh way.

Small Business Saturday, Green Monday, Giving Tuesday, and Free Shipping Day are good opportunities to market around other holidays that aren’t tied to a religious or federal holiday.

7. Leaning in on “Guilty Marketing”

Maybe you’ll sell more products, but is that worth the long-term cost to your brand? No one wants to buy a brand that makes them feel bad.

Generally, you’ll want to focus on the good things about your products or services rather than making customers feel guilty for purchasing. There’s also the possibility for increased returns after the holiday if customers were only sold by a cheaper price or a guilt-laden message.

Instead, focus on your unique selling proposition, why your product stands out, and how it makes the customer’s life better. Emphasize improving their situation and not putting the focus on how they’ve let things get to this point.

Ultimately, a customer problem is your brand’s solution. Lean on this instead of guilt.

8. Not Having Enough Inventory/Stock

Your consumers love your products, and holidays give them an increased incentive to buy. Don’t cut sales short by low-balling inventory.

A common customer frustration stems from an inability to acquire heavily promoted products. Anticipate demand based on previous sales and replenish your stock/inventory levels accordingly ahead of time.

Running out of some stock will be inevitable, but do what you can to prevent this on your most popular items and communicate low inventory to customers.

9. Short-Staffing on Customer Service

Consumers expect to be able to solve a problem quickly, especially through website chat functions and social media. Trying to get ahead of the customer experience crush?

Start with these tips:

  • Create FAQs pages that are easily accessible from cart/checkout and all landing pages. These should answer basic questions about shipping and checkout processes, and help to cut down on the need for staff to answer questions in real-time.
  • Consider a live chat feature during key promotional periods to answer customer questions quickly rather than relying on a direct phone or email support. (You can also pre-program responses for FAQs into your live chat program for continued customer service when your team is offline!)
  • Monitor social media engagement for any questions left there. Prospective customers may ask questions as a Facebook or Instagram comment rather than messaging the brand directly. Be sure to do a daily sweep in an effort to not leave customers (and sales) waiting.

10. Not Being Upfront About Delivery Dates

The fastest way to frustrate customers is to promise a delivery date, especially one that guarantees delivery on delay-heavy holidays, and then it fails to arrive on time.

Particularly around the holidays when items are being ordered for a deadline, be upfront with customers about expected shipping and delivery dates, even if it’s unfavorable.

It’s better to set and meet expectations than leave them angrily wondering why their gift isn’t arriving on time.

If possible, create a real-time shipping estimation at checkout that allows customers to check their shipping date based on their location and type of shipment.

Especially around busy giftable holidays like Christmas, let customers know ahead of time when the last date is for guaranteed delivery, and when it will be too late to order with certainty that it will arrive on time.

11. Missing Out on Chances to Upsell or Cross-Sell Your Products

Brands can make use of both upselling (encouraging customers to buy an item that was more expensive than their original choice) and cross-selling (encouraging customers to buy an additional item in a related category).

This helps increase average order value and exposes customers to a wider range of the brand offering. A more complete product experience helps ensure that a happy customer will return for future purchases.

In fact, based on recent survey data, first-time buyers are 27% likely to return to your business but this increases to 54% after the second or third purchase.

12. Not Setting up Retargeting Ads

The easiest sell is to customers that are already familiar with your brand and products. Especially those who have already been to your website and expressed interest.

In fact, abandoned carts account for on average 69.57% of ecommerce site visits.

Retargeting ads can help recover some of that lost traffic, and by extension sales.

Not all shoppers buy immediately, even during the holidays. Many are price comparing across competitors, which often leads to abandoned carts or visits with no purchase.

Retargeting ads help to keep your brand and products top-of-mind and encourage a purchase.

13. Spending Your Digital Ads Budget Too Early

It can be tempting to front-load your ads budget to get ahead of competitors.

The catch is, customers might not be looking to buy yet and you’ll have used up your budget before you actually need it to compete.

It’s a delicate dance between maxing out ad budget when customers are comparing products versus ready to convert on their purchase.

To help spread your budget out, account for higher costs as you get closer to the holiday and think about user purchase timelines and what might drive them.

Ad click costs will likely increase as more retailers bid against those keywords and compete for attention for that consumer bucket on paid social channels. Continually monitor ads throughout your campaign and look into targeting long-tail keywords that could be high converters but lower cost.

Don’t be afraid to abandon low-performing campaigns to ensure that there is budget available for ones that are pacing, and converting, ahead of plan.

14. Generic and Impersonal Promotions

In an age where consumers expect tailored offers and know marketers are collecting their data for this very purpose, a generic offer feels incomplete and lazy. Not sure where to start?

Try these ideas:

  • Look at what competitors are doing and how you can stand out and apart from them.
  • Refresh your advertising frequently, especially for the same products, so that marketing doesn’t become stale and impersonal to your customers.
  • Personalize where possible. Email marketing is a great place to start, as you can use the data you’ve collected from your customers like name or any demographic info that you can use in the email.
  • Make shopping recommendations based on previous purchases.

In Conclusion

Holiday marketing is a pillar for many brands and helps drive sales. Many customers know to look for exciting offers and deep discounts, so cutting prices and announcing sales is simply not enough anymore.

By using these tips on holiday marketing mistakes to avoid, you’ll help your brand stand out in a crowded marketplace and avoid errors that turn customers away.

More Resources:

VIP CONTRIBUTOR Rachel Vandernick Founder & Lead Consultant at The Vander Group

Rachel Vandernick is a growth and performance marketing consultant and founder of The Vander Group. She specializes in helping consumer-facing ...

14 Mistakes to Avoid in Holiday Marketing Campaigns

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