The holidays are… sort of upon us?
In my family, the annual joke is that if my mother starts asking about the holidays one month earlier than last year, we’ll eventually be giving her our gift wish lists in January!
If your world is anything like mine, the holidays seem to come earlier and earlier every year.
No more than 12 hours past Halloween, we’re flooded with December holiday themes, nearly bypassing Thanksgiving entirely.
The days get shorter, service providers get busier, and every company with a retail item has something they want you to buy.
It’s tempting to wait until closer to November to kick off a holiday advertising strategy because we’re still trying to finish our fall strategy, or just purely out of principle.
And while no one wants to be a Scrooge, it can be tough to think about building a holiday strategy this far out.
Especially because the global pandemic has shown us that each day can either drag on, or circumstances can change in an instant.
But that’s exactly why you should be putting together your strategy now instead of taking the “wait and see” approach.
You should be thinking about why you need to start earlier and what you can do to stand out.
And know the things to keep in mind as we move closer to the holiday season alongside a thick air of global uncertainty.
Here are a few ways this year is a little bit different.
Earlier Online & More Spread Out
We all have seen the numbers.
People are spending a lot more time on the Internet than usual these days.
After all, what else is there to do when you’re stuck at home on quarantine or you’re working and/or studying from home all day?
But more than that, people are understandably concerned about in-person touchpoints in their shopping experience.
This is driving more people to online purchases than ever before.
Suddenly, you’ve got a lot more lingering eyes on your shopping cart page than a year ago at this same time.
And people are finding themselves doing a lot more online shopping than usual.
You could say it’s due to a need for dopamine.
And the relatively new concept of “anxiety shopping” – anxiety over what the future holds and a need for present-moment comfort.
That is if you still needed validation for the new impulse buying habit you’ve picked up in the last six months.
People are also being encouraged to complete their holiday shopping earlier this year.
Brought about by concerns over COVID-related delays in shipping or supply chain issues.
All this compounded by the uncertainty over the future of the pandemic and whether jobs will stay secure.
This means that the shopping may start early and actually may be spread out throughout the holiday season, as changes materialize.
But the moral of the story is this: People are online and they’re buying so you need to get your brand in front of them.
And you need to do it now.
Tip: If you’ve been uncertain over whether or not to add a commerce function to your site, now is the time to make that happen.
People will be buying online.
And there is no way to guarantee that, two or three months from now, brick-and-mortar shops will even be able to stay open for in-person shopping (as we saw five months ago).
Salesforce research shows that 50% of all seasonal retail revenue is complete by December 3, meaning you can’t afford to delay.
If the first quarantine and decline of in-person shoppers caught you unawares, don’t let it happen again.
Invest in a commerce function on your website now, or at least start listing your products or services on Instagram, Pinterest, or another third-party shoppable site.
Make sure you don’t miss out on major online sales and all your shopping revenue.
Recent studies show that the pandemic has changed our Internet behavior.
Desktop use is back on the rise, while mobile app use has suffered a bit of a dip.
If you’ve been taking great pains to fine-tune your mobile strategy, you don’t need to take the effort away from it (people are still using their phones).
But you do need to spend time to make sure your desktop experience is just as beautifully optimized for all the incoming traffic.
Why Spend Twice as Much for Just as Many
This is one preparation that never changes; but this year, it might just be amplified.
Every year in September, we start preparing our clients for the upcoming holiday season.
Whatever you’ve been spending on advertising, prepare to spend more – like twice as much – for the same amount of reach, impressions, clicks, and conversions.
Because even if you’ve been advertising all year long, you’re not the only one in the pool anymore.
Social media advertising peaks in the holiday season.
There are more and more businesses spending money for the first time, and more of them spending more money than they did all year long.
What does that mean for you?
Greater competition for the same eyes.
Prepare for things to cost more – and expect to get poorer results overall, on average.
Everyone else jumps in the advertising pool this time of year, so if you want those eyes, you’re gonna have to fight for ‘em.
But that’s every year.
Here’s where this year is different:
First of all, we’re in an election year in the U.S.
While there is always more competition for eyes during this time of year, it’s compounded by the amount of competition that only comes out once every two to four years.
Candidates are running ads and organizations are running ads on behalf of candidates.
There are policy changes or ballot measures as well as publishers reporting breaking news stories or running election guides.
You’re competing with far more than just other businesses. You’re competing with the fabric of governing structures.
And I don’t know if you’ve noticed, or if I’ve mentioned it enough in this article, but we’re in a pandemic.
Now, more than years before, people will be advertising to try and make up for some of the unexpected revenue loss from months past.
So don’t be surprised if you have to spend more than twice your normal ad budget to get the same results.
Tip: Get in touch with your deeply creative side for this holiday season strategy.
You’re competing with a lot of noise that makes people nervous, afraid, exhausted – or it makes them feel assaulted with demands to buy products or donate money.
Give your audience something fun and lighthearted.
Use this year to truly stand out with your ads with levity, fun, and engaging content.
People need more happiness to hold onto.
Be the brand that gives it to them!
Don’t Feel Like You Need to Push Sales Right Now
“But Danielle, how do I kick off a holiday advertising strategy when it’s not the holidays? I can’t use all my holiday specials in October or I won’t have anything unique to offer in the future months!”
Ah, but you don’t need to offer sales right now – it’s about so much more than that.
Think about it:
What do people know about your brand?
Do they know your brand at all?
What better time to start telling them all about your fabulous brand with its fabulous products and services than right now, before your holiday sales kick-off.
I know that I said that people are buying earlier, and yes, you should take advantage of that.
But don’t negate the importance of brand awareness when setting yourself up for holiday advertising revenue success.
Even if the concept of the marketing funnel is supposed to be dead or something, it still serves a purpose.
You know that you have to keep the funnel full by adding more people at the top, unless you want it to eventually be empty.
Make engaging Facebook (and now LinkedIn) stories.
Dance through TikTok ads (while you still can).
Experiment and A/B test with carousels and GIFs and videos – but just make sure you’re in the game.
Plan out your holiday advertising strategy like a lead nurture campaign:
You’re getting people interested in your brand and leaving breadcrumbs along the way for your big holiday reveal.
And also, any sales you make in the meantime is gravy.
Tip: Just like people are looking for fun in ads, they’re also looking for values, kindness, and compassion.
Today, more than ever, people are buying from companies that share their values.
So don’t be afraid to talk about them!
Use your ads to show what your organization believes in.
People are more likely to buy from a brand that has a message they care about.
Whether it’s supporting a nonprofit for Giving Tuesday or letting people know about the care that goes into designing and manufacturing or selecting products for sale.
Be Ready to Pivot
As a marketer, I know it’s en vogue to roll our eyes and groan about every new change delivered to us from the Advertising Platform Gods.
I get it.
But also, I get really tired of hearing the complaints, especially when they’re connected to stubbornness and a general refusal to make the changes necessary.
Pivoting, adjusting, and adapting is literally the job.
Right now, we’re in a constant global PR crisis of sorts.
There are fires and a pandemic, a general election, and justifiable civil unrest.
Every day is a new exercise in how our brand should respond to the current happenings, especially this year.
Which is why you should craft a solid, well-thought-out holiday advertising strategy.
And then you should be prepared to completely scrap it at a moment’s notice.
We have zero idea what the last quarter of the year holds for us.
The business owners and marketers I’ve seen thrive this year have had one thing in common:
They pivoted early, often, and were ready to make changes at a moment’s notice.
They gave themselves a moment to grieve their previous plans, and then they got to work.
Conversely, I saw a lot of businesses and marketers struggle because they sat around doing the “wait and see.”
They stayed frozen and indecisive, hoping and praying day after day that the winds would change course and blow in their favor.
Don’t wait for a virus or a civil movement, or a natural disaster to tell you what to do.
It’s your job to figure it out early and quickly, and adapt.
So make the plan.
Just be prepared to scrap it on a dime.
Tip: Build pivots into your plan.
No one says you can’t have layers of advertising strategy – have back-up plans for your primary plans and “if this, then that” sort of scenarios.
It’s good common practice to have a plan in crisis for both internal and external communications.
And this is a great time to flex that muscle.
When planning your holiday advertising strategy, ask yourself, “What could go wrong?”
No, seriously, what could go wrong?
Then plan for each possible thing.
- If there is another quarantine and we have to move to ecommerce only, how will we adjust our language? Our retail partner strategy? Our own ecommerce strategy?
- If there are more layoffs and fewer people can afford to make purchases, how will we change our messaging?
- How will we respond with compassion, but also so that we can salvage our own business?
- What happens if the Advertising Platform Gods change rules, regulations, or algorithms?
- How are we prepared to respond if one of our primary platforms suddenly becomes too expensive or untenable to advertise on?
Force yourself to see the worst-case scenarios unfolding before your very eyes.
Then craft your holiday advertising strategy around how you’ll handle things you can control from all the things you can’t.
This holiday season will be fraught, no question.
But you can get ahead by making your holiday advertising strategy now before you’re in the thick of it.
Don’t stand by and wait to see if things work out the way you want them to so you can launch the strategy you normally do.
Make a plan right now about how you want to handle your holiday advertising circumstances, no matter what comes your way.