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Accounting for the unexpected this holiday season

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PMG on how marketers can best prepare for the unpredictability of the upcoming holiday season with foolproof practices

While major shopping holidays including Black Friday are still months away, this year’s holiday season is shaping up to be just as unpredictable as 2020’s, with the compounding forces of the Delta variant, regional lockdowns and vaccine mandates, as well as supply chain constraints and fluctuating consumer sentiment, adding a few new pieces to the puzzle.

Similarly to last year, brands will need to remain agile and ready to respond to these challenges and more, but coincidentally consumers have grown accustomed to the evolving nature of the situation and adjusted accordingly. With e-commerce adoption continuing to grow, digital channels are expected to drive more sales than ever before this holiday season, with eMarketer projecting retail e-commerce sales to account for nearly 20% of total holiday retail sales this year (up from 17.5% in 2020).

Marketers can better position themselves – and their brands – to swiftly navigate through the uncertainty of the current circumstances, while also accounting for the staying power of unique consumer behavior and media consumption trends, by keeping the following considerations in mind heading into the holidays.

Localization is as core to the digital experience as globalization

With every country impacted differently by the pandemic and its economic effects, generalized messaging won’t resonate with many audiences. This holiday season it will be critically important to identify and amplify the unique selling points that are favored within each particular market, as consumers have grown accustomed to community-specific information and hyperlocal messaging. Taking the time to adjust creative assets and messages to align with local consumer nuances can mean the difference between high order value or an empty basket.

We recommend building extra time into your holiday workback schedules and researching which unique selling points (USPs) will perform best within each of your target markets. For instance, free shipping is now one of the most important motivators for French shoppers, but for customers in Germany a clear, unambiguous returns policy can help boost conversion. Insights like this can help inform your overall messaging and ensure you’re set up for success across multiple regions.

Don’t promise what you (probably) can’t deliver.

It’s no secret that distribution centers and supply chains are getting squeezed by growing demand, limited materials and transportation services, resulting in empty shelves and a growing risk of unhappy shoppers. With so many factors up and down the supply chain beyond immediate control, it’s important to ensure that customers are only promised what the brand can deliver.

As the status of supply chains continues to shift, it’s important to build out multiple versions of creative assets in preparation for the various scenarios you may face during the holidays. In the event where a popular product goes out of stock sooner than expected, or a supply chain issue causes delayed shipping times, additional assets and flexible messaging help ensure agility and the ability to change campaigns on the fly, and even automatically if set up to do so. By utilizing product data feeds across digital channels, you can more easily optimize your budgets to promote in-stock products versus spending inefficiently on promoting out-of-stock products and providing a poor user experience.

Enable strategic brand coverage across channels

While it’s not always necessary to announce a sale or promotion months ahead of time, holiday shopping is beginning earlier and earlier each year, so strategic brand coverage will be critical to capturing early-bird holiday shoppers in the lead-up to this holiday season. By ensuring brand coverage across all appropriate digital channels, from top-of-funnel branding social campaigns through to conversion-focused paid search activity, marketers can ensure that the brand is present in digital when and where customers are searching.

With this in mind, consider updating any creative assets before promotions kick off to tease what’s coming up next. Dynamic creative can be used to count down to the start of a significant event and to the end of one. While the former may not drive immediate return, driving customers to sign up via email for updates on when a deal goes live will help grow audience lists for remarketing tactics and help drive purchases when peak holiday does arrive.

Turn eager brand followers into loyal customers

Offering perks and additional benefits to loyal repeat customers throughout the holiday season can help keep a brand top of mind, as a greater shift to online shopping means that brand loyalty continues to be tested. Whether it’s free shipping or returns, access to community or exclusive merchandise, identifying creative ways to keep customers engaged and entertained will help turn eager brand followers into loyal customers who are sure to stick around year after year.

Having a clear understanding of new versus existing customers will help you to balance budgets across channels and tactics accordingly, which is why it’s so important to audit CRM and audience lists regularly. Utilizing direct marketing channels, such as email or text campaigns, to notify loyal customers of what benefits and perks they can expect this holiday season will help generate buzz as the promotional period approaches.

Remember the (digital marketing) basics

Fast load times. Detailed FAQs. Clear and consistent messaging. An accessible user experience. These fundamentals establish a strong foundation that enables greater success across holiday marketing campaigns and should be prioritized throughout the holiday planning process.

With the added complexity of potential supply chain constraints, it may be necessary to devise a contingency plan (or two) if products run out of stock unexpectedly, or some merchandise goes on backorder. While brands may not want to expose all the components that aren’t quite going to plan, scenario-planning (and preparing the appropriate customer communications accordingly) can save a lot of time and support additional teams, such as customer service, which can easily be inundated with repeat questions from unsatisfied customers.

Marketers can best prepare for the unpredictability of this year’s holiday by following best practices and accounting for the changes brought on by the pandemic, helping to prepare the brand for the future and even greater success in 2022 and beyond.

Alice Rapley, SEM supervisor at PMG.

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