The holidays hinge on your marketing ecosystem

The holiday season is in the air. Can you feel it?

It’s almost like that first day of fall, when the weather changes, the air gets a little crisper, the wind a little chillier, and the leaves start rustling. Except in retail, the stress becomes palpable, and co-workers are starting to run around aimlessly, always in a hurry with nowhere to go, while crazy projects fill up your inbox as “high priority.”

It may seem early, but that “first day” of the holiday season has already come-and-gone for retail marketers. The ramp-up starts now, and getting your cross-channel lifecycle in place can save a lot of headaches later.

Consider that 55% of consumers begin researching products before November rolls around, according to the National Retail Federation’s 2017 Retail Holiday Planning Playbook. More astounding, 30% of consumers start researching before October even arrives.

For many consumers, gifting is a prolonged experience; it’s not as spontaneous as many other purchases are throughout the year. Research and awareness take time to build. The right product is fostered over time and across many touchpoints with a retailer.

It’s not a random act; it’s often a mix of subconscious or long-lead behaviors (e.g., photography, lifestyle, brand alignment, product descriptions) and conscious, reaction-driven behaviors, such as urgency, promotion and product reviews, that drive the desired outcome of a conversion.

For retailers, it’s imperative that their marketing ecosystems are comprehensive, timely, efficient and deliberate in their efforts to foster those behaviors and funnel them to conversions.

Here are some strategies to consider:

Drive loyalty now

As most retailers have learned by now, loyalty members are more likely to interact with a brand, follow it on social channels, purchase products, and make return visits, so work on building loyalty enrollment right now.

Loyalty members are your best customers, and even if it has the potential to lightly increase liability in the short-term, you’ll gain lifetime customers and increase holiday sales from a membership push.

The most challenging aspect of marketing during the holidays is cutting through the noise. Yet with loyalty, retailers gain a direct line of access to their members. Whether it’s email, SMS, push notifications, direct mail or through a portal, retailers have direct access to influence a segment of customers that are already primed to buy.

Get to them early before they have a chance to align with another brand.

Don’t forget to follow through

When the stakes are high, leadership always gravitates toward email during the holidays. And with good reason: It’s one of the most successful channels based on impact, sales and measurability.

However, marketers often cut their strategies short at the first click. Where consumers land is just as important as what they open, especially during gifting.

What information is provided once consumers click through? How does it align with their expectations? What’s their path to conversion? Is there opportunity to upsell or cross sell? Those questions are often afterthoughts, but according to the NRF report cited above, more than half of consumers purchase items that were recommended to them by retailers online.

The overall impact on revenue during such a high-traffic time can be staggering.

Consider the user experience

While email has a fairly intentional path to purchase, the current state of digital advertising is essentially the Wild West. Measurement is challenging, and placement lacks transparency. But without the added traffic from the holidays, retailers would suffer.

To support those efforts and reduce the hurt of exorbitant ad costs, the user experience needs to be streamlined for conversion.

Landing pages are the key. Keep them short and simple, and do not personalize them. Consider that this is a gifting time; it’s essentially impossible to know what items a person is buying and what gender the recipient might be during the holidays. Directing to the homepage is irritating — it’s too early in the funnel — and directing too far down the funnel will most likely lead to a bounce.

So, curate pages to make life easy for customers. Stick to high-level gift guides and top-rated products and categories across genders, and always display promotions. The goal is to give consumers an easy next step and reinforce the incentive.

Build cross-channel alignment

Bad customer experiences aren’t driven by a lack of insights; they’re driven by in-fighting and competition from marketing channels. Everyone has performance indicators that they’re trying to hit, and they’ll sacrifice anything to make sure they reach their numbers.

But nothing happens in a vacuum, and no channel can be successful without other channels supporting it. In the end, marketing teams are driving towards the same end-goal, and performance is increased across the board when everyone is working together.

As such, make sure your teams are all in alignment. Identify “north star” metrics that every marketing team is striving to hit. It avoids fragmentation, and customers have a much smoother experience that leads to higher conversion rates.

The holidays starts now

The seeds for a successful holiday season are planted now in late August and September. Customers aren’t out of reach, they aren’t inundated, and they aren’t as promotionally driven — yet.

Everything transforms in October, so take advantage of the time you have. And don’t just focus on strategic planning. The framework of holiday execution can be built upon loyalty membership, email growth, SMS list building, wish lists, brand activation campaigns, and much more.

Remember that customers are already beginning the early stages of research. Identify your core metrics for the holidays, produce strategic concepts aligned across all channels, and get them in the marketplace before the noise drowns everyone out.

The fun begins now.