It's becoming a tradition to declare that the holidays "come earlier every year." How else are we supposed to express our surprise at seeing festive store displays and decorations before Halloween and Thanksgiving?
Look, however, at this Christmas creep phenomenon from retailers' perspective: they're executing a prudent, market-driven strategy of preparedness, ensuring that their inventory is in place for the holiday season (and that their customers know it).
For online retailers, Black Friday, the traditional beginning of the holiday shopping season (Nov. 24 this year), and Cyber Monday, its online-centric counterpart (Nov. 27), are the two days at the center of the holiday sales universe that cannot be an afterthought. Last year's Black Friday set a record by providing retailers with over $3 billion in sales, while the Thanksgiving weekend as a whole saw more than 154 million active shoppers. Not to be outdone, Cyber Monday itself topped off at a record $3.45 billion in sales online. All in all, ecommerce sales exceeded their in-store counterparts, once again driving home the importance of these dates for online sellers.
To realize these opportunities, it's critical to first implement and execute a sound marketing strategy. Customers are going to shop somewhere, and when the tryptophan fog (or turkey coma) clears post-Thanksgiving meal and their thoughts turn to gifts (and hot deals for their friends and loved ones), you want them to have your site top of mind.
Here's a five-step process for executing an effective Black Friday/Cyber Monday marketing strategy (today):
1) Honestly assess where you stand in the marketplace, your inventory and your goals.
Knowing where you are and where you're going is pretty darn helpful if you want to control where you end up. Gather your team and assemble a realistic picture of your company's current mindshare with customers, social media presence, product and shipping capacity, etc. Then, set sensible goals for sales and other desired metrics. Doing so will give you the targets you need to purchase extra inventory in anticipation of what will, if all goes according to plan, your high sales days.
Implement a method of actively tracking your inventory in an organized manner - for most small businesses, a spreadsheet will do. You want to avoid situations where popular items sell out due to gaps in planning, and you end up both disappointing customers and leaving money on the table.
Also, because the lure of Black Friday and Cyber Monday is all about great deals, be sure you have the ability to offer sales on your website. Determine what shape these offers will take, informed by metrics such as lifetime customer value and cost-per-acquisition. For example, it may be the case that price reductions won't as beneficial as peripheral enticements, such as upgrades or add-ons.
2) Finish your sales plans early to optimize your marketing timeline.
Customers don't just start searching for deals on Black Friday morning. If they did, there'd be no one lined up for 5 a.m. door openings (watch this video and you'll understand why people are growing to prefer online experiences). Customers will diligently research available offers ahead of time, starting as soon as marketers begin making them known. This means your digital business needs to use at least as much foresight in planning its sales as shoppers do in tracking them. The earlier you have a plan in place, the sooner you can advertise sales and ensure your supply chain is ready to handle extra attention.
It's also important to plan with an understanding that only nine percent of shoppers complete their shopping on Thanksgiving weekend, and that, while sales that weekend will reach well into the billions, a full $91 billion is spent over the entire holiday season. Design offers and outreach efforts that bring Black Friday and Cyber Monday customers back to your site for the rest of the holiday season, and, ideally, well beyond it.
3) Plan your marketing efforts.
Once specific sales plans are in place, you're ready to figure out how you'll advertise those offers to customers. A healthy marketing budget is a powerful asset for achieving Black Friday/Cyber Monday campaign success, and resources should be carved out specifically for this. However, there are also ways for businesses with smaller budgets to get creative.
The three primary methods you'll use likely be using to get the word out about sales and offers are email marketing, social media marketing, and pay-per-click advertising.
Email marketing has the advantage of directly reaching customers who have opted to receive correspondence from your business, and it allows you to personalize your messaging as appropriate. Growing and nurturing an effective customer email list is highly valuable in growing an online business, and promotions like those around the major sales days can help to expand this list in a virtuous cycle.
Social media marketing
Social media offers the highest degree of creativity in letting the world know what you're offering. Posts can also be promoted to targeted audiences at a relatively low cost. For the best results, shape your content to fit the audience and format on each of the different social media platforms you use, rather than a one-size-fits-all-approach. Also, plan a schedule to regularly and consistently release fresh marketing content.
Pay-per-click advertising If you have the budget, pay-per-click advertising can deliver customers straight to your site to view and take advantage of promotional sales. This strategy is perhaps particularly ideal if your e-business is late with Black Friday/Cyber Monday preparation and needs an instant boost in traffic. Where SEO and other methods of driving traffic require time and preparation, pay-per-click advertising can bring in shoppers right away. Just be sure to set up conversion tracking to get an idea of campaign ROI.
4) Stand out in a crowded field.
The competition for customers' attention when it comes to holiday deals is as fierce as those Black Friday shoppers braving the melee when the doors before dawn. It's important to assess what your competitors are doing, and take steps to distinguish what your business and products have to offer. You might include a free gift with every purchase, free or upgraded shipping, free gift wrap, personalized thank you messages, etc. It's also essential to differentiate via the core customer experiences you should be offering year round, such as simple product returns and quick-and-friendly customer service.
5) Continue to increase awareness by all possible means.
There are many other methods your business can use to entice customers to check out your holiday offers. Here are a few ideas you might take advantage of:
Optimize your Web copy and graphic design to enhance Black Friday/Cyber Monday content, especially on your home page.
On social media, play off of trending hashtags to spread your message through clever, timely posts.
Offer limited deals that drive shoppers to pay attention to your site and act quickly.
Blog useful holiday shopping content.
Pitch your products and offers to online influencers.
Invite customers to leave product reviews, and to showcase some of the most positive ones. Consider customer case studies as well.
About the Author David Andrews is the product marketing manager of hosting at DreamHost, a global Web hosting, domain registrar and cloud services provider.