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Episode 64 - Your First Holiday Campaign

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Hey, Scott Austin here.

For most businesses, Black Friday, Cyber Monday is huge.  It's the time of their biggest promotions which leads to their highest sales. Most store owners get this and already have put together their holiday promotion plan.  But it’s late September and not every store has mapped out their holiday plans yet.  So this episode is for those of you who have not yet put together a holiday plan.  And if you haven’t by now, you’re pretty late to the game.  To help get you moving forward, I’m going to recommend a smaller, easier to manage campaign.  My hope is to get you into the holiday promotion game this year that you can build on in subsequent years.  And if you have already planned out your holiday program, I'd recommend listening to this episode and using it as checklist to see if you have missed anything.

So let’s start off with the question of should you do a holiday program.  For the vast majority of the Shopify stores out there, the answer is a resounding yes.  That said, there are stores where a holiday promotion isn’t appropriate.  I don’t think I need to give examples.  If your business isn’t appropriate for a holiday sale, you already know that.

For the rest of you, let me explain the main components of this program.  As you already know, advertising is expensive and can quickly consume your margin.  Ads get more expensive during the holidays as demand from advertisers is higher.  Our plan is aimed at reducing dependency on expensive cold audiences for holiday revenue.  The program has three main components:

  1. Building owned audiences on email, SMS and social.
  2. Have your message get noticed with a stand-out offer.
  3. Remarket extensively to maximize sales.

I'll now walk you through the program which will have these steps:

  1. Planning.  This will mostly happen in October this year and hopefully August next year.
  2. Customer building.  This happens in October and early November.  And in following years will be year-round effort.
  3. Black Friday Cyber Monday execution.  I'll also refer to this as BFCM.
  4. Post BFCM execution.  This is what your store will be doing after Cyber Monday all the way up to Christmas and Hanukah.
  5. Post-holiday execution.  Just because the holidays are over doesn't mean we can't earn a few more sales.

Let’s walk through it step by step.

A successful holiday campaign is going to start with good planning.  Your plan should be a detailed roadmap that spells out all of the execution steps you will be taking.  To get started, you should define a couple of personas that you are targeting for BFCM.  For example is this gift for another person or a gift the customer gives to themselves.  What are the demographic and psychographic attributes of your target.  For example, a jewelry store may target lovers giving a gift to their significant others while a pet store may target pet owners giving a gift to their pets.  Knowing the personas that you are targeting will help you create the messaging.

Next, you need to create your offer or offers.  Consumers have been well-trained to expect big price cuts for Black Friday.  I recommend that you make your Black Friday discount the biggest one that you do each year.  That way, you'll be able to use that in your messaging.  Consumers will be bombarded with messaging from you and all the other retailers out there.  So you need to go big to get noticed.  Many stores do this by offering a deep percentage off discount.  But that’s not your only option.  Alternatives include:

  1. Limited edition products.  If you make your own products, you can offer a limited edition product and use the scarcity to drive sales.
  2. Creating gift baskets built from an assortment of your products and then giving a discount on the bundle.
  3. Creating buy-one get-one offers.

Gift baskets and BOGO offers are a way to increase average order value while also fulfilling the customer's expectation for a holiday discount.

You’ve now got your personas and offers. Next, you want to map out all of the marketing activities that you'll do.  And even a small holiday campaign like the one we are trying to build here will have many of them.  These are the ads, emails, social posts, on-site promotions, landing pages, price changes and more.  To do this you will need to spell out all of the important dates for the program.  Like the date of Black Friday and Cyber Monday.  And other important dates like your last day for regular shipping and your last day for expedited shipping.

Your plan should also ensure that you have the right pieces in place.  That means ensuring you have the right inventory in place in time.  And that you have the technical pieces in place like an email solution, advertising solutions, tracking codes, reporting and more.

A big task for October and before is to build out your email and SMS lists and your social followers.  You want to grow your lists so you have a large pool of customers to get your holiday promotion message in front of for little or no cost.  So there are plenty of ways to grow your lists and you should leverage the right ones for you.  One tactic that can be helpful is to plan to open your holiday promotions early to VIPs.  And VIPs could be people on your list and your social followers.  That way, your October email pop-ups could have a call to action that says 'Join our VIP list and get early access to our holiday sale.'  And you can do similar promotions on your social channels.  If you are not in Europe, you should ensure that purchasers in your store are opted-in to your list by default.  You can control this setting in the Shopify Admin under Settings > Checkout > Marketing Consent.  Check to see if the 'Preselect the option' checkbox is checked.  Those selling to Europeans can't check this if they want to remain compliant with GDPR.

Another important task for October is building out your Landing Pages.  You'll want to create landing pages for the emails, ads and social promotions that you'll be putting out there.  You'll want to use landing pages instead of product or collection pages to continue the conversation with the customer.  For example, let's say you send an email to your VIP customers saying that they have early access to your holiday program.  And that email has some holiday graphics and colors in it.  In that case, the landing page should say 'Welcome VIP.'  It should say that this is their early access and when that access expires.  The page should have the same holiday graphics and colors used in the email.  So, depending on the scope of your program, you can have several landing pages.  Here's a tip for landing pages.  For SEO purposes, you'll want to re-use the same pages next year if possible.  So don't include the year in the URL or handle of the page.  You can include the year in the title and copy.  Just leave it out of the URL so that next year, organic search isn't pointing to a page that looks to be out of date.

Here's another thing to think about during October and early November.  Many people save up during the fall and don't spend money so they can use that money for BFCM.  And that can be for gift giving or for personal purchases.  Because BFCM is known as a big discount day to consumers, they start planning their purchases ahead of time.  They'll either have a mental list or a real list of purchases they will be making.  So one tactic is to get your store on to those lists by letting your customers know a head of time what will be in your holiday program.  The reveal could be about products and / or about discounts.  But let them know through your channels so they can include you in their planning.

Now let's move into mid-November and the running of our campaigns.  If you are going to provide early access, then you'll want to start things before Thanksgiving, say one week before.  If you are not providing early access, you'll be kicking things off during Thanksgiving week.  During this time, you'll be coordinating several tasks like publishing new products and landing pages, changing prices, creating discounts, sending emails and making social posts.  Hopefully, you defined all of these in your October planning.  Now here's a concept I want you to think about - feeds and queues.  Feeds are generally time based.  We see them in social a lot.  People are most often looking at the top items in their feed and don't go deeper into past posts.  So if they miss it in their feed, they are probably never going to see it.  Most store owners understand this which is why they are comfortable making the same post several times at different times of the day in order to increase the likelihood of followers seeing one of the posts. So when you launch your VIP sale, you'll want to promote it multiple times on each of your social channels on the day you launch. Queues work differently.  In a queue, the item remains until the user removes it.  Queues ensure that a person sees each item in their queue.  Email was designed as queue.  We have an inbox that can be managed.  But here's the thing.  Most people now treat their email as a feed and not a queue.  The older the person, the more likely they are to treat it as a queue.  The younger they are, the more likely they are to treat it as a feed.  What this means is that you should be sending out more than one email for each event.  You should send a few at different times of the day to increase the number of customers that are actually seeing your messages just like you do on social.

In your planning, you'll be listing out all of the messaging that you will be doing.  You want to maximize the number of unique messages that you can send.  Instead of sending the same message to a customer 10 times over the holiday program, you'll be coming up with 10, or whatever number is right for your business, different messages.  So some ways to have unique messages include:

  1. Announcing that something is coming soon to build anticipation.
  2. Announcing that a holiday program has begun and inviting customers to shop.
  3. Letting customers know when a program is about to end.  Like '1 day left to get your BFCM discount.'
  4. Letting customers know when a shipping deadline is approaching.  Like '1 day left to get free shipping in time for the holidays.'
  5. Letting customers know when inventories are getting.

The desire for a unique message is what drives many brands to have daily or weekly deals.  With or without weekly deals, you are still going to have plenty of messages to send.  And don't forget that you should be sending each of those multiple times across multiple channels.  One thing to note here.  When putting together your emails, I recommend that you exclude any recent purchasers on those mail lists.  Any customer who buys your product on November 20th is going to feel pretty bad if they get an email on Black Friday with that same product 40% off.

Your big holiday promotion is happening over BFCM.  You may have an early access program too.  Once Cyber Monday has passed you'll still want to be keeping your store top of mind.  One of the main ways that this will happen is through re-marketing.  Your remarketing should already be on throughout the entire holiday program.  It just becomes a more important driver here.  All of your October list building is meant to give you the most people to put your best BFCM deal in front of.  A percentage of those people will be interested and come to your site.  Regardless of how many people purchase, a majority of the people coming to site over BFCM will not purchase then.  That's why you want to invest heavily in remarketing to those people engage.  You want to keep your brand top of mind as they continue their holiday shopping in December.

Your direct messages via email, SMS and social for December should include awareness of your shipping deadlines.  And once your shipping deadlines have passed, you can promote your Gift Cards, if you have them, to last minute shoppers.

You have now gotten through BFCM and the way up to and past holiday.  You still have one more holiday campaign to execute on.  You see, now that the holidays are over, not everyone has gotten what they wanted.  And some people have gotten money or gift cards as gifts.  Others will return unwanted gifts for cash.  So your last holiday campaign is sent to your customers and letting them know that they should buy what they really wanted for Christmas.  You want this campaign right after holiday.  Before they get caught up in New Years and before they get their holiday credit card bills.

So that should give you an idea of what your holiday campaign should look like.  Now I started off saying  that I would explain a smaller holiday program.  There's a ton of work and complexity to the plan I proposed.  So this plan isn't simple to execute.  But this plan is smaller when compared to what established brands will be doing this holiday.  This plan is smaller when compared to what your competition will be doing this holiday.  So if this plan is too much for you this year, remove some of the things.  But know that what is key here is that you need to be building owned audiences on email, SMS and social.  And that you must stand-out with your offer to draw people into your store.  And that you must remarket extensively to maximize sales.  Remove any one of those three pillars and your holiday campaign will not produce as much for your business.  These three components are the engine that drives everything.

And each year, when you plan for your upcoming holiday campaign, you should start by review your last campaign.  What worked?  What didn't work?  Use those answers to determine what to change.  Successful brands are constantly evolving their holiday and never the exact same campaign twice.

I hope this episode helps you build out a better holiday campaign.

Thanks for listening.

JadePuma is a certified Shopify Expert. If you need any help with your Shopify store, we can help.