If you own a retail business, one of the biggest questions is when to start your digital holiday marketing plan. The right answer is never! To make the most of the holiday season and bring in the biggest profits, it takes plenty of planning and interacting with customers. Here are some of our tips to ensure the success of your ecommerce holiday marketing campaign.
Test Your Infrastructure Early
Before your company can zero-in on specific targets for your holiday marketing plan, you need to check your digital infrastructure. What goes into a holiday-ready digital infrastructure? Purposeful content and marketing materials, secure technology, and reliable hardware or software.
The easiest one to address is often content. Start by combing through your online marketing channels. Ensure that it’s visually memorable, well-organized, and has a clear next step for your consumers to take. When you find a shortcoming, task specific team members with improving it. If you are a smaller organization, create a well laid out list of improvements, and make an effort to order them by priority or importance. (For instance, a homepage improvement is likely more important that an improvement to a blog post.)
Protect Sensitive Information
Once you have covered your content, the next step in your holiday marketing plan should be a review of your business’ security practices. Now more than ever, security should be a top-of-mind concern for companies and their customers. A series of information-gathering efforts is a good place to start. Talk to your customer service representatives, accounting departments, and order processing teams. Find out how they handle customer information and whether or not any sensitive information is stored in plain text and where. (Sensitive information usually includes “PII” or personally identifiable information such as names, date of birth, emails, passwords, and credit card information.) Discuss ways to reduce the amount of PII that is stored in unencrypted formats, as well as how to improve your processes and training to avoid vulnerability or the risk of the information being accessed maliciously.
Review Your Site’s Security
When you are comfortable with your business processes, have a trusted, technically proficient website development team review your website and its hosting providers for security issues. Most content management systems and plugins need to be patched periodically to benefit from the most up-to-date security standards.
A web development company skilled in your CMS should be able to advise on what patches are needed or where security risks may exist. Make sure to have them explain the nature of the risk and help you understand its priority. Then ensure that the critical items are addressed in a timely manner and that you have a plan of action to have seasonal reviews conducted. Hacking activity tends to increase during these busy months.
Also, look for trust icons on appropriate pages:
- Do you have the SSL “lock symbol” in your navigation bar?
- Do you have PCI compliance badges where appropriate?
- Do you work with any 3rd parties for security scanning and review?
When you feel comfortable that your site communicates accurate and reliable security information, you’re all set. Just remember to maintain periodic reviews of processes and security to ensure that nothing has changed. The PCI Security Standards Council has a self assessment questionnaire that could be appropriate to utilize as part of regular checks.
Prepare Your Site for High Traffic Volume
Once you have peace of mind, it is important to verify that your website can handle the increased traffic of holiday shoppers, so as a part of your holiday marketing plan, you will want to test servers long before the crowds rush to your site. Depending on your hosting environment, you may be able to conduct load testing through various automated tools. Load testing mimics high traffic volumes and server demand to help you grasp where thresholds in performance lie. If you find that your site doesn’t handle a small increase in traffic well, start looking for reasons:
- Is the site and the way it’s coded inefficient?
- Is your server environment not appropriate for your traffic volume?
- Does your hosting provider have shortcomings or limitations that may indicate the need for a new host?
Again, support from a qualified systems administrator or web development company could be helpful here.
With these three checks of your holiday marketing plan completed, you should be confident that you’ll have a fantastic holiday season.
Engage Your Customers Now
When the web was young, customer excursions online tended to be brief and noncommittal. They would research goods and services with a more narrow focus and online purchasing was often more outcome than process.
With the internet of things gradually finding its way into more and more of our lives and lifestyles, customer’s tend to complete full buying cycles online- from researching to shopping to validating to purchasing, they never have to leave a web enabled device.
Your holiday marketing plan should start engaging customers in each of these phases now, with an eye towards major sale events in the holiday season. If you have an effective plan in place to build up engagement with your existing customers, you will find significant return on investment for your efforts as events like Black Friday and Cyber Week approach.
How do you engage customers now?
- Start by researching predictions about “hot items” or “gift trends” that you can take advantage of. Is it wearable tech? Audio visual? Subscription boxes? A certain toy? Whenever possible, consider how your current inventory addresses these trends or topics. If need be, consider adding one or two special items so that you have a meaningful offer.
- Once you have your items picked out, plan what an actual promotion may look like. Is it 50% off? BOGO? Giveaways? Outlining the actual holiday promotions now can streamline your marketing efforts and allow you to be much more pointed in your early initiatives this month and in October.
- With a promotion and a focus ready, begin to create content that addresses the common buying phases customers will go through. Research is usually first. Consumers ask common questions or concerns early in the buying process and if you have reliable answers to them, your brand moves to top of mind related to their purchase.
- After you have covered the research topics, make a compelling shopping experience. Although your holiday promotions will play a significant role here, strategic approaches to discounts now can help establish your business as the “go to” for the best deal on certain items.
- Finally, make sure purchasing is easy and maximizes each order value. Consider what upselling capabilities you have with your website and products and address gaps.
- As your content and promotions begin to roll, start distributing or advertising them via relevant social networks. Facebook, Pinterest, Instagram, Twitter, and Youtube all have enormous audiences with equally enormous buying potential. Consider which networks are most relevant to your product and start adapting the way that you are presenting promotions and content so it’s more relevant to the platform you are using.
- Monitor the customer response to your early promotions and initiatives and look for ways to source feedback. Customers are often willing to provide feedback if you express interest. They like to know they are valued and often will provide meaningful insight free of charge. Carefully examine that feedback and make improvements to your holiday marketing plan based on what you are hearing.
- As the holidays approach, plan a whisper campaign. Start releasing promotional teasers to the general public; perhaps a Black Friday page, a coupon release to a coupon aggregator, or even a coming soon banner. Make sure people are aware that you are not only running a holiday promotion (or several). Ensure that its terms are clear and they should be thinking of your site or business early in their shopping plans.
Choose Your Partners
Most small businesses do not have full time personnel capable of covering all these bases with the skill and expertise needed to succeed in a globally competitive market. Fortunately, digital agencies like Coalition Technologies exist.
“Coalition’s name is derived from the idea that online marketing requires highly specialized and very talented professionals operating with a common vision and purpose. We want to be your coalition of digital marketing experts,” says founder and CEO, Joel Gross. “We spend a great deal of time recruiting, evaluating, and training talent to ensure that our clients achieve increasing levels of ROI in their online marketing efforts.”
With specialties in search engine optimization, pay per click, social media marketing, and website design / development, our teams of experts are able to support specific campaign initiatives or provide a holistic, managed digital marketing effort.
If you’d like to better understand our services, contact our Los Angeles based headquarters at 310.827.3890. Together, we can create a successful holiday marketing plan for your business.