As consumers, we complain that the holiday shopping ads seem to pop up earlier and earlier each year. Christmas lights and lawn decorations hit the shelves of our local hardware stores the day after Halloween. The online ads with smiling families in holiday sweaters quickly follow.
On social media, we pine for a simpler time and the "good ol' days" before Internet shopping — as we quietly line up all our holiday deals, shopping early on our mobile phones…
As online retailers, you know that the holiday season starts even sooner. In a recent BigCommerce survey, over 30% of online retailers began their 2018 holiday planning 1-2 months earlier than they did in 2017.
While we wouldn't suggest that your 2019 holiday marketing plan should be the only thing you're thinking about right now as an e-commerce retailer, it should be strongly considered in developing your 2019 e-commerce calendar and marketing spend.
Human Code's Recommended 2019 Marketing Plan & Task List
First Quarter of 2019
As the dust settles from the 2018 holiday shopping season, it's time to review data, develop metrics, and to start refining your plans for rolling out new e-commerce features and managing your marketing spend for 2019.
Step 1: Refine your marketing budget and define your key e-commerce metrics
It's always a little surprising when our team kicks off a e-commerce redesign and an online marketer can't immediately rattle off key metrics, such as their average customer acquisition cost, total lifetime value of a customer, the percentage of first time vs. repeat customers, and so forth.
That said, we run into this a lot. Marketers get so busy and data flows in from so many channels and tools, it's often hard to put together all these analytics and metrics into a single view.
The first quarter of the year is a great time to put together the tools needed to understand your metrics, against which you can measure the success of new campaigns and marketing spends. We will share more about the tools and techniques we recommend for deriving key metrics in a later post. But for now, we'd recommend that you look into Google Data Studio for a DIY solution, or Glew.io for an enterprise tool.
Step 2: Make sure you're capturing customers and leads
The first quarter is also a great time to make sure that your e-commerce sales channels are properly configured and optimized to collect as much customer data as possible. This includes making sure that your e-commerce store is configured with remarketing/retargeting pixels from platforms like Facebook and Google.
If you're unfamiliar with the concept of "remarketing campaigns and retargeting pixels" give us a shout, and we can get you all set up. In short, these are tools for displaying ads to people who have already visited your website and/or have purchased your products.
Again, it's sometimes quite surprising to us how many new customers aren't collecting this website visitor data. Online retailers sometimes spend thousands of dollars pushing ads that attract new potential customers to their site, without then remarketing to those website visitors after the fact. The data suggests that remarketing ads have significantly higher conversion rates than first-time ads, resulting in a stronger return on investment.
In addition to setting up remarketing/retargeting pixels and infrastructure, Q1 is a good time to put a little energy into optimizing your newsletter signup and pop-up modals, as these tools help you grow your audience for remarketing and drip campaigns.
Step 3: Introducing "Drip Campaigns"
What is a "drip campaign" you ask? In short, a drip campaign, or "drip marketing" refers to a set of automated emails that go out to new leads and/or new customers after they sign up for your newsletter or make a first-time purchase.
Often, online marketers will push for newsletter sign-ups, and then only send those leads new newsletter content as its produced. Those marketers forget to take advantage of all the content they've developed and mailed out previously when engaging with new leads/customers.
With drip campaigns, new leads are automatically emailed content that leads them through a pre-established customer journey. As part of a "welcome series" drip campaign, they might receive a welcome email as soon as they sign up for the newsletter. Three days later, they would then be sent their first discount code as part of a content marketing email.
Drip campaigns can also be triggered when a lead or customer interacts with your brand in some way, like making a purchase or sharing social media content about your brand. Email marketing tools like Drip.com make setting up these campaigns a breeze.
Step 4: Embracing Marketing Automation Tools
Your customers are everywhere, spread across dozens of social networks and marketing channels. Just like it's hard for you to navigate all these channels as a retailer, your customers' limited attention spans are bombarded with hundreds of ads every day. Even if they care about a brand, it's hard for customers to keep up.
It's not enough to just create marketing content and hope that some of it sticks, grabs the interest of new customers, and keeps existing customers coming back to you store. It's time to start creating intentional customer journeys for online shoppers who engage with your brand.
Your next step in developing these customer journeys, setting up drip campaigns, and optimizing remarketing efforts, is to adopted marketing automation tools, such as ActiveCampaign or Autopilot. These tools plug into your email, social, and paid advertising channels so that you can better target and automate marketing tasks that keep potential customers engaged with your brand over time.
With this basic infrastructure in place at the end of Q1, Q2 is all about experimentation and rolling out new strategies and website features that drive increased engagement and create new sales opportunities for your brand.
If you are working with an e-commerce agency or website developer to build new features for your website, or release new functionality, such as subscription sales, the second quarter of 2019 is the time to do it. The absolute last thing you want to do is to try to introduce new technologies towards the end of the year, when website stability and performance are absolutely critical to your financial success.
In addition to launching new e-commerce features, the second quarter is also a great time to focus on the following:
- Enhancing the mobile experience for your online store
- Improving the look and feel of transactional emails
- Collecting product reviews
- Growing your social media engagement
- Recruiting new affiliate marketers
- Improving SEO
- Streamlining your order fulfillment process and optimizing shipping rates
- Collecting and organizing stock imagery and other creative assets for your holiday marketing campaigns
- Figuring out what what products you're going to push during the holiday shopping season and preparing your inventory early
Finally, Q2 is also the ideal time to add new sales channels to the mix, such as Amazon Shopping, affiliate sales networks, and/or influencer marketing campaigns.
The third quarter is all about iteration, testing, and stabilization — in advance of the holiday shopping push. With the core tools and e-commerce features you developed in Q2 up and running, Q3 is all about polishing and perfecting your tools and strategy.
Step 1: A/B Testing Everything
Having made significant investments into your infrastructure and tools in the second quarter, it's time to A/B your messaging, pricing, and advertising campaigns in advance of the holiday season. Again, there's a lot to cover on the topic of A/B testing and we can only scratch the surface here. If you're using a email marketing platform like MailChimp, you can take advantage of a number of A/B testing features out of the box. For your e-commerce store, you can begin to A/B test content and messaging using tools such as Optimizely, CrazyEgg, or Google Optimize.
Step 2: Additional User Testing
Building upon the A/B testing of your store and messaging, Q3 is also a good time to polish your customer's e-commerce journeys through user testing and research. Consider tools like Lucky Orange and FullStory to get a more complete picture of how shoppers are interacting with your store, why they might be abandoning shopping carts, and how to unblock them from completing transactions.
Step 3: Load Testing and Website Stability
If your e-commerce store is on a "software as a service" platform like Shopify or BigCommerce, website stability might not really be an issue for you. However, if you're on an open source or self-hosted platform like WooCommerce or Magento, you definitely want to stress test your e-commerce store in the third quarter, in advance of the holiday push. Tools that you might want to consider for this load testing include Speed Curve and Google PageSpeed Tools.
Step 4: Load your "Pay Per Click" Campaigns into Your Ad Networks Early
The last thing you want to be bogged down with during the holiday rush is setting up your paid advertising campaigns. Load your paid holiday ads into Google Ads, Google Shopping, Bing, etc., in the third quarter so that you can quickly pull the trigger on these campaigns in the fourth quarter.
Step 5: Launch Campaigns that Drive Email Signups
Q3 is a great time to focus on marketing campaigns that allow you to collect new leads and increase your audience in advance of your holiday campaigns. Campaigns that drive email signups can tease fall specials and new product launches. These campaigns can extend into early November, offering discount codes and priming your customers for big sales.
Step 6: Prep Your Affiliates
If affiliate marketers and social influencers are a sales channel for your brand, you want to make sure you've engaged your affiliates and influencers in the third quarter, prepping them with the deals, promo codes, and creative assets they need to push your products in Q4. If you are interested in affiliate and influencer sales but not already on an affiliate marketing platform like Refersion, PepperJam, ShareASale, or Commission Junction, hurry up and get on these channels as quickly as you can in Q3.
Fourth Quarter: Game Time
Step 1: Generate Excitement
Start promoting your holiday deals in mid-to-late October, but be careful not to spell out exactly what they will be too early. October and early November are all about generating buzz and customer engagement.
Step 2: Sit Back and Relax, Right?
Not exactly, but hopefully you've completed all the tasks described above and you've staffed up your customer support and operations team appropriately, given the holiday calendar. Ultimately, your goal should be to have all your major holiday pricing decisions made, campaigns created, and tools in place before the holiday rush. That way, you can focus on customer service and conversational commerce strategies that make sales.
Step 3: Don't Forget About the Post-Holidays
We all wanna just eat fruitcake and sleep for days after December 25th. However, it's important that you prep for the post-holiday sales cycle in advance. Following Christmas, it's time to offload excess product through clearance sales and to keep customer engagement high through loyalty programs.
Don't get blindsided by the 2019 holiday shopping season. Don't push off major updates to your e-commerce store until the fall, such that they compete for attention with your holiday preparation. Start early; make data-driven decisions. And when in doubt, give us a call this winter/spring if you need some extra help in thinking through this year's e-commerce strategy for your business.
Don't get stressed out. We're here for you!