I can remember the very first time a client gave me incremental money for the holiday season. It was a whopping $10,000 to spend over two months. I was flying high – we all were.
Our entire agency, all five of us, stopped working and had a glass of champagne together to celebrate. This was big money to us. But even bigger, it was a sign a client saw an opportunity to grow and trusted us to make that growth happen. Amazing no matter what way you look at it.
Ten years later, the budgets and the agency are a bit bigger, but I always get that same feeling when a client gives us incremental money and tells us to get aggressive.
Unfortunately, I have also been on the other side of things – looking back on the holiday season from mid-January realizing our holiday season could have been exponentially better had we been more aggressive and worked to get every last conversion possible.
It’s a terrible feeling and what’s worse is it takes nine months to go away. While avoiding that feeling isn’t 100 percent avoidable, there are clear steps you can take to make that feeling a rare occasion.
There is a long list of things you can do to make your holiday campaigns a success, but there are three key things you must do to not only make your campaigns successful, but make them the most successful possible: plan ahead, fail quickly, and be flexible.
It sounds like such a trite piece of advice to give. I mean who doesn’t plan ahead for holiday season? While I agree most folks plan ahead for holiday, I would also say most folks under-plan.
For example, many people take an approach something along the lines of looking at what their overall sales goal is for this year, compare it to what they did last year, and increase their budget this year enough to hit their goal.
If you need to grow by 20% this year, you see you spent $100 last year, so your budget this year is $120. A little oversimplified, but you get the point.
However, the crucial piece most people leave out is they don’t take into account what they could have spent last year. So while you spent $100, was the actual market demand $110? If so, then not only did you leave money on the table last year, but you likely will this year as well.
To help prevent this from happening, there are some very tactical pieces you can implement (note: these will vary based on your individual business, but they are a great place to start):
- Give your branded terms on exact match an unlimited budget. This way, if market demand grows because you were featured on the Today Show or Toys ‘R Us says you are the toy of the season, you are already prepared for the influx of traffic. Plus, the impression and click data you get will give you a way to track market demand and brand growth.
- Use a combination of additional match types and the Search Query Report (SQR) to funnel qualified traffic to your exact match campaign. In other words, run broader match types, then sort through your SQR. Anytime you see a word converting insert it into your exact match campaign – which should give you the same word at a cheaper CPC, allow you to write more specific creative, raise your Quality Score, and thus improve your bottom line.
- Be able to answer the question: if I had 20% more budget to spend, where would I spend it? This sounds a bit idealistic, but when you force yourself to over-allocate budget, you also force yourself to look for new opportunities (whether they are new keywords or even new channels altogether) and tend to be more open to them. If you pre-investigate your options, it will allow you to be much quicker on the draw should you run into a situation where you actually have the need to implement them.
While this has a tendency to be overused and at times sits on the verge of becoming buzz-speak more than sound advice, but when you are trying to maximize your opportunity, it must be your mantra.
No matter how good you are at planning, no matter how many quant resources you used, and no matter how many fancy degrees you have on your wall, no one is able to exactly predict what will happen (if you could, you would be a zillionaire investor, not a search marketer).
So be prepared to fail. Be prepared to have your estimates be off from what really happens. Be prepared to try some things and not have them work out. And more than anything, be accepting of your failure. The quicker you fail and the quicker you accept your failure and move on, the more quickly you will be back on track.
Far too often, folks see something happen they didn’t expect, spend a week waiting to see if it happens again, then spend two weeks analyzing to see why it happened.
In that four week time frame, you could miss Black Friday, Cyber Monday, Green Monday and whatever other special day they invent this year. Don’t get me wrong, do your due diligence to figure out what happened, but also know failure happens – and failure is a good thing as long as you quickly react and truly evolve.
All that said, it is ok to fail only if you have the flexibility to adapt.
It always used to amaze me when we would go to clients and say we wanted to shift money from one channel to another, or from one week to another, and the client would respond with something along the lines of “You can’t do that – you have to spend it in week A on channel Z.”
While there should be some limitations to moving money around from week to week or from channel to channel, if you don’t build a marketing infrastructure that is flexible enough to quickly adapt to market demand, you will always end up chasing the market.
One way to avoid this is to try leaving a small portion of your budget unallocated – say 10% of your spend. Then, whenever you see a channel, keyword set, etc. that is growing faster than predicted, or a new opportunity pop up, push the extra budget in that direction.
In the end, the holiday season gives us all an opportunity for great growth and great success. If we make the most of this opportunity and allow our businesses to grow at the greatest rate possible, we should all be able to sit back in January and enjoy a celebratory glass of champagne.
But if we miss the mark and leave dollars on the table because we weren’t prepared, we might be stuck sharing a bottle of Boone’s Farm until the following October rolls around.