Growing up, the holiday season always started early in our house. It started in April to be exact. No, we didn’t put up the tree or start decorating the house (did we even take the lights down from last year?), but my mom would always start asking that question: what do you want for Christmas?
As a kid, it was just mean. How could mom tease us with the idea of Christmas when it was still so far away?
I am still convinced part of it was her version of payback for everything we put her through as kids (we later learned it was so she could start figuring out how big her “stash” needed to be – the secret pot of money she was hiding from my dad so she could buy us the presents we wanted).
Although my mom’s name and the words “online marketing” have never been mentioned in the same sentence, and while April might be a little early to start thinking holiday, there is a lot retailers can learn from my mom.
By properly planning for each month of the holiday season, you can make your marketing spend last longer and be more efficient than last year.
September Search Testing
April is probably a little too early to start planning for holiday shopping season, but September is not. While most marketers begin their holiday campaigns in October, September often closer resembles a holiday month than October.
Where October tends to see a spike in interest from consumers (research and clicks tend to outpace purchases), September is filled with the tail end of Back to School, Fashion Week, roll-out of Fall lines, and the arrival of cooler temperatures – all of which lead to consumers actually spending money. This makes September the perfect month to test new holiday strategies.
Whether you are looking at basic tests like adding sitelinks or testing new areas of non-brand keywords, or you are looking at more complicated tests like the influence display has on your search programs, testing in September will give you a more apples-to-apples comparison to holiday consumer behaviors than testing in October.
September won’t be perfect for every test (e.g. running a free shipping test might yield different results in September than in December due to few competitors running comparable offers) but for many tests, September will give you results that allow you to properly forecast the impact new tactics will have during the traditional holiday season.
October Search Spend Budgeting
If September is focused on testing, October has to be focused on budgets. Far too often, online retailers plan their search spend based on calendar months rather than on consumer behavior.
Beginning in October, as we inch closer to the holiday season, consumers begin their Holiday research and slowly, day by day, the numbers grow. Retailers should plan their budgets the same way, slightly increasing their search spends daily.
For example, if your October budget is $31, simply spending $1 per day will lead to missed opportunity. Instead, use search data to determine the rate at which customer research is increasing and align your budgets accordingly.
A basic way to determine the growth rate is to take a term you have fully funded (meaning, you believe you are always in the top position or two and you are never offline – often your trademark term) and look at both impressions and clicks from last holiday season. If you chart both of these by day, you will begin to see the rate at which consumer demand is naturally growing for your business.
Supplement this data with data from Google Trends or Hitwise and adjust the numbers to reflect outside influences like economic conditions, growth of your overall brand, etc., and you will have a relatively clear illustration for the rate at which you should adjust your daily campaign budget.
November Campaign Launch
November is for implementing. At this point, you should know the tests you want to run and you should know the amount it is going to cost you, so getting everything live as early in the month as possible is your goal.
So many retailers focus so heavily on Black Friday and the subsequent days, they completely miss out on early November – a time when consumers are beginning to buy but competition for marketers is still relatively low. This gives the early implementers a leg up on the competition.
For example, if there is a subset of keywords that are too expensive for you to bid on during the holiday season, try bid-boosting early in the holiday season.
Hyper-competitive words are typically cheaper earlier in November than later in the month, by bidding more aggressively on these terms earlier in the month you can often build your Quality Score at a cheaper rate – which will give you an advantage over retailers trying to get in the market late in the month.
December Last Minute Suprises
Hopefully, by December your campaigns are firing on all cylinders. But December is also the month where having a stash like mom did will come in most handy. No matter how much you plan, forecast, predict, etc., there are always surprises.
By building flexibility into your campaigns and by having a “stash” to fund things that are overperforming, you can ensure you don’t leave money on the table. Without flexibility and a stash, sure you can have a great holiday season, but who would say “no” to having a holiday season that is 10% better?
True, my mom might not know what Quality Score is or might not know how margin varies by product, and true, there might have been just a little bit of teasing involved in her asking about Christmas in April, but I can say there wasn’t a single Christmas where my brother, sister and I woke up, ran downstairs to the tree and didn’t end up happier than we ever could have imagined.
Maybe if more retailers learned from my mom, when January rolls around and they look back on their campaign performance, they too will be happier than they ever could have imagined.
Image from Shutterstock, used under license.