Christmas In August: Tips For Holiday Marketing

Tis the season already, so get moving

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Got your back-to-school marketing campaign all wrapped up? Good, now you can start on your Christmas campaign.

Yes, I said Christmas campaign. Yes, it is only August. Hey, you got time to lean, you got time to. . .preen your holiday season marketing plan.

Yeah, I know. Sometimes corny’s all I got. Bygones.

So, we know that shoppers start Christmas bargain hunting before they’ve even taken the Halloween ghosts off the front door. But if you wait until October to reach those early birds, it’s not just too late to reach them, but it maybe too late to reach online procrastinators and beat competitors, too.

In 2005, you needed an estimated four months to work your way up the search rankings. Since then, competition’s gotten fiercer and Google’s gotten tougher. But, Google has also gotten faster in terms of how long it takes to index and rank new content, and there are a lot more channels to exploit. So it’s not so much about how long it takes (but strategy always takes time), but also about how well you target customers and provide relevancy to their needs.

The rest of this article will be divided into two sections: New things to consider this year in advance of the holiday season when preparing your campaign; and things to remember every season.

The New School

Get a clue with Google Insights: Google recently announced the availability of Google Insights, which allows online marketers to access to some nice data. In addition to stats like search volume for keywords, and rising keyword popularity, Google’s new tool lets you analyze keyword trends for specific time periods and break them down by region—i.e., you can see popular variations of "Hanukkah candles" keyed from Alabama between October and December.

DoubleClick on content network enhancements: It’s hard not to be Google-centric when it comes to online marketing, but reality is reality. That said, last week’s rollout of advertiser-friendly enhancements to Google’s content network have generated some buzz, especially because of the availability of "frequency capping." Frequency capping allows advertisers to control the number of times a single user sees a particular ad. If it didn’t convert the first three times with somebody, then chances are it’s never going to. They’ve also added frequency reporting, which shows how many people saw an ad, and how many times they saw it, and view-through conversions, which shows how many people visited a site after seeing an ad. Try to book banner ads now so you can squeeze out late-comers.

Standard Holiday Prep

Get your landing pages ready. Remember to think like a searcher and be aware of where they might land after clicking a result or an ad. If they’re searching for a specific camera, it makes their life easier if, when they click, they actually land on a page featuring that camera. Nothing’s more annoying than having to search on a search engine and then search again on a website. Landing pages should be highly specific and should be easy to navigate to a sale. You can make these landing pages part of a microsite instead of making huge changes to your main site. Don’t forget to include discounts and coupons.

Link building, as always. There’s no surer way to gain relevancy in Google than to attain quality inbound links. Even better if you can start grabbing links anchored by specific keywords. A link anchored by "cool socks" in August, could be incredibly valuable by November. Maybe there’s an online store for "cool shoes" somewhere that wouldn’t mind swapping links, eh?

Content, content, content, forever. Content becomes especially important during the holiday shopping season. Not only will great content bolster your natural keywords, but it really helps customers make decisions and form trust. If we go back to the camera example, a good idea is to write up overviews of all the great new digital cameras coming to market, their stats, their user reviews, and don’t forget price. Make your camera page so that the customer never has to leave your site to get all the information they need, and once they have it they can just click the Buy button. Great content also earns those ever-important inbound links.

Shipping isn’t free, but it should look that way.
An offer of free shipping is the single element most likely to close a sale. Customers want it, and they expect it. They at least expect that, if you’re able to undercut everybody else’s price—especially the price at a local store—that the shipping cost doesn’t make it so the cheap price doesn’t matter anymore. Say you’re camera is $200, and that’s $25 cheaper than anybody else, but shipping and tax make it $230, you’re not going to stand out among merchants because the end result isn’t any different. If a person’s impatience and anxiety is stronger than their laziness, they’ll likely just run to the local shop instead of worrying about the camera actually making it to their doorstep in tact.

Make it easy to buy and make it easy to tell other people about the deal.
Nobody likes a complicated checkout. Keep the checkout process to a few steps. Interestingly, though, people tend to distrust checkouts that are too easy, because they fear a scam. Just think about what makes you most comfortable when buying online and replicate that experience. Also, harness the power of viral marketing by giving customers the opportunity to tell people they know about the great deal they got. Why not, on the product page and during the checkout stage, add a button that says something like "Tell a friend about this great deal," and provide a way for them to spread the word. Again, nothing complicated or spammy. If you provide the subject line or text "check it out" or something similarly vague and ingenuous, it is likely to be ignored. Keep it simple, straightforward, and personable, something like "Yoursite.com has a good deal on cameras."   

Location, location, location. If you have a physical presence, take advantage of online mapping and other local services. It may be hard to stand out in that big sea of online commerce, but it’s easy to stand out in your hometown. Make sure you target location-specific angles to help people just around the corner find you.

Christmas In August: Tips For Holiday Marketing
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  • R. Hiebert

    Summer time vacations have taken us to tourist traps where inevitably one finds or, more accurately, stubles across a store  with "Chistmas In July" products and themes. I was hoping, and gratefully discovered this article would not be like that.

    If I could be so bold and make a segway to some experiences I’ve had  related to  how  marketing happens far earlier  of late.  There are legitimate reasons for that.  Market share is getting a real big issue and the big stores know that.  In today’s new, I heard the next two hundred days will see a down-turn on consumer spending, which has already started, and that includes Christmas.

    I’m amazed to get phone calls from people who want their Amsoil products yesterday, ie.  special  niche synthetics that take planning to order and ship (www.lubedealer.com/hiebert). In one case the vehicle was on the hoist and the customer realized what he needed; not smart. Suddenly somone’s lack of forthought becomes my emergency. Is it possible that my marketing strategy is so effective that a prospective customer assumes he can get product at the snap of a finger. I realize such a person would not be emaiing me as he’s looking under his F-350 dully.  His big  hands and thick fingers wouldn’t fit on the key board.

    Last thought, if one thinks ahead in August about Christmas, much of one’s life could be easier, that goes for your car as well as marketing.


  • http://www.jonathanboettcher.com Jonathan Boettcher

    Great article – the one point I hope isn’t absolutely true is where you talk about price. I realize there are always the price-conscious shoppers out there, however I think our job as online merchants is to find a way to provide additional value so that our customers actually WANT to buy from US, as opposed to some shop down the road from them. Basically, we need to flip the tables on the local merchants (sorry guys) by providing more value.

    That isn’t always easy, but there are always ways to do it if you’re determined. I recently added a "Savvy Buyer’s Guide" to my site for free. I sell digital picture frames, which are pretty close to commodities, and are abundantly available at every WalMart and BestBuy in the country. However, by giving the consumer something that helps them along in the process, I’m hoping to build trust and confidence with them, so ultimately they buy from me instead of WalMart. My next project is to integrate video reviews, which will hopefully take me further along that road.

  • http://www.efabe.co.uk eFABE

    Dear Jason,

    As always another great article and I have already started to think about getting ready for those early bird Christmas shoppers.  I am going to give your free shipping suggestion a go and see what happens.


  • http://www.coverbonanza.com/h441/Home.html Shuyler

    Great post.  One thing I’ve always wondered about is how much offering free shipping on some products negatively affects sales of items without free shipping.  While I have been consistent with categories, offering free shipping on all similar items, I have categories with price points where it is difficult to justify giving away shipping revenue.  I wonder about the psychological effect of seeing items on the site with free shipping, even if they are not what you are after, and that this must make people think somewhat negatively about the items they are after, that don’t have free shipping.  It’s like the coupon code conundrum, where if you have a coupon code field, then anyone who doesn’t have one is going to know they’re not getting the best deal possible and resent it.  Is free shipping all or nothing then?

    • Jason Lee Miller

      there have been lots of reports about how free shipping is a huge incentive among buyers when choosing a vendor.

      but I think consumers are probably sensible enough to know if free shipping is silly expectation. If one is trying to order a large TV for example, they know it’s going to be expensive to ship because of the weight, and probably don’t expect it to be free.

      There are likely ways to get around the problem in general. You have to have a profit margin or there’s no use in selling, but you also have to be competitive. The “take a loss” strategy works for the big boys on Black Friday b/c they know if they get customers into the store for the great sale items, they’ll likely buy other things not so discounted and make up the difference.

      An online shopping experience is different, and my guess is that there are lots of one-timers and only-the-sale-price thing buyers, so I’m not sure how effective offering free shipping on specific products would be, but it may be worth a shot…Say if they’re going to buy this one thing, you could offer free shipping on this other thing or if they buy two, they get free shipping…be creative

      The price point thing, which someone brought up below as not being so important, I agree and disagree with. Yes, a relationship is hugely important and your strategy is your strategy–targeting a few with money or a bunch who don’t have much. In real life, for me, there are certain stores I stay away exatly because of price. Sometimes it’s because they’re exclusive stores and they are priced that way to keep riffraff like me out; sometimes they’re just ridiculously priced in general and I wouldn’t care how much I liked the store, I wouldn’t buy something there at ridiculous markups. Blame my mother for training me how to get the best deal on anything.

      So, to further that point, say for example there are two online stores selling prints of a painting I like. Store A has it for $200 and shipping is $50, and Store B has it for $250 with free shipping. What’s the difference? Not much. I would notice something like that and flip a coin. Another consumer might bite on the free shipping, or bite on the $50 discount. I think this is where one of these stores would need to carefully consider their profit margin and see if they can adjust it AND AT THE SAME TIE see if they can make better shipping arrangements AND AT THE SAME TIME negotiate better terms from the manufacturer/middleman. If Store B could continue to offer “free shipping” that used to cost $50 but now costs $40, and was able to trim off $10 from the profit margin/cost of the product, that’s $20 off the product. They’ve undercut the competition by that much, and can now offer the print at $230 with free shipping or $180 and $50 shipping –whatever pricing scheme looks best to you ($200 and $30?) and perhaps maximize on all scenarios…this isn’t always possible, so not a cure all, please consider your own business model and limitations.

    • http://www.getelastic.com Linda Bustos

      You could think of it as items on sale *might* negatively affect the attractiveness of items not on sale.

      It’s true that free shipping is the customer favorite, and if you’re competing against retailers like Amazon that can offer free shipping on $25+ orders it can be tough – as comparison engines make it all the easier for customers to shop around.

      Creative ways to compete would be to launch your own loyalty program like Amazon Prime – a $XX membership fee per year gets the customer free shipping on everything. Yes, this can get expensive – but think of it as a powerful marketing campaign – you save money on new customer acquisition and your retention and repeat purchases will go way up.

      You could also offer e-gift certificates in lieu of free shipping on the items that don’t have enough margin, so the next purchase has $X off.  The customer gets something back, and you get a repeat sale – if the customer uses the certificate.

      You can also approach your suppliers if you do drop-shipping and see if they will ship direct to the customer for free in exchange for more prominent promotion on your site. 


  • http://www.lightingsupply.com/fluorescent_bulbs/straight_tubes/t12_1-12_diameter/t12_bipin/48_length_t12_bipin.aspx 48 inch t12

    Being early is key!!

  • http://www.romanceexpressions.com Jay

    Everybody is getting ready for Christmas with planning, pre-sales and everything in between.  But, nobody have said what they think will be the hottest items for this year!!!

  • http://www.shirosheadthelegend.com Kel Muna

    But don’t forget to consider the different regional markets in terms of holiday vacations, tourism and the last minute shoppers.

  • http://www.swankigifts.com/article/exercise exercise facts and information

    Very helpful, as now is the time you need to be ramping up your holiday marketing efforts.

  • http://www.homeremedyhaven.com Home Remedies

    This year businesses will need to refocus on their USP even more with the slumping economy. They will need to ive the public that much more reason to purchase their product over a competitor.

    I believe that partnerships and cross selling will take the cake in terms of holiday marketing this Christmas.

  • http://www.hypemuscle.com canada bodybuilding

    I agree completely.

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