Your retail holiday strategy is well underway by now (or should be) but it’s never too late to fine tune your approach for today’s sales while building towards a stronger position for future sales. Syncing with your customers’ buying rhythms is one way to maximize your marketing dollars and year end results.
Relentless advertising messages bombarding consumers across new and old channels, expanded competitive sets, and promotional periods like Black Friday and Cyber Monday have altered consumer buying patterns and, subsequently, marketing plans over the last couple of decades making customer preference a critical but elusive goal. Consumers now explore, search, compare, price and buy with relative predictability that can be charted in your own data as well as external data.
Using the available info to surf and stoke the appropriate waves of consumer activity will help your marketing work harder and better as you get in sync with your consumers’ rhythms and create the framework that favors your selection over competitors.
Early Days = Exploration
The customers’ buying rhythm starts with an exploration phase that begins earlier and earlier in the calendar year. This year, as in recent years, holiday offerings appeared before Halloween candy was even off the shelf as retailers jockeyed to create and exploit demand. This is an ideal time to stir interest, create awareness and drive users to conversion focused landing pages. Even if consumers are not yet ready to buy, that consumer traffic can be used to retarget interested buyers later in the season or to build productive audience models. Keyword driven campaigns in search and social should be broader here as consumers have not yet narrowed their search. Watch the impression levels of certain keyword ad types for clues when consumer switch from “What will I buy?” to “Where can I get the best deal/pricing?”
Even during exploration phases much of the early marketing focus is conversion oriented, but marketers do this knowing that they can execute marketing messaging outside of the prime buying season. The goal in these early days is often to simultaneously use the same vehicles and channels with different messaging stratagems to both create a path to purchase and to close on the sale. That can be tricky to execute but is a low-cost strategy in a cost per click environment and may garner some early sales to justify the cost.
Even more important, this is the perfect time to touch base with your loyal customers and remind them of your relationship, emphasizing the point with great content, personalized recommendations and fantastic promos to further shore up their established preference. Be as generous as possible and give them an easy mechanism to share. Those early sales have the added benefit of providing fuel for product reviews and links that can help later sales. Many retailers simply get into sell, sell, sell mode early in the season and hit the same note all the way through the season. Long retail experience tells me that you need to build to the crescendo to get the maximum impact.
Later Days = Best Buying Options
If you are a retailer, your best selling approach later in the season depends on your preparation the last few months, the strength of your brand, and the uniqueness of your offerings. Consumers have myriad buying options and have been conditioned to look for and wait for deals. With free or low cost fast shipping options, they have the ability to wait for the ideal offer, promotion or sale and have no incentive to settle for a suboptimal deal unless you have created a strong platform for preference.
Amazon, of course, is the master of the preference platform built on great experiences, convenience, free shipping and breadth of product. Because consumers have so many options it may be difficult to create the urgency which is a hallmark of later sales messaging as shipping days dwindle. Of course, that does not hold true if you have a truly unique or unusual offering or if you have invested in the customer relationship that creates a preference platform. Email is a strong tactical advantage to current customers or interested consumers and should play a role in both early and later phases of the holiday.
Creating consumer preference should be a year-round goal encompassing prospect nurturing, customer retention communications and activities, loyalty programs, flawless execution, special offers or services and other tactics to bind customers, create positive associations and build trust. That warm and fuzzy feeling is more than nice; it translates into referrals and reviews and sharing and eventually translates into sales. Happy Holidays!