Build a Preference Platform With Your Customers

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.

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!

A Turnaround Idea for Slow 4Q Sales

Only about 30 days or so are left in the holiday season for 2013. Black Friday and Cyber Monday are around the corner. And if you’re looking at your early Fourth Quarter results and can see you need a jolt of energy to turn things around, keep reading. Today we reflect on a shopping trend that began a year ago, and we you offer an idea you can implement

Only about 30 days or so are left in the holiday season for 2013. Black Friday and Cyber Monday are around the corner. And if you’re looking at your early Fourth Quarter results and can see you need a jolt of energy to turn things around, keep reading. Today we reflect on a shopping trend that began a year ago and we you offer an idea you can implement yet this season.

A year ago, early online holiday shopping broke sales records. While forecasts for this year appear to show modest overall growth over last year, there will be winners—most likely online direct marketers ready for the growing number of consumers who purchase via mobile devices. Even if you didn’t plan for mobile marketing, it’s not too late to move into action to help your organization take its place in the winner’s column.

The migration of online shopping will most likely continue its shift from desktops to mobile. Last year it was the Apple iPad making headlines. Consumers used iPads by a factor of nine-to-one over any other mobile device, doubling the year before. With Apple’s 52 percent market share, their users accounted for 88 percent of online shopping traffic, according to IBM’s Digital Analytics Benchmark Report.

Of course, that was then, and this is now. Recent data tells us 170 million iPads have been sold. A substantial number of people have them, and use them.

As direct marketers, you have an opportunity to take advantage of the sheer number of iPads, and the trend toward using it for shopping, by optimizing your website for mobile applications (if you haven’t done that, make it a 2014 priority). In addition, when you use tools that work well on iPads and hold your prospective customer to the screen longer, your odds for success improve.

One of tool that works great on iPads, and has proven to lift sales, is online video.

Consider these stats:

  • Video is a driver of consumer confidence. Consumers are willing to watch videos 60 percent of the time they are found, and 52 percent of consumers report that they are less likely to return a product after viewing a video (Website Magazine).
  • 52 percent of consumers say that watching product videos makes them more confident in their online purchase decisions. When a video is information-intensive, 66 percent of consumers will watch the video two or more times. (Internet Retailer).
  • Shoppers who viewed video on product pages were 144 percent more likely to add to cart than other shoppers (Internet Retailer).
  • Shoppers who viewed video were 174 percent more likely to purchase than viewers who did not (Retail Touchpoints).
  • Looking for higher email click-through rates? Link to a video. About half of marketers who use video in email campaigns see increased clickthrough rates, time spent reading the email, and more sharing and forwarding. (eMarketer).

So what do you do today to test online video in the remaining days of this shopping season?

  1. Conduct a competitive analysis of what your competition is doing with online video. Look at competitor websites for video, search on YouTube and social media. Check the length, and examine their format.
  2. If you don’t have a video, record one (or more)! If you don’t have expertise inside your organization, there are multitudes of creative resources that can help you out. The fact is, an inexpensive camera, and someone with editing skills, can create a video for you in no time. While a bootstrap approach may not be ideal long-term, it’s a place to start.
  3. Load the video on YouTube (10 ways to optimize for search here and 12 overlooked ways to help your video rank higher here). Place it on your website or a landing page.
  4. Send an email to your customer list to promote it. Use the word “video” in your subject line—testing shows your open rate will increase. Since we’re talking mobile here, make sure your HTML emails are using responsive design. If they aren’t, readability on smartphones is challenging, so readership and clickthrough rates go down. Most email portals—e.g., ConstantContact, iContact, Mailchimp, and others—offer responsive design email templates.
  5. Include a link to your video on social media. After about 24 hours, check your social media metrics and you should see a spike in engagement with your followers.
  6. Mail a postcard. You have time. Make it graphically obvious on the postcard you have an important video (story/product demonstration/testimonial) and direct your customers to your landing page. Use an oversized “Play” symbol on a thumbnail that you create of your video. Use a QR code or a PURL to more closely track response.
  7. After bringing prospects to your landing page, you’ve got them started at the top of your sales funnel. Now it’s time for marketing automation software to takeover (more about this topic in a future blog) and convert the lead to a customer before the books close for 2013.

If you haven’t tried video, especially when it’s proven that customers love mobile devices like iPads, now is your time. It’s proven that consumers watch videos, confidence is lifted, and they’re more likely to add a product to a cart and purchase after watching a video. Now is the time to test your organization’s ability to be an agile direct marketer.

7 Shopping Experience Tips to Make Holiday 2013 Your Best Ever

The holiday season is known as the time that makes or breaks companies dependent on seasonal sales. Competition is fierce. Already short attention spans are overstimulated with marketing messages, family demands and increased workloads. Breaking through the chaos requires more than super discounts and great copy. People expect a great shopping experience

The holiday season is known as the time that makes or breaks companies dependent on seasonal sales. Competition is fierce. Already short attention spans are overstimulated with marketing messages, family demands and increased workloads. Breaking through the chaos requires more than super discounts and great copy. People expect a great shopping experience.

Companies that want to win the holiday challenge start early, plan well and focus on the customer. They invest their resources in understanding what their customers want so they can deliver. Surprisingly, price is not the top priority when people choose brand loyalty. They care more about the experience than the discount.

This is really good news for companies that don’t have the negotiating power of big box stores. Instead of creating promotions that destroy profits, they can invest in programs that improve the shopping experience. There is one caveat: If your company has been participating in the “how low can we go” marketing strategy, you will have to retrain your customers. Once people have been trained to expect deep discounts, marketing that doesn’t include them won’t be as effective.

Marketing for the holiday season needs to start now to optimize your return. Connections have to be established between your company and the people who will buy your products or services. If you already have good customer relations, focus on making them better. If your relationships need improving, focus on fixing them. The things you do today make selling easier tomorrow. To get started:

  1. Think lifetime value when creating the shopping experience. Most marketing plans focus on sales for specific campaigns instead of looking at the long term value of loyal customers. This can create an environment where hit-and-run customers generate revenue while reducing profitability. By the time the problem is recognized, it may be too late to save the company.
  2. Walk in your customers’ shoes to find the pain points. The easier and more enjoyable you make the shopping experience, the less people care about the price. Test every marketing channel to see how easy it is to understand and navigate the buying process. When you have finished, watch someone who doesn’t normally shop your business test it. Fix everything that needs it.
  3. Integrate channels for efficiency and effectiveness. Consistent messaging and the ability to cross channels with ease provide quality branding and keep people engaged. Find ways to make the channels work together where they leverage strengths in one to offset weaknesses in others.
  4. Optimize communication to insure exposure and accessibility. Email deliverability, copy effectiveness, website usability and social media engagement can be optimized to maximize the return. Paying attention to the details makes the difference between a good communication and a great one.
  5. Educate visitors on products and processes. People that understand the products your company offers and how to use them tend to buy more. Create content that teaches the best ways to use products and services. Your prospects will convert and customers will keep coming back.
  6. Simplify Everything. Making the buying decision and purchasing process simple endears people to your company. Life is complicated. Shopping with your company shouldn’t be.
  7. Target to provide the right offer at the right time. Part of the simplification process is making it easy for people to buy what they need with minimal effort. Targeting people with the right message based on their behavior improves the shopping experience.

The Direct Marketing, iPad and Video Holiday Shopping Link

Consumers are shopping this holiday season with their iPads more than those with Android devices. And now, online video is being credited with closing more sales and getting higher conversions from mobile shoppers. Today we link the reasons why consumers are choosing to shop on iPads, how video influences consumer behavior, and reasons why direct marketers

Consumers are shopping this holiday season with their iPads more than those with Android tablets. And now, online video is being credited with closing more sales and getting higher conversions from mobile shoppers. Today we link the reasons why consumers are choosing to shop on iPads, how video influences consumer behavior, and reasons why direct marketers need to hop on this bandwagon now.

So why do we think consumers are using iPads over Android tablets?

First, not all mobile is created visually equal and with the same ease of use. And second, not all media are created equal. We explain why in today’s video.

Next, we recommend three action items you can take now:

  1. Conduct a competitive analysis of what your competition is doing with online video. If they’re already there, it’s costing you business.
  2. You have an opportunity to be your category leader by repositioning your marketing strategy to include online video. (We also share with you the increase in email open rates you can get by putting the word “video” in your subject line).
  3. A/B test your current approach, or control, with video. Even better: test video formats, length, offers, and call-to-actions.

These are all best-practice approaches that will take your direct marketing and online video marketing initiatives, to a new, higher level, especially on iPads and other mobile devices. And if you think it’s too late to do something this season, challenge yourself and your team to think again. Create a simple video. You don’t need much time to produce it. Then test it next week, with an email alert to your customers, so you can read the results and be ready for 2013. And please comment below with your experience this season with online video.

(If the video isn’t just above this line, click here to view it.)

Getting Your Email Heard Above the Roar of the Holiday Crowd

Getting your message heard above the roar of the holiday crowd requires a different approach. Instead of being the loudest voice, you have to be the voice your customers and prospects want to hear. This requires a marketing shift from one-off deals to providing the service that people want when they need it. The better the relationship between company and customers, the easier it is to connect with them in crowded channels.

The noise in the marketplace is almost deafening under normal conditions. It reaches a high point during the holiday season. Every marketing channel is filled with offers and one-off stunts designed to capture people’s attention, if only for a nanosecond. Frenetic cries from marketers desperate to generate revenue overwhelm the senses of the customers and prospects they seek to engage. Enjoyable shopping experiences become a crazy event that people dread.

Good marketing messages get lost in the attempt to outshout the competition. The constant barrage of screaming marketers becomes white noise to recipients. They become adept at filtering out the extraneous information to only hear the messages they need. This ability is similar to athletes who hear their coaches over thousands of fans.

Getting your message heard above the roar of the holiday crowd requires a different approach. Instead of being the loudest voice, you have to be the voice your customers and prospects want to hear. This requires a marketing shift from one-off deals to providing the service that people want when they need it. The better the relationship between company and customers, the easier it is to connect with them in crowded channels. If your past marketing strategy included provided highly targeted messages your customers are already tuned into your messages. If not, here are a few things you can do now to be heard above the crowd:

  • Make everything as easy as possible. When it comes to making people happy, easy trumps exceptional. This is especially true during the holiday season when time is limited. Create emails that include everything needed to make a buying decision and minimize the number of click from the email link to check out.
  • Be available. Sometimes people have questions that are not addressed in the email, catalog or online. Put your telephone number on every piece of marketing materials, in every email and on every web page. It will increase your sales without significantly increasing your calls. If you offer click to chat service, include a link to it in your emails.
  • Preselect items to simplify the shopping process. Buying patterns change during holiday season because people shift from shopping for self to shopping for others. Review historical data for seasonal purchases and make appropriate recommendations for similar products or services.
  • Offer reassurance. The best delivery and return policies cannot influence purchase decisions if people don’t know about them. Provide specific “order by to receive in time” dates during the shopping process. Send transactional emails that include expected delivery dates and shipping confirmation numbers with a link to the carrier. If there are any issues with the order, notify the buyer immediately.
  • Follow up on abandoned carts. Life gets a little crazy during the holidays. It’s normal to see a bump in abandoned carts since people are ordering more and trying to be secretive about it. Browsers get closed quickly when others walk into the room. Double check your online and email reminders to make sure that they are working. If you don’t have a reminder process in place, add one.
  • Show appreciation. After enough time has passed for the order to be delivered, send an email to verify receipt, thank the customer for the order, and offer assistance if needed. Doing this distinguishes you from the competition, encourages feedback and improves trust. Be sure to use a valid reply address. Test using an individual’s email address versus a generic corporate one. People tend to respond to other people better.
  • Prepare for next year. Create and implement a strategy that is designed to keep people engaged and listening for your voice. The more they are tuned in to your marketing messages the less they will hear the competition.

Gearing Up for the Holidays: Make Your Email Marketing Deliver Long Tail Results

Black Friday and Cyber Monday are just around the corner. Planning for your email campaign should have started weeks ago. If not, this is the time to jump in and get ready. This holiday season is positioned to be extremely competitive. The election advertising bombarding people today will be replaced with promotions trying to squeeze every dollar out of a tough economy. The holiday season provides two opportunities for enterprising marketers.

Black Friday and Cyber Monday are just around the corner. Planning for your email campaign should have started weeks ago. If not, this is the time to jump in and get ready. This holiday season is positioned to be extremely competitive. The election advertising bombarding people today will be replaced with promotions trying to squeeze every dollar out of a tough economy.

The holiday season provides two opportunities for enterprising marketers. The first, and most obvious, is the opportunity to increase sales. Bargain hunters everywhere will be snatching up the best deals across all channels. The company with the lowest prices will win their attention—and possibly their business—until a lower price appears at the next store. This opportunity works best for companies with killer price negotiators and heavy volume.

Creating and solidifying relationships between customer and company is the second opportunity. Connections can begin with deep discounts but there has to be a strategy in place to move customers from discount shoppers to loyal buyers. The process starts with understanding how people become loyal to your company. What path do they follow from first purchase to long time customers?

The answer to that question is most likely, “it depends,” because the path is dependent on the customer type and what motivated the first purchase. Discount promotions attract bargain hunters, hit and run shoppers, and active customers. Bargain hunters tend to watch for discounts before buying again while hit and run shoppers buy once and disappear. Active customers stay around during the off-sale season and build lifetime value. Only a small percentage of customers acquired during high promotion periods will become active customers without intervention.

Email is an excellent tool for converting bargain hunters and hit-and-run shoppers into active customers. It is inexpensive and effective when used to strategically move people into the buying cycle. Here are some tips to get you started:

  • Review newly acquired customer data from the last three to five holiday seasons to identify bargain hunters, hit-and-run shoppers, and active customers. Bargain hunters rarely buy full price items. Hit and run shoppers buy once or twice, usually within a thirty day period, and disappear. Active customers are the ones who predictably buy throughout the year.
  • Define the path from original source to last purchase. This is where you’ll start seeing some patterns. For example, hit-and-run shoppers typically originate as online shoppers that found your site using search engines or social networks. Identifying them early and adapting your strategy accordingly reduces the resources that will be invested in additional marketing unlikely to generate a return.
  • What paths do the active customers follow from first purchase to their current buying activity? How do they differ from the bargain hunters and hit and runners? Did the people who became active customers receive different marketing promotions? The answers to these questions will help design new campaigns to keep new customers coming back.
  • Create test campaigns that personalize the shopping experience. Holiday time is hectic for some, crazy for others. The easier you make it for your customers, the more likely they will return. Use transactional emails to keep people informed every step of the way. Instead of the perfunctory “your order number 123 shipped today and will arrive in 3-5 business days,” try using more friendly language. Your copywriters can make transactional emails informative, engaging, and entertaining.
  • Follow up after the sale. If the products or services aren’t used, there will never be a second order. Personalized emails that ask about the items and service are a rarity. They will stand out in a sea of incoming messages. In addition to establishing successful relationships, you’ll learn about problems that need resolution.

5 Ways to Leverage the Power of Social Communities This Holiday Season

Tough economic conditions have led to some pretty dramatic changes this holiday season, including earlier and more aggressive promotions, extended store hours, and more aggressive digital marketing efforts such as extended free shipping offers. How can brands leverage their social communities to best stand out from the crowd and drive success this holiday season and beyond? Here are five simple ways to leverage the power of your social community this holiday season:

Tough economic conditions have led to some pretty dramatic changes this holiday season, including earlier and more aggressive promotions, extended store hours, and more aggressive digital marketing efforts such as extended free shipping offers. How can brands leverage their social communities to best stand out from the crowd and drive success this holiday season and beyond? Here are five simple ways to leverage the power of your social community this holiday season:

1. Time and execution. Every marketer is working towards Shangri-la — i.e., the right offer to the right consumer in the right channel at the right time. One of the easiest tactics in this equation is to get the timing right. Take the time to analyze critical response patterns within each of your social communities, including what day and time of day your community members are more likely to engage with your social posts. Then schedule your holiday promotions accordingly to increase reach, response and conversion.

2. Integrate and coordinate. Support your holiday promotional efforts with coordinated social posts. Test the sequencing of these efforts and their impact on sales. Take it a step further by offering exclusives to community members and/or early or special access to sales events and specials. Finally, encourage sharing and consider rewarding those that do with additional discounts and/or rewards. Remember to tag and track all social media efforts so you can measure the impact they have on overall sales. Also be mindful of the Federal Trade Commission’s guidelines governing social media endorsements.

3. Localize and alert. Leverage the power of social media to update communities about local events, extended hours, price changes and even restocking/delivery of popular out-of-stock items. Use geo-targeted posts on platforms like Facebook as well as location-based services like foursquare to help spread the word and optimize sales both online and in-store at the local level.

4. Thank and welcome. As the 2011 holiday season winds down, remember the importance of the post-holiday season as shoppers return unwanted items and look to use gift cards. Fine-tune post-holiday community efforts and communications by identifying new customers, dormant customers who came back, lapsed customers and brand advocates.

Invite those that aren’t already members of your social networks to be part of the community, thank existing customers for their patronage and recognize brand advocates for their support. Consider leveraging this intelligence to boost post-holiday sales pushes with viral programs starting the day after Christmas. By inviting new customers to join your social communities you’ll be building an even bigger foundation to market to throughout 2012.

5. Survey and build buzz. Use collaborative filtering and data to highlight popular products by category, region and customer segment. Solicit feedback and survey customers about their experience with your brand or products and encourage them to share that experience on your social communities and across the social web to build buzz.

It’s hard to believe the 2011 holiday season is upon us. However, with a little planning and coordination there’s still time to leverage the power of your social communities to build sales for 2011 and beyond.

Forecasting a Cheery 2010 Holiday Shopping Season for Paid Search Campaigns

With the holidays fast approaching, news and economic trends relevant to this year’s holiday shopping season have been mixed, though generally favorable. A recent study by ChannelAdvisor revealed that 81 percent of shoppers plan to spend the same or more on holiday gifts this year. The study also found that more of that shopping will be conducted online.

With the holidays fast approaching, news and economic trends relevant to this year’s holiday shopping season have been mixed, though generally favorable. A recent study by ChannelAdvisor revealed that 81 percent of shoppers plan to spend the same or more on holiday gifts this year. The study also found that more of that shopping will be conducted online.

From a performance perspective, actively managed holiday paid search campaigns delivered impressive results during the 2009 holiday shopping season in comparison to the rest of the year. In 2010, these campaigns have already achieved strong year-to-date (YTD) growth. This strong YTD growth will likely continue into the fourth quarter, and Performics predicts this will net out to 15 percent year-over-year (YOY) growth for actively managed holiday paid search campaigns. The results could be even stronger for search advertisers who are able to make Q4 outshine the rest of the year like they did in 2009.

Either way, all signs point to growth for these campaigns, and marketers should keep the following opportunities in mind:

Continued emphasis on value. Free shipping and discounts have become standard as retailers continue to vie for cost-conscious consumers. Average order value is down 9 percent YTD according to a Performics Holiday Retail Group report, and this trend will likely continue into Q4. Providing offers on upsell or cross-sell products can help boost order totals and offset free shipping and other discounts merchants offer.

Delayed shopping as savvy consumers research and wait for late sales. The first two weeks in December 2009 saw sales increase by 27 percent compared to 2008, while Black Friday sales decreased 17 percent YOY. Sales during the last week of free standard shipping prior to Christmas also increased significantly in 2009. However, numbers may shift this year if consumers feel more confident with compelling sales already underway. The recently released Compete Holiday Insights survey found that 50 percent of consumers have already started holiday shopping.

Shoppers are reaching for their phones. Nearly half of adult smartphone owners younger than 25 will use their smartphones to shop this holiday season, according to a new survey from the National Retail Federation and BIGresearch. An increasing share of overall clicks are coming from mobile — 6.7 percent in September, and projected to be greater than 10 percent within 12 months.

Improved efficiency of last-minute shopping. Consumer spending and cost per clicks dropped dramatically following the last week of free standard shipping prior to Christmas 2009. Active paid search advertisers can do more for less after Dec. 17.

Marketers looking to capitalize on these opportunities and improve holiday performance should consider the following recommendations:

  • follow best practices to actively manage campaigns and effectively respond to market forces;
  • offer aggressive promotions early to capture shoppers;
  • actively participate in the last week of free standard shipping prior to Christmas;
  • embrace mobile to ensure the channel’s increasing user base can find you when searching; and
  • continue active management of paid search beyond Dec. 17 to further boost efficiency.

By following shoppers’ changing behaviors this holiday season — and planning and executing campaigns accordingly — marketers can boost their odds of a jolly holiday.

Maximize Holiday Sales

As the holiday season kicks into high gear, brands are scrambling to maximize sales and results. The growing use of social media and smartphones adds enormous complexity, along with many opportunities for today’s digital marketing gurus. But fear not! With a little preparation and integration, double-digit sales increases are possible. Here’s how to get the most out of your Q4 digital efforts to drive sales and grow lifetime value for many years to come.

As the holiday season kicks into high gear, brands are scrambling to maximize sales and results. The growing use of social media and smartphones adds enormous complexity, along with many opportunities for today’s digital marketing gurus. But fear not! With a little preparation and integration, double-digit sales increases are possible. Here’s how to get the most out of your Q4 digital efforts to drive sales and grow lifetime value for many years to come.

Community tagging. Tag existing offline marketing efforts with Facebook/Twitter tags. Integrate “Like” opportunities at key touchpoints, such as your homepage and product pages. A recent study from Syncapse and Hotspex found the lifetime value of a Facebook fan is about $136 to top brands. Consider offering an incentive to encourage consumers to become a fan of your brand, such as making a donation to a cause/charity for each sign-up. And remember to stress the value of being a fan or follower. Adding a “Like” button or “Join the Community” call to action only makes return on investment sense if you have a strategy and communication framework established to engage the community once you’ve converted them.

Belly up to barcodes. It’s estimated as much as 70 percent of all purchase decisions are made at the point of sale (POS). Therefore, it’s critical to stand out on store shelves and to offer some extra value. How about integrating new 2-D barcodes, which enables consumers to use their smartphones to “Like” your brand or product at the POS? Also, pay close attention to mobile applications like Foursquare, which now boasts more than 4 million users. Mobile will increasingly become a critical channel to not only acquire new customers, but grow the community and drive sales via the serving of location-based offers.

Segment and socialize. Implement sharing capabilities on banner ads and email marketing efforts. For existing email efforts, segment your audience based on engagement and social profiles. By targeting best customers and testing various incentives, you can encourage your best customers to get actively involved in the promotion of your brand, thus extending your marketing efforts’ reach and effectiveness. Remember to not only identify who shared the information, but flag them as an influencer for future campaigns.

Email, social and loyalty. Lots has been written about the integration of email and social media. But the importance of coordinating efforts across channels cannot be underestimated. Coordinate socialized email deployments with Facebook and Twitter posts. Furthermore, for those of you with established loyalty programs and sites, don’t forget to sweeten the deal for loyalty members.

The old rule still applies: With proper pampering, your best customers will become your best advocates. Studies and data also show that they buy more products and purchase more often, so remember to treat them extra special. Integrate offers into loyalty websites and statements, and highlight additional benefits for your best customers.

Remarketing/targeting. If you’re a direct response marketer, you likely have access to lots of data. Start with the basics this holiday season by implementing a remarketing strategy for key efforts. With average open rates hovering around 20 percent, look closely at open/click activity and resend offers based on observed behaviors and actions. Consider sweetening offers when and where appropriate. Implementation of a remarketing strategy can lift overall conversion rates anywhere from 50 percent to 200 percent.

However, be careful not to annoy your customers. Be conscious of the law of diminishing returns. Also, look closely at website data and leverage cookie/pixel technologies to target users both onsite and offsite via ad networks with relevant, targeted offers based on their profiles and behaviors. Don’t forget to review your privacy policy, always be transparent and offer users the opportunity to opt out.

Search and destroy. Search remains an effective and efficient vehicle to drive desired behaviors as consumers are actively in the market for your products/services. But search remains underleveraged. Think carefully about corresponding landing pages, and look to integrate data-capture opportunities that offer relevant value to encourage subscriptions. Doing so will allow you to continue the conversation. Also, pump up your search marketing efforts by adding social links to paid search terms to increase visibility and “Likes” for your social efforts.

Earlier this month, the National Retail Federation forecasted holiday sales to increase 2.3 percent, slightly lower than the 10-year average of 2.5 percent. While this year’s estimate represents a significant improvement over last year, marketers must continue to look for operational and marketing efficiencies. That means working smarter, not harder. While paying close attention to supply chain management, inventory control and minimizing markdowns is a must, marketing must overdeliver as well. Marketers must learn to better leverage data, their best customers and emerging/efficient channels like mobile, social media and email to drive sales in today’s difficult market.

Good News: Online Sales Expected to Rise This Holiday Season

If you’re like me, you noticed that on Nov. 1, right after the bags of Halloween candy were pulled off the supermarket and drugstore shelves, the holiday items began to appear.

Folks, the holiday shopping — and selling — season has begun.

This year, there’s actually some good news leading into the holiday season. For starters, on Nov. 5, major retailers announced their best sales in months.

If you’re like me, you noticed that on Nov. 1, right after the bags of Halloween candy were pulled off the supermarket and drugstore shelves, the holiday items began to appear.

Folks, the holiday shopping — and selling — season has begun.

This year, there’s actually some good news leading into the holiday season. For starters, on Nov. 5, major retailers announced their best sales in months.

What’s more, U.S. online sales are expected to rise 8 percent this holiday season, according to a recent report from Forrester Research. Online retail sales in November and December are expected to reach $44.7 billion this year, up from $41.4 billion a year ago, according to the report, providing a bright spot to a retail industry that could still see total sales for the season fall.

So, how are online retailers planning to increase sales this year? Through social media and free shipping promotions, at least according to the results of Shop.org’s eHoliday study, conducted by BIGresearch.

Since many shoppers today use Facebook and Twitter regularly — and because these tools are more cost effective than traditional advertising — 47.1 percent of online retailers surveyed for the study are increasing their use of social media this holiday season.

More than half of the online retailer respondents have updated their Facebook pages (60.3 percent) and Twitter pages (58.7 percent) this year, while two-thirds (65.6 percent) have added or enhanced blogs and RSS feeds. 



As for the multitude of free shipping offers expected during this holiday season, 79.4 percent of those retailers surveyed said they will offer free shipping with conditions at some point during the holiday season. More than half (57.4 percent) also plan to offer free shipping without conditions. More than one-third (35.7 percent) said their budgets for free shipping are higher than last year, and nearly as many (30 percent) said free shipping offers will start earlier than a year ago.

Many online retailers have also revamped their websites this holiday season to make it easier for people to shop. Many, for example, have added or revamped their sites’ shopping carts (45.2 percent), search capabilities (44.3 percent), suggested items (42.9 percent), customer ratings and reviews (40.6 percent), and featured sale pages (37.1 percent), according to the study.

So, are you ramping up your use of social media or free shipping promotions this year? Doing anything else you’d like to tell us about? Leave a comment here.