My Inbox Knows the Season Better Than the Weather

The famous poet Percy Shelley once wrote, “O wind, if winter comes, can spring and a million emails using flower puns and references to April showers be far behind?”  I’m pretty sure that was the quote anyway. Or it should have been

The famous poet Percy Shelley once wrote, “O wind, if winter comes, can spring and a million emails using flower puns and references to April showers be far behind?” I’m pretty sure that was the quote anyway. Or it should have been.

Ladies and gents, break out your Vivaldi, Spring is officially here! Though the weather here in Philly hasn’t quite gotten the memo, my inbox makes it unmistakably clear. As is the case for any distinct time of year or holiday season, marketers love to use springtime as inspiration for subject lines and creative. Some of them we’ve all seen and used before, but some are as colorful and refreshing as the season itself.

I took a quick peek through my own inbox as well as the trusty Who’s Mailing What! database to find a few stand-out spring-themed promotions. Check out my bouquet of fresh spring pickings, in no particular order. (You can see images of the emails themselves in the media player at right.)

From: Brighton Collectables
Subj.: Adorable Spring Charms
Why I like it: The subject’s straight-forward enough, we get exactly what it says on the tin. Once I opened, it’s the cutesy rhyme and clean but eye-catching pastel “Easter egg” design that had me chirping. In the original email, the egg basket charm actually opened and closed as well.

From: ZOYA
Subj.: Fill Your Easter Basket With ZOYA
Why I like it: Another spin on the “fill your Easter basket” idea, this is another email I just really like the look of. This is definitely my kind of Easter basket, and just looking at the colorful display would tempt any polish fan to stock up on spring shades. And of course, a good coupon code is always hard to resist.

From: FeelGoodStore.Com
Subj.: Never fear a puddle again
Why I like it: This one’s approach to the spring theme is a little more subtle (much like the approach of spring itself if you live in the northeast. Ha.) The creative is simple and nice enough, but it’s the subject line that really made the grade. In the half a second it takes to skim over a subject line, I was certainly intrigued enough to open, wondering why puddles no longer pose any threat to me.

From: IKEA
Subj.: We’ve got #SPRINGFEVER for smart style!
Why I like it: Always love a good hashtag in a subject line, first of all. Second, IKEA knows we have spring cleaning on the mind and they’re taking full advantage. An email like this one, including links to ideas and tips for affordable springtime organization and rejuvenation, could easily spur a reader into action.

From: DogVacay
Subj.: Going on Spring Break? Get $10 Off Pet Sitting.
Why I like it: Here’s another subject line that I think works because it serves as a reminder and an action item—Oh, I did forget to make arrangements for Fluffy next week, good thing I’ve got this link and discount offer right here! The playful, sunny imagery and large, bright CTA button tie it all up with a bowwow.

Honorable Mentions

From: Rejuvenation Lighting & House Parts
Subj.: SAVE 20% ON WINDOWS AND WALLS + 6 ways to spring for green
This email followed up its 20% offer with six green product suggestions such as a green lamp, throw pillow, and tumbler to help get you in the spirit of spring and get you using the offer code. While something of an afterthought in a long subject line, it was an effective way to let the reader “window shop” before diving in.

From: OnlineShoes
Subj.: We can see spring, and it looks amazing
The email itself is a fairly basic design, a pair of sandals and a simple call to action. I’m a fan of this subject line though—catchy, conversational, and got me curious enough to want to take a look at the “sights of spring” inside.

From: Appleseed’s
Subj.: We’re Bringing Spring – Shop Top Styles!
Two rhymes for the price of one! It might be a little bit of a tongue twister, but it’s also short, punchy, and every bit as cheerful and perky as the season. An effective attention-grabber.

Here’s hoping you found a few blossoms of inspiration in some of these, and also that spring is springing a little more dutifully for you than it is for me. Feel free to let me know in the comments if you have any good examples to share! And I promise not to desecrate any more classic British poetry in my next entry.

Is It Time for a True Goodbye?

As I reflected on a client interaction I had this week, I thought about how helpful it is for organizations to learn from the past and then also to let go. I had facilitated a meeting where we tried to embrace failure not as life-over, but simply as feedback—to have a more positive outlook on the unplanned learning lessons that failure brings a brand. It was a tough sell. These young, smart, good-hearted brand builders were perfectionists. They only ever saw A+ on their report cards. Red Fs would have been scarring.

This morning we woke up to our first snow in the foothills of the Rockies. Even though it was only a light sprinkling—like powdered sugar on our lawn—it seemed entirely way too soon. We were not ready to say a goodbye to summer. We assumed we had a couple more weeks to enjoy patio dinners, the window boxes in full bloom and the hummingbirds on the feeders. We had to readjust.

Later in the day, I read this from Jeffrey McDaniel: “I realize there’s something incredibly honest about trees in winter, how they’re experts at letting things go.” I appreciated this advance lesson about winter … it helped me set my favorite season aside and anticipate the cozy fires in the woodstove, cross-country skiing and holiday family gatherings.

Many of my clients are multichannel retailers who introduce hundreds of new products in a season. Very few of these new rollouts become brand rockstars (as I call their bestsellers); many more end up in the middle of the performance pack and the rest trickle towards the bottom. This is a repeat pattern. I believe there is as much value in the bottom learnings as there are in the top-of-chart learnings. The conversations about the bestsellers are just more fun.

As I reflected on a client interaction I had this week, I thought about how helpful it is for organizations to learn from the past and then also to let go. I had facilitated a meeting where we tried to embrace failure not as life-over, but simply as feedback—to have a more positive outlook on the unplanned learning lessons that failure brings a brand. It was a tough sell. These young, smart, good-hearted brand builders were perfectionists. They only ever saw A+ on their report cards. Red Fs would have been scarring.

But, here’s the thing: Unplanned lessons are the exact opposite of lesson plans … those neat and tidy curriculum plans teachers try to follow until the students show up and things go awry. We often learn more from things that don’t quite go the way we hoped than things that do. If we dare to review our actions.

In a BusinessWeek article entitled “Radio Flyer Learns from a Crash,” Thomas Schlegel, VP for product development at Radio Flyer shared his thoughts on a product launch that was halted. After months of development and lots of production time and dollars, Schlegel scrapped it. “It didn’t live up to Radio Flyer standard,” he said. According to the article, “his boss, Robert Pasin, CEO, told Schlegel failure was OK as long as the company learned from it. Pasin now holds a regular breakfast for new employees at which he impresses upon them the idea that failure is inevitable if you want to innovate and valuable if you can learn from it. And after every project ends—whether the project has been shipped or been killed—Radio Flyer is developing what Schlegel describes as an ‘autopsy without blame,’ in which everyone involved in the development of a product discusses four questions: What went well on the project? What didn’t go well on the project? What did we learn? And, what are we going to do next?”

Author James Joyce gives us a new perspective on unplanned lessons: “A man of genius makes no mistakes. His errors are volitional and are the portals of discovery.” Bravo to Radio Flyer. They made discoveries and acted on their volitional errors!

So, I switched gears in my client meeting and described to these Type A risk-averse professionals how another client actually embraces failures—publicly and light-heartedly. This company even had more than 300,000 customers take a tour of its flops: Ben & Jerry’s Flavor Graveyard. It’s a real live collection of 31 ice cream mistakes and missteps over the years memorialized for all to see.

Ellen Kresky, Creative Director for Ben & Jerry’s shares this: “One of my favorite things about Ben & Jerry’s is that we’re not afraid to acknowledge our shortcomings or failures to consumers. Take our Flavor Graveyard for example. We use it on our website, and you can actually go visit real tombstones at our Waterbury tour. The Flavor Graveyard features limericks to eulogize our flavor bombs. We even sell Flavor Graveyard t shirts. A few years ago we had a contest to bring consumers’ favorite flavor back from the dead for a limited time in scoop shops. A lot of us were secretly hoping that a flavor with a low gross margin would win so that consumers would benefit in more ways than one. And our wish came true. For me, this is an example of contrarian brand management. Projects like this help continue to build consumer love and trust, and manage to do that in an un-contrived way that stays true to our roots.”

I know it used to be a common practice for many multichannelers to take the time to have strategic post-mortem conversations evaluating a season’s results by sales channels (retail, on-line and catalog) and by customer segments. Product visual boards would be created and the nuances of what worked and what didn’t would be discussed along with promotional strategies and competitive tactics and offerings. In today’s attention deficit business culture where every one is chasing the next new thing, I’m afraid these important cross-departmental meetings have morphed into line item reports read individually and acted upon in silos. The subtle underlying threads of what didn’t work do not get fully analyzed and the real failure of this short cut practice is that similar mistakes get made again (and possibly again).

I am a proponent of serious, slow talk (like the Slow Food, Slow Travel and Slow Christmas movements!) post mortems where true learning and insights can occur. I have both led and participated in these with my clients and they work and are worth it. Stop and think time. Concentrated focus on the previous season’s happenings both for your brand and your customers’ experience with your brand. Free flow of information. Open agenda. Robust conversations. Potential surprise endings.

So, have you dared to slow down and look back with your brand team? Why not take time to better understand and collaboratively converse about your brand faux paus openly and then, and only then, bid them a true goodbye!

Season’s Greetings!

Perhaps like me, you love summer and all it entails: longer days, outdoor play, flip-flop casualness, patio grilling, hummingbirds, wildflowers and a beachy attitude (even here in the midst of the Rocky Mountains). As a greeting card from artist Renee Reese playfully reminded me, the summer season is nearing its end. Rather than bemoan its passing, why not spend some time with your brand leaders reflecting on these questions.

Perhaps like me, you love summer and all it entails: longer days, outdoor play, flip-flop casualness, patio grilling, hummingbirds, wildflowers and a beachy attitude (even here in the midst of the Rocky Mountains). As a greeting card from artist Renee Reese playfully reminded me, the summer season is nearing its end. Rather than bemoan its passing, why not spend some time with your brand leaders reflecting on these questions:

Has your brand taken full advantage of this season’s learnings? For companies like Ben & Jerry’s, these 100 days from Memorial Day to Labor Day are the company’s prime ice cream selling days. For back-to-school retailers like Bed, Bath and Beyond and Staples, the late summer proves to be a mini-Christmas. Nordstrom’s annual Anniversary Sale in July/August is highly anticipated by its customers and gives the company a retail boost that most of their competitors won’t see until the fourth quarter. Even if your peak selling seasons don’t fall in this timeframe and your brand braces itself for the dog days of summer, it still can be a quietly productive time of the year. What did your brand do differently these past 100 days to help strengthen your customer engagement for the next 100? What more did you learn about your customers’ lives and pain points that will enhance your service levels and enrich your product development efforts?

If indeed this is a quieter season for your brand, why not literally get out of your office, away from your devices and take your leaders on a Brand Vacation day to explore and learn from what other companies in noncompetitive industries are doing? Go to a gardening center and see how the owners entice their customers to keep coming back for more plants and flowers all summer long. Go to a new restaurant in your town and see just what the trendy new chef is cooking up to lure patrons to this establishment. Go to a store in the midst of back-to-school madness and see how it organizes and promotes each school’s necessities for the kids and parents. Go to any enthusiast-specific retailer (camping, cooking, beauty, hardware) and see what impulse items they are selling to their brand fans. Gather back together and relax over a summer cocktail and talk about these field trip learnings and their potential impact and inspiration for your brand.

For many of my clients, taking time to pause, to play and to embrace a different pace—if even for an afternoon—is something that falls off the urgency-driven to do list. However, as Stephen Covey reminds us, it is just this kind of important time that refreshes and reenergizes your team and prompts new thinking.

After reflecting on these questions with your team, why not construct your own summer season greeting card to tuck away for next year as a reminder to embrace these 100 days fully?

PS If you’d like to order this handmade card, you can find it here on Etsy.

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.

Make Your Brand Blossom

This week I have flowers on my mind. It is planting season here in the Colorado Rocky Mountains … a bit later than most areas of the country. My husband and I live at 8,100 feet near Pikes Peak and the log home that our five acres is built on is frequented by deer, rabbits, foxes, coyotes and wild turkeys. In addition, all sorts of birds from owls to bluebirds to magpies and hummingbirds flit about. For many, where we live is too remote. For us, it is our sanctuary.

This week I have flowers on my mind. It is planting season here in the Colorado Rocky Mountains … a bit later than most areas of the country. My husband and I live at 8,100 feet near Pikes Peak and the log home that our five acres is built on is frequented by deer, rabbits, foxes, coyotes and wild turkeys. In addition, all sorts of birds from owls to bluebirds to magpies and hummingbirds flit about. For many, where we live is too remote. For us, it is our sanctuary.

While we love the splash of color that annuals and hanging baskets add to our flower beds, over the years we have reluctantly succumbed to making more and more of our landscaping bloom without us. Older and wiser than when we first moved here, we have learned to give into the wildlife who view our flowers as food, the early summer hailstorms that can decimate all our hard work in minutes and our often-on-the-road travel schedules that do not allow much time for all the things that plants crave on a near daily basis: weeding, deadheading, transplanting, watering, fertilizing and tending.

So it was with great delight that I learned about Proven Winners Shrubs in Country Living magazine as I flew home from my last business trip. This company captured my attention with a colorful full-page ad that casually highlighted one word over a gorgeous Hydrangea plant: OVERACHIEVER. This particular plant is called the Invincibelle® Spirit, and is positioned as one that requires minimal care, supplies abundant blooms, and is easy to grow. This is our kind of shrub. As a matter of fact, the entire line of Proven Winners feels like it was created just for us.

Since being enchanted with that ad, I researched this brand further and learned that Proven Winners Shrubs’s tagline, “A better garden starts with a better plant” informs of all its offerings and helped focus the company’s 2013 consumer campaign. In this clever and effective promotion, Proven Winners’ top 10 shrubs are personified with titles such as: Prodigy, Humdinger, Workhorse, Charmer and even Survivalist (one we are particularly attracted to, given our above mentioned conditions!).

Here’s how Proven Winners describes its unique point of differentiation:

Proven Winners partners with the top plant breeders around the world to ensure our varieties are vigorous, healthy, vibrant, and unique. Once a Proven Winners plant makes it to your house, you’ll fall in love. Proven Winners plants are:

  • Easy to grow and care for
  • Covered with blooms
  • Bright and colorful
  • All-season bloomers
  • Disease free
  • Trialed and tested

Meanwhile, these full page ads and product adjectives tell Proven Winners’ story succinctly and engagingly and direct customers to their site for more information and a free gardening guide. This spot-on, brand enhancing campaign makes its brand blossom.

Using this example as a creative springboard for your brand, how can Proven Winners inspire you and your team to “storysell” your products in a new, unusual and humdinger way?

Here are a few inspirational seeds to prompt internal conversations amongst your brand builders and product developers:

  • Can you easily identify your company’s top 10 “proven winners” and what your customers love about them?
  • What playful titles might you assign them?
  • What specific problems do these products solve?
  • How do these products erase or alleviate these pain points in your customers’ lives?
  • In what areas of your competitive landscape do they help your brand overachieve?

Take some time this season to cultivate new ways to make your brand blossom.

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.

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.

Many Online Retailers Failed to Satisfy Customers This Holiday Season

A survey of customer satisfaction with top retail Web sites during the holiday season is shedding light on which online retailers will thrive in 2009 and which could be facing an uphill battle.

A survey of customer satisfaction with top retail Web sites during the holiday season is shedding light on which online retailers will thrive in 2009 and which could be facing an uphill battle.

Amazon.com and Netflix continued to delight holiday shoppers online while customer satisfaction with Web sites for Circuit City, Gap, Home Depot, Home Shopping Network, Neiman Marcus and Overstock.com is below industry standards, according to the annual Top 40 Online Retail Satisfaction Index from ForeSee Results and FGI Research.

ForeSee used the predictive methodology of the University of Michigan’s American Customer Satisfaction Index to examine how successful the top 40 retail Web sites are at encouraging loyalty and purchase intent. All 40 Web sites are rated on a 100-point scale.

The study found that a highly satisfied online shopper is 73 percent more likely to purchase online, 38 percent more likely to purchase offline and 75 percent more likely to recommend a site than is a dissatisfied shopper.

Highlights of the report include the following:
* The only two online marketers that scored greater than 80 on the study’s 100-point scale were Amazon.com and Netflix; both received an 84. QVC came next at 79.
* Ten Web sites improved online shopper satisfaction since last year’s holiday shopping season. The most improved were Walmart.com, which increased 5 percent to a score of 78, and Shopping.hp.com (Hewlett-Packard), which improved by 7 percent to 76.
* Forty percent of the sites measured saw satisfaction decline year over year. The largest declines were for HSN.com, down 9 percent to 69, and Gap.com, which fell 7 percent to 69.
* Five of the six e-retailers that scored 69 this year had lower scores in 2008 than in ’07.