Holiday Marketing Online: 4 Big Lessons from Last Year

‘Tis nearly the season for online marketing madness.

As brands get ready to inundate the web, inboxes, and social media with winter holiday-related content and ads, what should they be thinking about? How can they differentiate themselves from the competition? Which insights from the earlier campaigns can help to significantly boost performance?

After analyzing data from a wide range of sources, the team at MDG Advertising discovered these four key lessons from last year that every marketer should take into account this holiday season:

1. Start Early

Why are marketers launching their winter holiday-themed marketing campaigns earlier and earlier? Because it works.

This is in part because not waiting jibes with purchasing behavior: some 31% of US consumers say that they begin planning their holiday shopping in September or earlier and 38% start between October and Christmas.

The other big reason why starting early pays off is because it’s more efficient: an analysis of 2017 online advertising found holiday shopping impressions begin to increase noticeably in October, but the average CPC is 12% lower and the average CPM is between 15% and 20% lower compared with November and December.

In other words, starting early is a double win: it allows brands to reach the large segment of consumers who begin holiday shopping in early fall, and it’s also cheaper than waiting.

2. Prioritize Mobile

The ever-increasing importance of mobile isn’t new news to most marketers, but it’s still worth emphasizing how quickly smartphones and tablets are changing behavior.

According to a survey conducted by Google and Ipsos, shoppers said that half of all their online purchases were made on smartphones in the 2017 holiday season, and an analysis by eMarketer found that retail mobile commerce sales in the US jumped by 40% in the fourth quarter of last year. Moreover, eMarketer estimates that retail mobile commerce sales will increase by another 33% in the fourth quarter of this year.

Put simply, mobile devices have become integral to holiday shopping for many consumers and this trend is expected to accelerate. Brands that fail to take this shift into account will increasingly be out of sync with shopper behavior.

3. Embrace Multi-Channel

The growing influence of mobile doesn’t mean that marketers should neglect other areas.

Some 76% of US adults said they used three or more channels (online, mobile, in-store, etc.) when holiday shopping last year and 51% of US consumers say they still plan to do most of their holiday shopping in-store this year.

After diving into the data, what becomes apparent is that consumers aren’t shifting exclusively to one channel, but rather are increasingly using a combination to research and shop. For example, although 70% of Cyber Monday purchases were made on desktops last year, 65% of shoppers (and 85% of Millennials) said they used their smartphone to research gifts.

While “multi-channel” is often an overused buzzword, in this case it’s apt: holiday consumers truly do utilize multiple channels while shopping and brands of all types increasingly need to embrace multi-channel strategies to succeed.

4. Motivate with Scarcity and Free Shipping

An analysis of 2017 data found that holiday-themed emails tended to garner lower open rates and engagement rates than standard campaigns last year, but they also tended to have higher conversion rates.

What that indicates is that consumers were overwhelmed by brands during the holiday season—their inboxes were flooded and they couldn’t open and read as much as they usually did—but also that they were motivated to take action and purchase when the right messages came through.

So, what broke through the noise? What holiday messaging was effective in getting consumers to engage and convert? The researchers found two key approaches:

  • Scarcity and urgency: Black Friday and Cyber Monday emails that created a sense of scarcity and urgency—through approaches such as time-sensitive wording or low-inventory notifications—triggered higher-than-average engagement.
  • Free shipping: General holiday-themed emails that included free shipping offers had higher-than-average open rates. They also had average conversion rates that were 50% higher compared with emails that did not include free shipping offers.

Of course, it’s no surprise that consumers like free shipping and are motivated by urgency/scarcity. However, if brands are able to deliver this messaging while also harnessing the other learnings from last year, they’ll be well poised for success.

Ultimately, marketers who start their campaigns early, develop sophisticated mobile and multi-channel strategies, and target audiences with the right messaging are much more likely to connect with, and convert, shoppers this holiday season.

About the author

Michael Del Gigante is the president and creative director at MDG Advertising.

In 1999, Michael Del Gigante founded MDG Advertising, a full-service advertising agency with offices in Boca Raton, Florida and New York City. MDG has earned a leading reputation for developing effective branding strategies, unrivaled creative, and dynamic interactive marketing solutions for some of the world’s most prominent brands. With his extensive industry experience and insight, Michael has turned MDG, which began as a traditional advertising agency, into an integrated marketing firm based on his innovative 360-degree marketing philosophy. This unique approach incorporates the in-house expertise of industry-leading specialists in every discipline to provide a full spectrum of digital and traditional marketing services. Michael’s progressive vision, coupled with his strategic and creative leadership, has propelled MDG and its clients on a steady trajectory of success.