Don’t let our header image fool you.
Christmas is not right around the corner. The holiday shopping season is not upon us. You’ve got oodles of sunny summer days ahead before you need to start worrying about untangling the lights, trimming the turkey, or leaving presents under the tree. (Thank goodness!)
But if you’re in ecommerce, that’s a different story. It turns out that right now is the best time to start planning your next holiday campaign.
In fact, most experienced ecomm marketers start prepping long before Thanksgiving and Black Friday roll around. There’s just too much at stake not to. In 2018, for example, US consumers spent a whopping $7.9 billion on Cyber Monday. (Heck, they spent $2.2 billion on their phones alone.) Cyber Monday 2018 represents the biggest ecomm sales day in history, and 2019 is projected to be even bigger.
And there are other important reasons you should start prepping…
Sure, that’s a lot of cheese on the table. But, according to Jonathan Naccache of Webistry, heavy discounting also cuts into profits:
The holiday period is a double-edged sword. Due to heavy discounting, your sales might not even be profitable, even if you generate an above-average volume of sales. This is why planning is so important. November and December are all about volume, so every dollar you can save when it comes to your cost-per-acquisition can have a significant impact on your bottom line. Building up your audiences and ramping up your ads in the preceding 3-6 months is very important.
Jonathan Naccache, Webistry
More obviously, Naccache points out that preparing simply takes a lot of work: “You’ll need great content (more than one piece) for your ads,” he says, and that may involve “many sets of banners, several video pieces, different iterations of copy” as well as “a series of dedicated landing pages for different sets of audiences.”
Taylor Holiday (yeah, that’s his real name) of Common Thread Collective says his agency does massive research and planning before running a summit for their clients in mid-August. Why? So everyone is good and ready for the make-it-or-it-break months:
The reason it is so important to begin planning well in advance is because holiday outcomes are created in October and November.
Taylor Holiday, Common Thread Collective
Common Thread have a lot of data to back them up here. Emails they acquire in October, for instance, have the highest 90-day value of any time of the year. “It’s not rocket science to understand that email is valuable during this period,” says Holiday, “but it does require foresight and research into the exact value of email subscriptions to make the payback immediately profitable.” Common Thread found that running email campaigns in November and December will be “up to 5x as valuable as any other month,” so they need to be ready to build email lists in October.
So Naccache and Holiday clearly know that there are big wins—and big challenges—on the horizon. Planning in July (or even earlier) makes tons of sense to them. But for many marketers, it’s almost too easy to get planning late and let the holiday pass you by without running your own specials. That’s a mistake.
With that in mind, Unbounce has teamed up with a few heavy-hitters of marketing to give you the rundown on how you can start with your holiday campaigns and landing pages today. (So, uh, Merry Christmas!)
Read on, or jump straight to any of the subtopics below:
- Rethinking Your Promos for Holiday Shoppers
- Writing Copy for Gift Buyers
- Learning from the Ghosts of Deals Past
- Using the Holiday Rush to Your Advantage
What about other times of the year? I’m talking Christmas here, the biggest and “mostest” (that’s a word, right?) of the holidays in North America. But there’s no good reason you shouldn’t plan campaigns around other special days relevant to your business. Most of this advice should apply. (Also, if you’re reading this in November and short on time, using a drag-and-drop builder like Unbounce makes pages faster to pull off.)
1. Rethink Your Promos for Holiday Shoppers
You’re running a holiday sale, eh?
15% off, you say?
Free shipping on all orders over $100?
But here’s the thing about holiday discounts: during this period, most shoppers are so bombarded with deals and offers that they become inured to simple bargains. (Plus, your competitors likely have similar perks on to go, so there’s that…)
Unless you’re prepared to cut bone-deep, building a campaign around a discount may not be enough to create genuine excitement. Instead, the experts recommend that you create promotions that use specific psychological triggers.
Here are a few ideas to help you go beyond lame-duck discounts:
BOGO (Buy One, Get One) Deals
Do you remember that episode of The Simpsons when Homer gives Marge a bowling ball for her birthday? You know, the one with his name engraved on it? As you’ll recall, she wasn’t pleased:
Don’t be too hard on Homer. By buying Marge a present that he wants for himself, he’s exhibiting pretty normal human behavior.
In fact, it’s one reason that “buy one, get one free” deals can be more persuasive than straightforward discounts around the holidays. It’s not just a free thing, it’s that you get to play Scrooge and Santa at the same time: “I really want this thing for myself,” your customers will tell themselves: “I’ll pick one up for me, and give the other one to my friend.”
(There’s a fascinating study to be done on whether BOGO buyers think they’re keeping the “free” item or giving that one away.)
BOGO promotions also work brilliantly for products that you might naturally want to pair or share. Take a look at how Starbucks’ yearly “Buy One, Share One” promotion conjures the spirit of giving:
While traditional BOGO might appeal to greed, Starbucks combines the urgency of a very narrow purchase window (limited time, from 2-5 pm) with messaging that implies generosity. (We’ve seen customers build very similar limited promos using popups on their websites.)
BOGO promotions can be very attractive, but done wrong, they can also take a bite of profits and hurt your brand. Aaron Orendorff, the founder of iconiContent and former editor in chief at Shopify Plus, suggests instead creating promos that encourage more spending:
Not only is traditional discounting becoming less effective over the holidays, but it can also substantially lower brand value as well as AOV (average order value). The answer is creative deal structures that drive AOV from the ad or email to the onsite experience right through to the checkout.
Aaron Orendorff, iconiContent
One of Orendorff’s favorite examples is Brooklinen, who created a tiered “spend more, save more” deal structure to increase order values.
- Spend $150, get a free gift
- Spend $250, get 10% off
- Spend $350, get 15% off
- Spend $450, get 20% off
Orendorff points out that Brooklinen doesn’t mess around when it comes to encouraging buyers to take it up a tier: “Brooklinen featured that exact deal in all their promotions: organic, paid, and email. The real genius is the brand also integrated the tiers into its checkout, prompting shoppers to spend more and nudging them into the next tier.” It looks like this:
Mixed Product Bundling
Like BOGO, bundling involves combining multiple products into a single package. It attracts customers with the promise of greater value.
You can certainly bundle the same product together, but mixed bundling works best by joining your products into a single, discounted bundle. Why? Since people generally prefer experiential gifts to physical ones, this form of bundling transforms your product into an experience by offering a total package.
And it can be as simple as what Australian retailer Joyce Mayne did when they bundled a Fujifilm Instax camera with its accessories. Check it out:
The promo page for this bundle no longer exists online, but supporting copy went straight for the heart: “This would make for a brilliant Christmas present for anyone who loves to seize the moment and share memories with friends and family.” Notice how Joyce Mayne reframe the purchase in terms of a shared experience.
For the right type of brand, sometimes the best approach is to only offer discounts at the holidays—and at no other time of the year.
For example, Lush Cosmetics runs once-a-year-only BOGO sale on December 26th (or Boxing Day to those of us outside the U.S.). By only offering it once a year, they create urgency and reinforce the perception that their products are too valued to discount.
Lush sticks to its guns when it comes to this sale, but it’s not uncommon for brands to think it’s a good idea to revise their exclusivity: “Our once-a-year sale is now once-a-month! Get hyped!” Counterintuitively, this can work against you.
According to Liana Patch of Punchline Conversion Copywriting, it’ll puncture any urgency you’ve been trying to create:
Your discounting will always be more effective when your brand itself is more trustworthy—so if you tend to extend “one-day-only” sales often, or by multiple days, or you run promotions frequently, you’re likely dis-incentivizing your customers and ruining your own appeals to urgency and scarcity. On the contrary, if you can say “Hey, we run just one sale a year, it ends when we say it ends, and you’ll never get a better deal than this,” you’re going to strike a chord with even your most reluctant prospects.
Liana Patch, Punchline Conversion Copywriting
Of course, that doesn’t mean your campaign will be a short one. An accompanying ad or email campaign can create anticipation, while a landing page with a sign-up for reminders builds your nurture lists. (There’s more on this anticipation strategy below.)
A frequently neglected (but still very effective) tactic is to make an additional offer after your visitor has converted. The principle is actually very simple: you’ve already done the hard part of overcoming their resistance. Now they’re in the mood to buy.
The psychological phenomenon of loss aversion can play a role here too, since an offer made on a Thank You page or a well-timed popup feels more limited: “Get an additional 10% off your next purchase today.” This special shouldn’t be mentioned until this step in the process, of course. If customers feel like they could get it at any time, it’ll be less effective.
A clever use for popups or sticky bars. If your customer service hours will be reduced over the holidays, let customers know when they can expect contact. A sticky bar can double as a holiday greeting and let your visitors know about reduced hours. We’ve even got a template for it.
2. Write Copy For Gift Givers
Most of the year, the people you target purchase for themselves or their immediate family. And much of your existing content is (understandably) attuned to their self-interest. That’s why good copywriting is typically you-oriented: it focuses on the wants and needs of the reader.
During the holidays, however, this is often less true. Homer Simpson aside, people aren’t buying only for themselves. Many will shop with loved ones, friends, and colleagues in mind.
In other words, the purchase intent of visitors to your holiday landing page will be different. Your headline, call-to-action, and supporting copy all need to be different too. As you sit down to write for your landing pages, try to think about common gifting considerations:
- Will mommy lurve this sweater?
- Can the wife and I experience this gift together?
- Will this make my BFF lol? Will it make her ?
- Does this present have any special meaning?
- What will my coworker think if I give him this present?
These all have an especially strong emotional core as visitors search for the right gift. Like the examples from Starbucks and Joyce Mayne above, the best promos for holiday shoppers don’t just slap the words “Black Friday Sale – Get 10% Off” at the top of an existing page and call it a day. They use both copy and visuals to tap into these emotions.
And, yes, it can be easy to sink into cliches. But hitting those warm feels or helping someone find the perfect gift for their loved one satisfies the intent more than an appeal to self-interest.
According to Naccache, Webistry create “dedicated landing pages for different sets of audiences” for this purpose. This pre-Christmas landing page from Country Chic Paint is a killer example of copy tailored to indecisive gift buyers.
While a 40% limited discount is nice, the copy below is also very specific in communicating a gifting context: this product is perfect for buyers who are “blanking on gift ideas” for a creative someone in their life. A mystery box takes an awful lot of the pressure off visitors looking for a meaningful gift.
Lianna Patch agrees the challenge lies in “effectively changing your approach from ‘Buy this, it’ll make you feel good’ to ‘Buy the feeling of giving a great gift.’” (She and Val Geisler recently teamed up for a webinar on writing copy for holiday emails, so she has a lot to say on the subject.)
But Patch also cautions that your buyers will have more practical considerations in mind:
It’s also important, when appealing to gift-buyers, to address objections around shipping/logistics (Will it arrive in time?), presentability (Does it come gift-wrapped? Do I have to remove the price tag?), and returns and exchanges (Will it be a pain to exchange shirt sizes? If my mom doesn’t like the mug I got her, can I return it?).
Liana Patch, Punchline Conversion Copywriting
Ecomm landing pages are particularly bad at answering these kinds of questions. If you’re equipped to tackle any them, make it as explicit as you can in your copy. Shipping guarantees, for instance, should probably never be buried in your FAQ at this time of year.
Who’s this gift for? According to Think with Google, searchers get extremely specific and personal during the holidays: “searches for ‘gift + ____ year old’ have seen a two-year growth of over 100%, while searches for ‘gifts for dad’ have grown over 80% during that same period.” Creating targeted PPC campaigns with tailored landing pages (using Dynamic Text Replacement) can help.
3. Learn from the Ghost of Deals Past
Look at your previous campaigns. You may have conducted a routine post-mortem already, but remind yourself now of what worked—and what didn’t—before you start to plan.
Review the key performance metrics for your campaigns. For landing pages, your conversion rate should tell you whether or not your page performed to your expectations. (If you’re just starting out, you can use Unbounce’s Conversion Benchmark Report or a variety of other resources to get a sense of where you should be hitting.)
But I’d also recommend pulling other traffic and engagement metrics from Google Analytics. Your page’s bounce rate and session time are important. Plus, any relevant info about visitors (like geolocation, device type, etc.) that might give you a clue to who’s being naughty or nice. A lower than expected conversion rate might indicate that something went wrong, but engagement stats like these ones can help you sniff out the cause.
Let’s say, for instance, you see that your holiday landing page had few conversions but Google Analytics also shows people are spending a long time on the page.
Why is this happening?
It could be visitors are actually very interested in your product, but they’re confused or turned off by something they see (or don’t see) on the landing page. Take steps to simplify the layout, add more impact to your copy, and make your call-to-action more prominent. (Perhaps, as mentioned above, you need to re-write it with specific gifting contexts in mind.)
Another possibility is that your product already compels, but your visitors hesitate to actually buy it. Maybe it’s an idea so ahead of its time that they remain locked in the consideration phase. Or maybe you’re selling something that’s a big investment. Assuming your prospects may be sitting on the fence, you might want to throw in an incentive (by way of a timed popup or sticky bar) to give ’em a nudge.
Of course, you may have other ideas. In any case, diving into engagement metrics lets you formulate a hypothesis and plan your next move.
What about A/B testing? Running valid A/B tests during the holiday period can be challenging. You need traffic and time that you may not have. Plus, seasonal traffic behaves differently—so you can’t rely on what you’ve learned at other times of the year. I do like this holiday testing guide from ConversionXL, which gives you a detailed rundown of what’s involved.
4. Use the Holiday Rush to Your Advantage
Unless you’re just starting out, you already know about the persuasive power of adding a little urgency to your promotions. Countdown timers, announcing (realistic) product scarcity, running limited-time offers—these old hat strategies boost your conversions at any time during the year, as long as you don’t overdo ’em.
Around the holidays, though, there’s already a sense of urgency built into the holiday shopping experience. Your customers are racing to get the best deals and check off every name on their list before Christmas.
Yeah, you could take advantage of this rush by ratcheting up the misery with big black numbers (counting down the remaining shopping days until the kids are forever disappointed, let’s say).
But there’s a much better approach.
Instead, offer your visitors a little something more…
Offer a Little Relief from the Rush
Think about your campaign like a pleasing piece of music: you need tension, sure, but also release. (Otherwise, it’s just noise.) Instead of relying on purely negative types of urgency, then, you can promote a sense of trust and reliability by relieving your visitors’ anxieties. It may lead to fewer impulse buys, but it’ll also help your brand in the long run.
As always, Amazon offers a pretty sharp example of this practice.
Sure, around the holidays they’ll up the ante with a countdown timer or two. (They also never miss an opportunity to indicate low stock.) But their bread and butter lies in relieving the anxiety associated with shipping.
By including “Want it delivered by… order by…” messages on product pages, they promise their customers an almost impossible level of control. The effect of seeing that you need to “order it in the next 6 hours and 10 minutes” to receive the package by December 23 amplifies the urgency, sure, but it also empowers the customer:
Needless to say, if you want to go this same route, your expedited shipping solution should be up to the task. If your customers aren’t going to get those fancy new boots until mid-March, you’ll need to find another approach.
Anticipation and Excitement
Anticipation is another more positive expression of urgency worth exploring with your holiday campaigns. Amazon does this too.
As this analysis of their Black Friday promotions points out, over the past decade the company has slowly extended the sales period into “one torturously long stretch of spending lasting from Nov. 1 to Dec. 22.” But this period is also punctuated by flash sales and specials meant to keep the customer excited. Since 2011, in fact, they’ve made the countdown to the sale itself into an event with “Countdown to Black Friday Deals Week.”
Why are anticipation and excitement so effective? This may seem obvious, but they encourage repeated visits to their storefront in the quest for new deals, generate excitement about upcoming sales, and stretch the holiday shopping season across longer periods of time.
Is Amazon worth imitating, even on a smaller scale? You betcha.
And, according to Aaron Orendorff, there’s another major benefit to creating campaigns around anticipation: it can be much cheaper.
Ad costs are far lower in the lead up to the holidays. So, buy your traffic early by previewing your upcoming event across paid social. Collect your best deals—built around product categories or specific audiences—onto landing pages with one goal: to get visitors’ email addresses in exchange for early access (or something similarly enticing).
Aaron Orendorff, iconiContent
(I think Aaron just dropped the mic on us.)
Don’t Let the “Christmas Creep” Sneak Up on You
Here’s a final question for you: when will people start their Christmas shopping this year? The answer: they already have.
Sure, the received wisdom is that the holiday season starts after American Thanksgiving. But the National Retail Federation says brick-and-mortar retailers start to see shoppers before Halloween, which is why some stores have started setting up displays in September.
That’s nothing compared to the ecommerce world though. According to a consumer survey from Valassis, there’s a strong interest in early shopping online: “40 percent completing a portion of their gift purchase on Amazon Prime Day.” (That’s mid-July Christmas shopping!) Why not devise some clever ways to target these buyers longer before your competitors get there?
Let’s face it. For today’s ecommerce marketer, the holiday season feels like it’s always just around the corner.
Thankfully, the enemies you face when planning these campaigns aren’t different from any other part of the year. How do you overcome them? Planning well in advance is a must. And finding workable shortcuts that don’t cut short on the quality of your campaigns is another approach. (That’s one of the big reasons we think landing pages are a killer alternative to web pages. You can drag and drop a campaign together without involving your web developer.)
And there are plenty of other times throughout the year to apply these tips. Depending on your perspective, the Christmas shopping season stretches across Halloween, two Thanksgivings (American and Canuck), Black Friday, Cyber Monday, Boxing Day, and even New Years. But then you might see other opportunities around Valentine’s Day, Mother’s Day, July 4th, Arbor Day… you name it, there’s a promo you can run (and run early).
But if you want to have a real impact, the real meaning of Christmas in July is that you need to get started today.