Last updated on November 9, 2023

Jeanie Dunn
Content Manager, SMS @ Yotpo
October 8th, 2021

When it comes to engaging shoppers, it’s never too early to get in the holiday spirit.

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It seems that the holiday season starts a bit earlier each year, doesn’t it? Fall-themed campaigns bled deep into summer 2021, with brands like Dunkin’ Donuts and General Mills releasing seasonal items and advertisements earlier than ever. We haven’t even made it to Halloween yet, but Target is already kicking off their holiday deals on October 10th, with a plan to engage early-bird shoppers with a season-long price-match guarantee.

It comes as no surprise that brands want to ramp up as much holiday engagement as they can to capitalize on high-intent shoppers. Consumer spending on Halloween items is expected to reach an all-time high of $10.14 billion this year, according to the National Retail Federation’s annual survey. Holiday retail sales will likely see a similar increase — Deloitte’s annual holiday retail forecast predicts that holiday sales will rise as high as $1.3 trillion between November and January.

Do the earlier holiday campaign launches help drive these numbers up? What are the real benefits of campaigning for one season while still in another, and how can you prepare for the holidays to come? Let’s explore some insights from eCommerce experts to determine which holiday marketing strategies your brand needs to execute (and when) to finish the year strong.

Plan for Hybrid Shopping

Although the marketplace in 2021 feels very different from what it was in the height of the global pandemic in 2020, COVID-19 is still a major driving factor in forecasting shopping trends for this holiday season. As variants continue to spread, many are still taking precautions such as avoiding in-person shopping and travel.

Compared to last year though, this holiday season is expected to look a little different. According to a recent Yotpo poll, over 44% of shoppers are expecting the 2021 Black Friday/Cyber Monday marketing strategies to be a combination of 2019 and 2020 trends — both a continuance of online shopping and a return to stores. The malls will once again be packed full of holiday shoppers, but many will also be looking for deals and inspiration online.

It is therefore critical that you take an omnichannel approach to your holiday marketing — that way, you can spark interest with consumers wherever they are and however they ultimately decide to shop.

Target timeframe: 3-4 months in advance to plan consistent, on-brand messaging, promotions, and visuals to display across your site, marketing channels, and retail stores.

Boost Engagement and Loyalty Beforehand

To maximize success in any holiday season, it is also crucial that brands build up their audience pools and start connecting with customers ahead of time. Those who boost engagement and foster relationships before the holidays are the ones who will have the most successful campaigns during peak shopping periods, like Cyber Week.

A simple first step to building long-term and profitable relationships with consumers is to entice them to follow you on social media, subscribe to your emails, or opt in to your SMS messages so that they never miss an important update, sale, or exclusive promo. In a recent Yotpo survey, most shoppers said they are likely to sign up to receive texts from a brand before their first purchase. Why? Consumers are motivated by a sense of urgency, like time-sensitive offers and perks. SMS marketing, then, can be a perfect solution to grow your audience and engage them with the timely and urgent campaigns that the holidays require.

It’s even easier to boost engagement with customers who are already loyal to your brand, so leverage the power of your loyalty program if you have one (you should). According to Salesforce, 78% of consumers are more likely to buy from a brand with a loyalty program, and according to our bfcm marketing strategy data, nearly 70% of shoppers can be incentivized to buy directly from a brand with the promise of getting discounts, coupons, or points toward their next purchase.

Target timeframe: 3-4 months in advance to reach new customers and grow an engaged, loyal audience.

Optimize for Search Engines

Just as you will optimize your campaigns for holiday success, you will also want to optimize your website. With each new season, consumers grow thirsty for new decor inspiration, style advice, and gift recommendations — and they are increasingly turning to search engines to find them. Over 34% of consumers browsed for ideas or inspiration for the holidays on search engines in 2020, compared to 24% in 2019.

Consider planning a holiday digital experience in the same spirit as the holiday displays you see in stores. See what people are searching for and create themed gift guides around those keywords, grouping products together that target a certain type of buyer (e.g. holiday gifts for dads, best gifts for teens). In addition, include backlinks to your products from popular digital media gift guides such as Good Housekeeping or The Strategist (if possible) to further strengthen the SEO of your site.

Transparency and communication are also key to optimizing a site for search engines — and for people. Ensure that your holiday shipping deadlines, return, and exchange policies are all clearly explained and readily accessible on your site. SEO experts, like Miriam Ellis at Moz, recommend building a page that details every delivery methodology and linking to it from every product page. Describe the availability of in-store pickup, curbside pickup, local home shipping and delivery, and list any companies you partner with for fulfillment so customers feel confident placing an order and receiving it in time for gift giving.

Target timeframe: 6 months in advance to stock merchandise and develop gift guides, 1-2 months in advance to go live with your holiday digital experience.

Campaign Early and Often

Just like with the Halloween campaigns we saw this summer, brands that get a head start in communicating their promotions and deals will have a clear advantage this holiday season.

COVID-19 is still impacting supply chains and consumers will likely be shopping with a sense of urgency and a fear of missing out on “hot” products. Erin Sagin, Product Marketing Manager at Google, says, “Consumers will start shopping early. Supply chain disruptions from the past year have left a lasting impact on perceptions. Last year, we heard that 70% of shoppers intended to shop early to avoid both crowds and items being out of stock. Similar trends are expected this year. To meet early demand, retailers should consider launching holiday plans and promotions earlier than usual.”

How early? Adroll recommends preparing for launch as early as August, then rolling out your brand awareness campaigns in September, when click-through rates rival that of November and December and early shopping starts. Narrow your focus and increase engagement in October with holiday-specific campaigns, and commit the full force of your marketing to the November and December months to drive conversions.

It’s a logical approach: by launching your campaigns early, you boost engagement early. And early engagement can have a massive trickle down effect — allowing you to get ahead of the competition, connect with more customers, extend the life cycle of limited edition products to boost sales volume, and lengthen the shopping period to prevent crippling supply chains. You’ll even have more time to measure performance to learn which of your campaigns are driving engagement (and which aren’t), so you can quickly optimize before the season is in full swing.

Target timeframe: 1-2 months in advance of the target holiday for regular campaign execution. Continue through January to capture post-holiday shoppers with gift cards and returns.

Get in the Holiday Spirit

It’s clear that when it comes to holiday marketing, the early bird will catch the worm…and the product sales. If your brand hasn’t yet implemented these eCommerce marketing strategies, now is the time to kick them into high gear.

If you think you need support, Yotpo has the tools you need to roll out new channels and campaigns fast, so you can get your customers in the holiday spirit right now (even if that holiday might still be months away).