2020 was a whirlwind. From supply chain shortages, store closures and other disruptions to the need for large scale shifts in messaging strategies, it’s safe to say most marketers earned expert certification in the art of pivoting.
Now, as things begin to approach the “next normal,” many businesses are looking to ramp up their holiday marketing efforts. With so much change and so much still uncertain, how can marketing professionals even begin to plan for the season ahead?
USPS interviewed ten marketing and media-planning decision-makers at major retailers and manufacturers to learn about their planning experiences and get insights into how they expect to approach this year and beyond. One thing is certain; it still won’t be business as usual—agility remains the name of the game.
Who Are the Marketers We Interviewed?
Ten marketing and media-planning decision-makers at large retailers and manufacturers.
- VP of Digital Finance
Sporting Goods Retailer
- Former eCommerce Vice President
- Former Marketing Lead
- Former Assistant VP and Marketing Director
Fortune 500 Retailer
- Assistant Vice President of Marketing
- President and Global Brand Officer
Top Shoe Retailer
- Director of eCommerce
Multinational Consumer Goods Company
- Former Associate Marketing Manager
Major Clothing Retailer
- Group Manager of Brand Marketing and Sales
- Marketing Manager
Leading Lifestyle Brand
When Should Holiday Planning Start?
Successful holiday planning is a year-long process. Many retailers start planning for the season’s offerings 10–12 months in advance. With promotional activity launching earlier the last couple of years, the experts agree, marketing planning has to start early.
Typical Planning Activities for Holiday Marketing Campaigns
- Previous holiday season is analyzed, and numbers are crunched.
- High-level marketing ideas are conceptualized.
- Teams collaborate to understand plans and priorities for the year and the holiday season.
- Marketing budget allocations by channel are refined.
- Media buys are made and finalized.
- Advertising content is produced.
- Media is deployed.
- Experiential marketing is executed.
– Former Marketing Lead, Specialty Retailers
It literally is all hands on deck during holiday [planning].”
Here, we share the key themes to a successful year according to these seasoned marketers. From changes in the typical planning calendar to the benefits of omni-channel communication, read on for tips to help you take a more agile approach to holiday planning.
Build Strategic Flexibility into Your Plan
Marketing teams must plan early, but these days there’s no way to predict the future. The best you can do is make smart moves now that enable your plan to change and evolve as holiday season approaches.
As 2021 progresses, reopenings and economic recovery are expected, but it’s obviously hard to say to what degree. Some key differences in planning by quarter hinge on flexibility.
- There will be a greater focus on supply chain and merchandise availability in later quarters, in case marketing plans need to change because of shortages.
- The continued growth of e-commerce could shift media dollars and marketing investments.
- As brick-and-mortar retail begins to get back on track, marketers can expect more in-store events that require additional cross-channel promotion.
- One marketer even plans to keep approximately 10% of their marketing budget “in reserve” until Q4 2021, for use when fewer unknowns may be in play.
Overall, executives say many hard decisions and commitments for holiday marketing initiatives are likely to be pushed out somewhat, and media buys for holiday marketing may not be finalized until Q3.
– VP of Digital Finance, Sporting Goods Retailer
How do we want to tell stories and what do we want to try to elevate in the experience versus just letting the customers [discover it] on their own.”
Marketers who are delaying media buys are often looking to leverage digital channels for greater flexibility at a fraction of the spend. But when used in a silo, digital efforts alone risk losing impact. The experts still plan for omni-channel marketing, relying on the latest direct mail solutions to cut through the digital holiday messaging clutter and drive action among prospects and customers.
Like in 2020, a range of internal and external factors could impact the year, so it’s important to stay informed and up to date and have solutions at the ready.
Collaboration Is Critical
Pandemic or no, marketers stress the importance of working with a variety of cross-functional teams in the organization to plan for holiday marketing. It’s essential to take into account all other plans, priorities and limitations for a strategy to be its most agile, and therefore primed for success in today’s environment.
– Former Associate Marketing Manager, Major Clothing Retailer
I think there's probably going to be a lot more planning with [an emphasis on] increasing engagement.”
At the start, this includes consulting with the product team to understand what products will be created or featured for the holidays, based on what you’re seeing in the marketplace. What messaging should be put out and when?
Marketers also work with finance to assess revenue targets for the season and determine marketing budget allocations. What will be your key measure of success?
More critical than ever this year will be continual interactions with operations to stay informed of store openings, e-commerce capabilities, supply chain limitations, warehouse inventory, customer service issues and more. Consumers and retailers alike navigated a great deal of disruption in 2020 with little to no notice. In 2021 and beyond, marketers can take the lessons learned and better prepare for whatever may happen.
Sales Equal Success
Yes, you will be eager to prove your marketing plan’s success with exciting data on brand awareness, lift and engagement. As one marketing manager even noted, “We track everything to death.” However, the resounding answer to the question of how success will be measured is by sales and revenue.
Return on ad spend is key as well, but ultimately, the cash that you put in the bank is the number one metric of success for the holiday season in 2021 and beyond.
Which means it’s not only a crucial time to engage your most loyal customers, but it’s also a great time to acquire new customers. An omni-channel strategy utilizing direct mail and digital channels will compel your target audience to act on your message no matter what your call to action may be.
The Perceived Benefits of Media Channels
- Target those who have opted out of emails
- Reach audiences who are less digitally active
- Stand out with the use of digitally powered innovations
- Entice consumers with iconic “dream books”
- Effective for B2B audience
- Overall flexibility in media buying and deployment
- Geo-location capabilities
- QR Codes® are inexpensive and gather a lot of data
- Can be quickly updated
- Often includes impactful customer product reviews
Radio/TV/Streaming Audio and Video
- People are spending more time with these services
- Alternative to traditional high-cost TV advertising
- Consumers are spending more time on their mobile phones
- Successful among loyal customers and members
There’s no question, the pressure is immense. You are looking for the safest bet to ensure a successful, profitable holiday season. With no way to predict the future, the best foundation for a successful season is being set up for agility.
Plan ahead, collaborating early and often to be aware of any factors that could impact your messaging. These may be internal, such as your organization’s product priorities and their ongoing availability, or external social, public health and economic factors that can shift entire categories as consumers navigate the ebb and flow of today’s uncertain world.
Get comfortable delaying some decisions and build contingencies into your plan to help you be more flexible yet in control as the holiday season approaches.
Most importantly, engage your audience across multiple channels. Direct mail can help your message stand out and drive action with any type of consumer at a very busy and important time of year. The tangible power of direct mail, combined with the intelligence of digital channels, is a unique force—one that can help you see success in your holiday marketing campaign.