Next year's online holiday strategy begins now

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Retailers that started offering online discounts and promotions early are better positioned to grab consumers' attention as more of them shop online and earlier for the holidays. Luckily there's still time to boost online marketing to make the most of this – and the next — holiday season in order to gain new customers and drive sales.

Below are three tips that marketers should consider when planning their online holiday retail strategies.

1) E-mail should be at the center of your strategy. The holiday marketing season starts way before the holidays, so it's best to begin building an e-mail database early. It takes time to build consumer trust, and marketers should work to do so throughout the year via relevant e-mails. Tiered promotions, giveaways and time-sensitive offers are a few options to consider when executing e-mail marketing campaigns during the year. Not only will such tactics help to build trust with consumers, but they will also deliver results. Since e-mail ROI is roughly $43.52, according to a recent Direct Marketing Association (DMA) report, this isn't a tip retail marketers should ignore.

2) Diversify your customer acquisition strategy. Customer acquisition should be more than just a search campaign, especially as online click fraud increases. One of our clients, PalmBeach Jewelry, for example, runs a variety of marketing programs and constantly evaluates which channels deliver the greatest number of new and qualified leads.

This holiday season PalmBeach Jewelry ran search engine campaigns and optimization programs on Google and Yahoo. The company also ran placements on shopping comparison engines and social networking sites. The strategy has paid off. Eighty percent of its traffic coming from comparison shopping engines consisted of first-time visitors. Sign-up ads, another tactic PalmBeach Jewelry has deployed, collected basic user information (such as an e-mail address) within an ad or on a publisher's site in a 100% opt-in and transparent way. These ads drove 100 sales in just three months.

3) Social is real. It's here. Use it. Social media can help retail marketers engage with consumers on a more personal level while still driving sales. The impact of a Facebook post about a brand is huge as it's the equivalent of a referral from a trusted source.

E-mail campaigns are a great way to extend the conversation or promotion about a brand from an inbox to a social networking page, especially after trust is built between a brand and the consumer. Major retailer Tommy Hilfiger (another client) found this tactic successful when shaping its digital strategy. It used e-mail to build a community of users on social networking sites, including its now nearly 700,000 “friends” on Facebook.

It's never too early to start planning your next online holiday retail strategy, so if you're too far beyond for 2010, take these steps now to prepare for 2011.

Zephrin Lasker is the cofounder and CEO of Pontiflex, an e-mail and social acquisition tech startup based in Brooklyn, NY.

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