Pump up e-commerce beyond Christmas

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Mark Simon

VP of industry relations, Didit

With Valentine's Day just finished and Mother's Day just around the corner, now is the time to consider your overall approach to peak shopping seasons, and how you can be better prepared for them in search.

First, realize that search results don't happen overnight. SEO changes to your Web site can take weeks to be accurately reflected within search rankings. Paid search executions have more immediate impact, but because quality score systems reward advertisers with strong paid search track records, search clicks cost you more if you're new to search. Work hard at search year-round. This way, the search engines will recognize you, and you'll develop search strategies to put to good use when critical peak seasons come.

Second, remember that, between early-bird shoppers and early-bird advertising pushes, every holiday season gets underway six to eight weeks ahead of the actual holiday. Christmas starts mid-October; Valentine's Day begins in December. Start your early-season search advertising with a focus on ROI, when keywords are cheap and a high ROI on search traffic is a realistic goal.

As the holiday approaches, the flood of last-minute shoppers and last-minute competition makes ROI much harder to attain. But that same spike in traffic and competition makes the fight over market share a lot more important. Worry less about ROI, and focus on spending whatever it takes to turn the flood of searchers into new, loyal customers. Within your search creative, highlight sales and last-minute deals that your customers are desperately searching to find, and that your competitors may already be offering in an attempt to undersell you.

Finally, consider leveraging the search engines' near-instantaneous indexing of news results to gain last-minute organic wins with keyword-optimized press releases and keyword-minded news.

The Takeaway

Make sure your SEO and SEM are ready for peak seasons and early shoppers

Kevin Mabley

SVP, strategic and analytic consulting group, Epsilon

Valentine's Day is a favorite holiday for e-mail marketers. Scheduled reminders are highly effective, targeting is fairly easy and e-commerce is the perfect place for last-minute gifts. However, that doesn't give us the right — or the need — to bombard subscribers with unrelenting e-mails with deals and offers until they buy.

Use subscriber profile data to customize the offer. Gender and relationship status are obvious targeting criteria, but also consider using Web-browsing activity for the type of gift and offer that the subscriber has expressed interest in. Also, consider launching a separate program around holiday offers, allowing consumers to opt out of just one stream rather than having to opt-out of the entire program during frequent mailings.

You can also create a customized landing page that has the same special feel of your offer, with recommended products that pair well with it.

Use action-oriented subject lines, testing them whenever possible. There will be a lot of Valentine's Day e-mails in users' inboxes, so make sure yours stands out among the clutter. Keep an eye on engagement with Valentine's e-mails over time. If the subscriber hasn't opened or clicked after three messages, switch up the offer or stop mailing to them if the message isn't resonating.

Don't use holidays as an excuse to over-mail your audience. Although the relative cost efficiencies of the channel make it tempting to overuse, consider the high opportunity cost of losing customers forever by barraging them with irrelevant or unwanted holiday offers.

Don't wait until the last minute to plan holiday programs. Your subscribers will be procrastinating, but you shouldn't put off scheduling and setting up triggers for campaigns to go out. Think about the next holiday as well as the current one.

Lastly, it's your relationship with subscribers that matters. Use e-mail to get the message out and help your customers find the gifts they need. However, like any other good e-mail campaign, make sure it is timely, relevant and reflective of the relationship you have with your subscribers.

The Takeaway

Don't use holidays as an excuse to flood your customer's inbox

Lewis Goldberg

SVP of brand marketing, 1-800-Flowers

As an online retailer, there are certainly changes we make in marketing efforts through the year. For us, it gets a little tricky around Valentine's Day because our target demographic is completely different for that holiday than others throughout the year.

Typically, two-thirds of our customers are female. We picture our average consumer feeling about gifting the way most people feel about receiving. She expresses herself by giving gifts to the people she cares about.

But for Valentine's Day and Mother's Day, you need to understand the mindset of the customer, which is more spontaneous and short-term than for other holidays.

The most important thing you can do as a marketer is figure out how to leverage equities that make sense for your business and demographic this time of year. For Valentine's Day, we're targeting guys who want a last minute gift. They're thinking, "I better get flowers or I'm sleeping on the couch tonight." More than 50% of our Valentine's Day sales happen two to three days before the big day.

To target men, we're putting placements in different channels and media outlets than we usually do. For example, we're putting billboards up within online games. The last week before Valentine's Day is really important, so we make sure we're focused on getting a large number of messages out in that timeframe. We get 20 times more orders online than usual in the days leading up to the holiday, so we have to be ready.

Search marketing is also a big revenue generator. We buy 1.2 million keywords. Many of these are long-tail because, around this time, keywords are expensive. Our strategy is to tweak those words to see what's working and what's not, then take advantage of that traffic.

The good news is that around this time of year with Valentine's and Mother's Day, there's less noise than at Christmas time. It's not as key of a season for other industries, so take advantage of that.

The Takeaway

Note that as seasons change, so might your demographic, so market accordingly

Susan Tull

VP of marketing, Digital River's BlueHornet division

We know that people often make purchasing decisions based on emotion, and Valentine's Day and Mother's Day provide retailers two great opportunities to tap into their customers' emotional side. However, marketers need to make decisions based on data.

The National Retail Federation predicted that although spending on Valentine's Day gifts to "significant others" will be lower this year than in 2009, people will buy more gifts for family, friends, co-workers and even pets in 2010. Traditionally, men outspend women by a good margin on both holidays. It's human nature that, regardless of the occasion, we tend to wait until the last minute to purchase gifts.

In addition to the usual marketing activities — like creating e-mails that contain plenty of lifestyle imagery and emotionally compelling copy — retailers should take additional steps to drive sales via e-mail.

Try launching a holiday lifecycle campaign. Instead of sending a series of one-off offer e-mails, create a mini lifecycle campaign of four Valentine's or Mother's Day e-mails. Start with the initial offer, followed by a reminder, an urgent final day message and end with a combined thank-you and cross-sell offer.

It's also wise to segment by gender and past purchase. Create offers specifically targeted to the men in your subscriber database. Or better yet, send a targeted e-mail offer to the men who purchased from you at this time last year.

Then, tie e-mail marketing to social media campaigns. Many retailers responded to the recession by using e-mail to promote coupons and deep discounts. As we enter recovery, we need to promote different types of value through the e-mail channel. One way to achieve this is to develop social media campaigns that add value and promote customer engagement. E-mail drives exposure to the campaigns up front, and it also works further into the sales funnel to convert a fan to a customer. Retailers can use their social media initiatives to acquire new e-mail subscribers, too. Tying e-mail to social campaigns is an effective way to cut through inbox clutter during a holiday season, or any time of the year.

The Takeaway

Tweak your e-mail marketing to include segmented holiday campaigns

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