What do Halloween, Thanksgiving, Black Friday, Cyber Monday, Hanukkah, Christmas, Boxing Day, and New Year’s all have in common? They all happen in the last two months of the year and offer an opportunity to execute clever holiday marketing strategies to boost revenue for both agencies and clients.
There is a misconception among agency owners that acquiring new clients or contracts is a wasted effort during the holiday and Christmas sales period, according to Mike Cooch, Founder of ServicesThatScale, which helps professional services companies accelerate growth.
But the fact is business-to-business (B2B) buyers are equally as eager to find a great deal for marketing services as consumers are for electronics on Black Friday or Cyber Monday.
Neil Patel, Founder of performing marketing agency NP Digital, agrees service-based businesses have just as much to offer during the holidays as product retailers.
“You’re still trying to make money by selling something to a target demographic. Holiday promotions are simply another marketing tool to help you reach this goal,” he says.
In this blog, we explore holiday marketing strategies agencies can use to secure more projects during the peak shopping period. We also look at holiday-specific digital and ecommerce strategies that agencies can use to maximize sales for their small and medium business (SMB) clients.
Holiday marketing strategies: 4 tips for agencies
Both Cooch and Patel say agency owners should consider using and repurposing some of the same tactics small and medium businesses (SMB) use to increase holiday and Christmas sales.
1. Have clear goals in mind
Patel says as a starting point, it’s important for any service-based company to have a vision about what they’re trying to achieve with their holiday promotion strategy and why.
“For example, maybe you have an underperforming service you’re trying to boost. The clearer the goal, the easier it is to choose the right holiday promotion,” he says.
Patel adds the following advice when planning their holiday marketing strategy:
- Know what customers want - By analyzing existing customers, a service-based business or agency can deliver relevant seasonal promotions.
- Analyze competitors - What promotions have rivals been running and what learnings do they provide?
- Plan in advance - The earlier a business starts thinking about promotions, the more time they have to execute promotions effectively.
2. Consider corporate gifts
Shops such as cosmetics stores and chocolatiers are often in a position where they’re giving away items to customers. But it can be refreshing for a business owner to be receiving a gift for a change.
Cooch suggests agency owners should consider setting a “gift budget” and spending amounts based on the client or prospect’s revenue tier.
Here's an illustrative example of how a gift budget could be planned and spent:
“You should also send the rest of your prospects a holiday email and wish them the best for the holidays and the New Year,” Cooch says.
3. Include a pre-paid discount and create urgency
The idea of gifting is not only to make a client or prospect feel valued but to also serve as a gentle nudge for the business owner to consider your agency for more work. Or, at the very least, the gesture goads them into briefly paying attention to the gift-giver.
To tie it to the holiday theme, Cooch says the agency should include within the gift, an exclusive offer that encourages the client to prepay for services at a discount. For example, a 15 percent Black Friday discount for a website refresh.
“The strategy has worked really, really well for me over the years, because you have more clients than you know that have a surplus of profits and cash at the end of the year that would love to spend it before the New Year to get a tax break,” Cooch says.
“So give them the opportunity to pre-pay for services now, lower their taxes, and get a discount on your services for the pre-pay.”
However, the key with this tactic is to create a sense of urgency so that a client is compelled to pay before year-end.
“Let them know that your first quarter schedule tends to get booked up very quickly and let them know that you’re prioritizing scheduling their projects because of your relationship with them,” he says.
“They’ll feel like you’re taking good care of them, and you’ll have a packed calendar in January before the year has even started.”
4. Offer an existing service with a seasonal twist
If an agency is planning to launch a new service, it may be worth holding off on promoting it until the holiday season.
In the case of an agency, a holiday marketing package could include a number of solutions designed to help local businesses sell more during the holidays. These could include building a Christmas-themed ecommerce store, conducting a search engine optimization (SEO) audit, and publishing holiday gift guides.
A business doesn’t necessarily have to create “new” services, Patel says, but the impression of packaging existing offerings in a certain way for a certain event makes a buyer perceive it as something fresh and relevant when advertised at the right time.
Boosting holiday sales: Trends you need to know about this holiday season
Before examining strategies, it’s worth taking a look at the trends that are expected to shape the holiday and Christmas sales season so that agencies can work with local businesses and figure out the best channels to invest in to drive sales.
The 2021 holidays are expected to set a new sales record as consumers opt for both the convenience of online shopping and the return of in-store shopping which was severely limited due to the pandemic last year. In particular, the National Retail Federation (NRF) notes one-quarter of consumers “plan to shop specifically at a local or small business.”
It’s also important to bear in mind that on November 8, the United States opened its borders to fully vaccinated tourists in time for the peak shopping season, causing a surge of visitor bookings from high-income countries like Australia, the UK, and France. This may potentially boost foot traffic for stores and local businesses during the holidays.
The NRF predicts November and December sales are expected to rise up between 8.5 percent and 10.5 percent, for a total of between $843 billion and $859 billion, up from last year’s record of $777 billion.
Online and other non-store sales (such as curbside pickups) will grow even faster; increasing between 11 percent and 15 percent to a total of between $218 billion and $226 billion. That’s up from $196 billion in 2020.
“Consumers continue to state a strong preference for online shopping. Over half (57 percent) plan to purchase holiday items online this year, down from 60 percent who identified online as a holiday destination in 2020 and in line with pre-pandemic norms,” the NRF said.
What are consumers planning to buy?
The NRF also provided a useful set of graphs to show what consumers are planning to buy, and how much on average they’re planning to spend, by age group.
The data below suggests buying gifts for family and friends, decorations, and candy are on top of most shoppers’ minds. And, the biggest spenders are expected to be those of age 35 and above, a useful statistic to incorporate into the marketing programs of local businesses.
Gift cards will remain a perennial favorite for the flexibility afforded to recipients, with spending expected to total $28 billion, the highest since nearly $30 billion in 2018. Shoppers plan to buy an average of three or four cards this year with an average spend of $48.92 per card.
For those buying for children, the NRF’s survey found 10 clear winners for boys and girls below.
What will motivate them to make a purchase?
Lastly, the NRF also asked consumers in its survey what would make them buy from one store and not from another.
From the responses in the table below, it’s clear that local businesses should incorporate discounts, free shipping promotions, and a no-hassle return policy in their holiday marketing, while also ensuring their merchandise is high quality, providing an optimized ecommerce website, and calling out being in a convenient location as a selling feature.
While each local business’s situation and circumstances are unique, the forecasts for the 2021 holiday season suggest that agencies take a balanced approach to market an SMB’s online and offline offerings and experiences rather than favoring one over the other.
With that in mind, let’s take a look at a few strategies agencies can undertake with their clients to boost sales.
Holiday marketing strategies: 8 tips to maximize sales for local businesses
As a starting point, Sean Corson, Co-Founder of data analytics platform Daasity, says agencies and local businesses should review the prior year’s marketing budget and return on ad spend (ROAS) data to determine the most effective promotions and channels for traffic during the holidays.
“If you forecast how much traffic you need to drive to hit this year’s holiday revenue goals, you can estimate how much you have to spend per customer and on which channels,” he says.
1. Leverage social media and paid advertising
Nearly 8 in 10 consumers said they used at least one Facebook app or service to find gifts, and it was estimated that social commerce accounted for 11 percent (or $474 billion) of total global retail ecommerce revenue in 2020.
Carson expects social media to be a key driver of online sales again and encourages marketers to use content and selling functionality on these platforms to increase Christmas sales.
But Tim Asimos, Partner and Director of marketing agency Digital + Growth, believes it will be hard for local businesses to stand out purely with organic content alone, and that paid ads are now necessary to reach audiences on Facebook, Instagram, and other popular social channels.
"Paid social allows you to display advertisements on social platforms or to promote your own social content so that it reaches more people, targeting the demographics you’d like to reach," Asimos says.
That means agencies may need to have conversations around a holiday paid ads budget with their clients.
2. Optimize local SEO
As always, SEO will play a huge factor in holiday marketing strategies.
Last year, search accounted for 45 percent of visits and revenue during the holidays, with paid search being slightly more effective than organic search.
Carson says marketers should look back to see which terms resulted in the highest conversions at the best cost per acquisition (CPA) rates while factoring in terms that are trending this year through keyword research.
In addition to this, it’s critical agencies remind local businesses to ensure their listings information is up to date on Google and other platforms. This may form part of an SEO audit and cover:
- The store’s name, address, and phone number and ensuring these details are identical to what’s listed on the SMB’s website and other listings
- Accurate business hours including public holiday open and closing times
- Ensuring the SMB has a continuous flow of online reviews, and if not, the agency should see this as an opportunity
- Lots of visual content including recent photos, and if possible, a virtual tour of the store.
3. Display your local inventory on Google Business Profile
We recently reported that Google My Business rebranded to Google Business Profile and added new features to help local businesses drive store traffic.
One of these is the “in stock” filter on Search so shoppers can see only nearby stores that have the item they are looking for - this will greatly assist more than 50 percent of shoppers who will attempt to confirm online that an item from a local business is in stock before going to buy it.
To make sure products show up, retailers in the United States and Canada can sign up for Pointy from Google — free of charge and right from a business’s GBP on Search.
4. Consider new marketing mediums
The lead-up to Christmas is a great time for agencies to get SMBs to consider new tools such as SMS message and web push notification marketing if they don’t already have this functionality.
Last year saw a 378 percent increase in SMS messaging over 2019, with an average conversion rate of 2.65 percent, according to the Omnisend 2020 Ecommerce Marketing Statistics Report.
Meanwhile, there was a 1098 percent increase in web push messages in 2020 from the prior year. These had a 52.8% view rate, 2.8% click rate, and “an impressive 28.1% conversion rate.”
These notifications can provide a convenient way to keep customers up-to-date on order and shipping status.
5. Create teaser email campaigns
Email campaign marketing remains one of the most powerful tools to communicate to the masses.
Dan Macgill, Consultant at ecommerce platform WooCommerce, says local businesses should generate hype among customers by sending emails in advance of Black Friday and Cyber Monday about the imminence of great deals.
“You begin by sending out emails in advance of Black Friday and Cyber Monday telling customers to anticipate great deals. You might segment special offers to different lists. So as the big day draws near, your customers are looking forward to what they can get,” he says.
“If you’ve planted the seed, and then watered it in the weeks leading up to the big day, your customers will already be thinking about you and planning to look at your deals and specials,” he says.
6. Create a surprise bonus
Macgill suggests that as an added surprise, local businesses can extend the duration of their sale on the day it starts, rather than limiting it to a one-day event.
“Some companies extend Black Friday sales through the weekend. Some start them before the actual date. The same flexibility extends to Cyber Monday, which is why it’s often referred to as Cyber Week,” he says.
He adds that an SMB could include benefits that weren’t previously mentioned when the sale period commences, such as:
- Free shipping
- Free gift wrapping
- A bonus gift like an accessory or holiday ornament
- A gift card that can be redeemed in the new year
- A special buy one, get one free offer
“Surprise and delight are powerful motivators. Use them in your Black Friday and Cyber Week email campaigns,” Macgill says.
7. Upsell customers with ‘stocking stuffers’
“Stocking stuffers” or small Christmas gifts could be the perfect solution for shoppers who have many people to shop for, and an easy way for SMBs to upsell products and boost sales via ecommerce.
“Just like with checkout displays at retail stores, people don’t mind adding on a few dollars worth of items they can use as stocking stuffers or fun gifts,” Macgill says.
Agencies can work with local businesses to recommend stocking stuffers based on categories, tags, or customer actions.
“Suggest several of these products on your checkout page as simple upsells during the holiday season,” he says.
8. Create email campaigns for after the sale
The holiday shopping season doesn’t end after Cyber Monday is over. Many people continue shopping throughout December and in the lead up to Christmas, Macgill says.
And the fact of the matter is that if a local business won a new customer during the holidays, they have the opportunity to go much further than one sale via re-targeting and also new email campaigns that:
- Thank them for their purchase
- Give shipping updates
- Include instructions on how to use or care for a product
- Ask for reviews
- Send new offers
“Doing this shows customers you care about their experience, not just their money, and it will result in fewer returned products and better customer loyalty,” he says.
And where a customer still has items in their shopping cart but hasn’t checked out, addressing abandoned cart emails can be useful in ensuring customers don’t fall through the cracks.
Agencies shouldn’t view the holiday period as a write-off for securing more projects. On the contrary, it’s the perfect time to express gratitude to customers and prospects.
At the same time, agencies should ensure they’re on the ball and help local businesses plan their holiday marketing strategies in advance given the revenue at stake for business owners.
- Have clear goals in mind about what B2B campaigns are designed to achieve
- Everyone loves a good deal during the holidays, so consider offering a pre-paid marketing services discount and creating a sense of urgency among clients to lock in more work for the New Year
- Sales in 2021 are expected to reach a record high, and both the ecommerce and in-store customer experience will be equally important in driving revenue
- Support local businesses by ensuring communications campaigns are planned in advance, websites are optimized for SEO, listings and inventory information are regularly updated, and adopting new technologies to drive leads and conversions
And on that note, happy holidays!