By Monica Deretich – Retail Advisor to Sailthru
The old holiday planning cycle of kickoff and design in spring, test in summer, and execute in fall isn’t in full swing like it used to be. People are on vacation, catching up, and analyzing trends to get a better idea of what the holiday season might look like this year.
All of this adds up to a rather unusual summer that feels a little like we’re all in “wait and see” mode. After so much work to stay afloat for the past year, retail marketers might be wary of what the holiday ramp-up will entail.
Smart retail marketers can use late summer and early fall to set themselves up for automation and agility so that they aren’t overwhelmed when the holiday does eventually heat up – which it inevitably will.
Ripping Up The Roadmap
The holiday season will require a new approach. Business Insider notes here that retailers like Walmart, Target, and Best Buy are opting to close their stores on Thanksgiving in a nod to the “new normal.” People shop online more now, and so a lot of retailers will be giving their workers the day off. Insider also predicts that the season won’t be so tethered to Black Friday, and that it might start earlier than ever.
With strained resources over the pandemic, retail marketers had to shift their business many times over with localized messaging, new fulfillment options and promotions to help drive online sales as customers shifted their own habits. Using these newfound skills to navigate the uncharted holiday season is foundational to success this holiday season and beyond. But the key to a truly happy holiday is to find ways to automate and scale all of the new digital activity that is about to come on in full force.
Build On New Habits
The good news is that retailers have more experience pivoting quickly, use more real-time data to their advantage and are used to testing messaging to be more flexible with their campaigns. These are all best practices that became necessary to survive the pandemic, and they should form the backbone of a good holiday plan. What’s more, many companies are investing in digital transformation, prioritizing technology and data that can help with automation, agility and scale in a pandemic, but also during a heavy shopping season.
Marketers can implement these digitally savvy approaches to marketing now so that even if they are a “team of one” this holiday season, they can easily do the work of many:
Fix the marketing stack: Marketers should be at the front of the line to use that data and technology to their advantage. Now’s the time to integrate systems for better data flow and reporting. Look into core tech platforms to see if there are unused features that could make a big difference such as SMS push messaging or search data that can be used for personalization, partnerships with other vendors that can improve workflow or triggers that can improve omnichannel marketing experiences.
Automate manual work: Marketers should look at where their old holiday plans are manual or time-consuming, and work with their internal tech teams and partners to find opportunities to eliminate the hurdles. For example, working to take better advantage of the integration between a customer database and an email marketing platform, create automated reports that can be sent to key stakeholders each morning, and create alerts based on key performance indicators so that important issues can be prioritized quickly.
Create new capabilities: Marketers should also be proactive about creating new opportunities that deliver a lot of bang for their buck. They can look for new segments that have emerged, such as first-time holiday shoppers from last year that haven’t returned since. Rather than settle for one creative, marketers should use two or three that can be tested automatically using AI, and it’s a good idea to set up offers and campaigns based on predicted online shopping habits like making omnichannel totally seamless by offering the same discounts in-store and online with “same-day pickup” features.
Improve campaign workflows: Marketers can use email to orchestrate their segmentation strategy and automatically share with Facebook, Google, SMS and mobile app notification platforms. It’s a time saver that ensures consistency of audience criteria. Customer interests and behaviors can be used beyond email triggers. Marketers can double expose behavioral-based messages (like the abandoned cart) dynamically as a banner in an email campaign send. Reports and campaign performance data can be shared across teams to coordinate in real-time, too.
These aren’t about quick fixes, but ensuring marketers set themselves up for success by working smarter, not harder. Hopefully, retail marketers are able to steal a little bit of time for themselves during the summer slowdown this year. In the new reality of holiday planning, with shorter lead times and more agile pivots, marketers could get caught in a fall frenzy that wipes away any hint of relaxation that they got. Better to use some of that summer downtime to ensure that the fall doesn’t become the new “crunch time,” using data and automation to drive a variety of marketing activities without a lot of added stress.