Love Is in the Air. Will Sales Follow?

Valentine’s Day is no longer just about expressing your love for that special someone. It’s about gift-giving! Over 40 percent of adults plan to purchase a Valentine’s Day gift and roughly 60 percent of men plan to use the Internet in their purchase process, according to recent research by Performics. Regardless of the purchase channel, the top three reasons customers cite for using the Internet include getting gift ideas; comparing prices/finding deals; and finding a specific product.

Women, forget your hopes of receiving something sparkly or silky. Flowers and candy are still the top choices. While Valentine’s Day is a big gift-giving holiday, not every product works well for Valentine’s Day. If I receive a subscription to a business publication, I know the relationship isn’t headed in a very romantic direction. While it’s important to promote holidays and events, ensure they’re relevant to your product and brand.

Online Purchase Process

The Internet isn’t just for completing transactions. Purchasing is a multistep process of research, engagement, and purchase. Online marketing can be important at each phase, regardless of purchase channel, since consumers have different needs, depending on where they are in the purchase process:

  • Research. Customers have a need. They start looking for a product, deciding what category to buy and what brands or companies to consider. At this point, marketers must think about how to enter the consideration set, especially if their product’s outside the norm, such as a spa treatment for Valentine’s Day.

  • Engage. Consumers assess different options. Marketers must supply information that sways the decision toward their product by presenting its relative benefits.
  • Convert. Once consumers make a decision as to product and brand, give them the best price and help them complete the purchase as quickly and painlessly as possible. Ensure the purchase process doesn’t cause them to bail. Remember, the actual sale may take place via another channel, such as phone or retail.

Marketing Calendar

Holidays such as Valentine’s Day have always driven lots of retail business, so it’s important to have a marketing calendar with a set of planned promotions throughout the year. Think beyond conventional events such as Presidents’ Day, back to school, and Christmas to determine what works for your business:

  • Create holidays and events. Tap into your offering’s unique attributes. This may take some outside-the-box thinking and planning. For example, promote spring cleaning for cleaning supplies or organizers and Earth Day for green products.

  • Consider relevance and timing of each event. A series of back-to-back promotions may overtax your organization and your consumers’ pocketbooks.
  • Allow time to properly plan and execute each promotion. This is particularly important when a product isn’t an obvious sale (such as gifts other than flowers and candy for Valentine’s Day) or is a lesser event. Don’t forget to include organic search initiatives.
  • Be flexible. Be able to add and drop promotions to adapt to changing business and environmental trends.
  • Include your company’s anniversary. It’s a good excuse for a sales celebration. Move the event to an otherwise low sales period.

Marketing Implications

As a marketer, your site and landing pages must support the multistep purchase process. Your offering, Web promotions, and back-end support must be flexible enough to deal with the adding and dropping of seasonal programs on a timely basis. Among the areas to consider are:

  • Optimize pages for search terms consumers use at each phase. Think in terms of the language your customers use. This is particularly important for marketers whose product may not be the mainstream choice or how customers ordinarily think of your product. Amanda Watlington of Searching for Profit recommends planning ahead for organic search and using more general paid search terms, such as “valentine gifts,” for less obvious product selections.

  • Provide appropriate content to aid customers’ decision process. While flower and candy retailers needn’t work hard to get into the Valentine’s Day consideration set, they have to give prospects a compelling reason to purchase their brand. If you’re not a top-of-mind holiday choice, you must provide customers with relevant information and tools on your site and on social media sites. If you sell a product women love but that isn’t on men’s radar, give women the means to pass along a not-so-subtle hint. Also, provide customers with relevant information based on the search terms they use and where they are in the purchase cycle.
  • Streamline and facilitate the engagement and purchase processes. Make sure every page provides prospects with ability to engage with your firm and return to your site. Include tools such as “bookmark this site,” “e-mail a friend,” “print this page,” a toll-free number, and e-mail newsletter signup. Further, give prospects multiple ways to contact you and facilitate immediate purchase. Make sure you track engagement and where customers leave your site.

Metrics

To assess the success, consider goals and promotions in context:

  • Unique visitors. Track the number of prospects at each step of the purchase process to determine your conversion rate. Remember, online visitors may ultimately purchase offline.

  • Sales. Track sales in aggregate and in terms as a percent of customer contacted. Compare these results to your budget and prior-year results. If you use multiple channels, remember to consider online’s impact on phone and retail sales.
  • Costs. Calculate the cost of the total promotion. Consider the media and search expense as well as e-mail, site, and landing pages expenses, which may be internal expenses.

Getting the perfect gift from your Valentine isn’t something you can count on every year. But Valentines’ Day is a selling season you can count on. Make the most of it!

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