As we sweat through the dog days of summer, it’s hard to believe that the 2001 holiday season is just around the corner. In fact, the big bell that denotes the start of the holly-jolly shopping season will ring in fewer than 140 days. And although Old Saint Nick and his crew have been making this trip for hundreds of years, many people still choose not to emulate Santa’s ways, waiting instead until the last possible minute to make their lists and check them twice. In turn, these poor souls typically find themselves with the post-holiday blues, in a funk due to lost sales opportunities that last through a dateless New Year’s Eve.
Like many of you, I read the research reports that show significant year-over-year increases in acceptance of the Internet as a powerful shopping and buying channel during this peak season. Online retailers, according to a new study from The Boston Consulting Group, have been focusing their marketing efforts on targeted campaigns and have moved almost entirely away from offline mass media. As a result, spending on print advertising decreased almost 22 percent during 2000, resting at just 13 percent of overall budgets in the first quarter of 2001. The bulk of retailer dollars went to support email campaigns through banner ads, affiliate deals, catalogs, direct mail, and other programs.
So here’s a tip for the folks who have spent the first half of the summer catching up on trashy romance novels while dabbing sunscreen on their noses: Spend some time this month planning your strategy for leveraging the most cost-efficient and effective customer acquisition and retention tool in your marketing arsenal. Put down that paperback, and pick up that yellow pad. Here are some sparks to get the flame going:
- Collect customer email addresses. Audit every method of communication that you have with your customers for an opportunity to ask for their email addresses. You can’t speak to your customers if you don’t know who and where they are. Start building your list by asking for these addresses on your Web site, in your retail store, on the telephone — wherever you can.
- Build your customer profile. For those of you who are ahead of the game in building your database of email addresses, consider how rich your customer profile is. How much information do you have about customer purchasing patterns? Do you have historical data from last year’s holiday shopping period that you can use to target and profile your best customers? If not, start capturing this information, and amend your customer files.
- Who’s been naughty? Who’s been nice? Segmenting your customers to get a better understanding of their purchasing patterns will give you incredible information about who your best customers are and the products or services that will trigger their purchasing. All customers are not good customers. Know what constitutes good customers; you can target them with messages that have an impact and ring your cash register.
- Survey your competition. I could always count on my Aunt Louise to buy me flannel pajamas each and every Christmas. Like my extended family, your competitors are usually consistent year after year. Take a look at what the competition did last year; it will give you a sense of what they’ll do this time around. What was their focus? Their value? Did they have special offers or express shipping? By calculating their moves, you can better plan your efforts. Study history. Learn from it. Come out ahead.
- Getting on Santa’s Big List. You have an incredible opportunity to acquire many more customers this year if you plan ahead. By understanding your best customer profile, you can survey other list sources to find shoppers and buyers that fit your profile, then launch opt-in efforts to convert them to your customer file. You might even catch your competition sleeping right through the New Year.
- Kids get what they want. After fathering three children, I can tell you that most kids are beacons for effective advertising. My kids always had the power of repetition on their side. When they saw something they liked, they wouldn’t hesitate to remind me over and over that they really, really, REALLY wanted it. All of their marketing and advertising got them Cabbage Patch Dolls and Tickle Me Elmos galore. Take it from the leaders in persuasion (a.k.a. kids): If you want to be effective this holiday season, you need to use email communications and all other media with great consistency and focus. Frequency of message will yield greater brand awareness, preference, and sales. Infrequent and unfocused efforts will not get the job done.
- Ask and ye shall receive. The biggest disappointment each holiday season typically comes from people such as you and me — the ones who don’t make our preferences known. In crafting your offers this holiday season, make sure that your product and services are clear and focused on customer benefit. If you are selling a product, make sure that your email provides all the necessary information that will enable a customer to actually purchase the product. Too often we have seen campaigns that are vague in terms of their value proposition and, as a result, miss the sales mark.
So while the beach beckons and the Dave Matthews Band rocks those hot summer nights, take an hour or so to get your mind in the holiday spirit. Turn the air conditioner on full blast — and blast that Chipmunks Christmas CD, too — and get your marketing strategy ready for the upcoming holiday shopping frenzy.