Holiday season used to be associated with a briskness in the air. It was a signal that shopping bonanzas like Black Friday and the winter holidays were around the corner. Today, “holiday” season has grown beyond Black Friday or Cyber Monday or even Cyber Week. It’s a year-round affair, and holiday marketing strategies are shifting to adapt.
Digital sales surged by 50% in 2020 as the pandemic brought a new era of digital-first business that will likely continue long-term. Customer expectations have also changed – 84% of customers say the experience a company provides is as important as its products and services. They want brands to know who they are, what their unique preferences are, and the types of personalized experiences they desire.
This means marketers need to help customers prepare for key dates throughout the year – think Memorial Day, back-to-school, or Valentine’s Day. Businesses can pull valuable insights about customer behaviors from these year-long efforts to deliver more personalized, targeted messaging during the winter holiday season.
I recently met with Ashley Fortman, experience strategist at Salesforce, and Donna Mull, CRM director of omnichannel at footwear retailer Rack Room Shoes, to discuss how to build brand loyalty through year-round holiday marketing that creates the kinds of personalized messaging experiences customers crave.
It’s all about building the three Cs of personalization into your strategy: content, channels, and convenience.
Deliver data-powered holiday messaging
The first C is all about personalizing content for your customers based on their preferences. You can pinpoint these preferences using information directly collected from customers. Companies have two types of data at their disposal for content personalization: implicit and explicit data.
Implicit data is inputs like browsing histories and digital channel engagement. A data science team or artificial intelligence (AI) tool can pull insights from this data and deliver powerful one-to-one content in a scalable way. Businesses wanting to enhance existing data and grow their customer profiles can collect explicit data, or zero-party data, from customers through surveys, click behavior, or preference centers.
Ask your customers and prospects what they’ll be shopping for or what content they’ll be interested in to inform the holiday content they receive in messages. “In 2020, for example, Home Depot successfully surveyed customers about the Black Friday products that interested them most, allowing the company to create more personalized product recommendations,” Fortman said.
Last year, Rack Room Shoes used first-party data, including purchase history and marketing engagement data, to create personalized web experiences for its customers. With the help of AI, the company used email tags to understand customer interests through their click behavior and enable tailored end-to-end web experiences. They also optimized email send time, sending AI-powered product recommendations to customer inboxes at times most convenient for those users.
Mull’s team had been testing predictive intelligence tools for a year. “The tools allowed us to find areas of core engagement, like the product recommendations, and push more of those to our customers,” she said. “Given that our online sales grew by 96% last year – and our email contribution by 76% – this has been very important.”
Make your holiday strategy cross-channel
That second C is personalizing based on individual channel preferences – and choosing the right place to deliver the right holiday message. Preference center data or AI tools can help businesses identify (or infer) channel preference.
Also, given that 60% of smartphone users increased their screen time during the pandemic – and that mobile commerce will account for the largest sales growth contribution for retailers this year– businesses need a strong mobile strategy to support their channels.
“Duplicating your messages across these channels, especially if they’re not personalized, is a surefire recipe to annoy your customers,” Fortman said. “Great access to customers comes with great responsibility to personalize.”
Duplicating your messages across these channels, especially if they’re not personalized, is a surefire recipe to annoy your customers.Ashley Fortman, experience strategist at Salesforce
What does a solid cross-channel strategy look like? It should utilize each channel for its individual strengths and consider the end-to-end user experience from message to conversion. Use email, for example, for messages that require storytelling with visuals and copy, and send push messages to drive engagement with apps that deliver interactive experiences that will resonate with your customers.
At Rack Room Shoes, channel personalization aligns with the company’s overarching goal to create unified experiences for its customers. “We want to connect with our customers where they are, across channels,” Mull said. “Right now, we’re working to create more meaningful cross-channel journeys that incorporate SMS and segmentation, and exploring components like Instagram Checkout to optimize social monetization.”
Account for convenience in your holiday strategy
Now we’re on to the third C. According to the National Retail Federation, 9 in 10 consumers are more likely to choose brands that offer convenient shopping experiences. When crafting your holiday strategy for 2021, think about how you can innovate to save your customers time and effort. Consider, for example, diversifying your payment, delivery, or shipping options, as many retailers did in 2020.
“Note the innovations and investments your brand has made this year and use data to determine which of those convenience factors will resonate with cohorts of your customers,” Fortman said.
“For example, if you have a group of customers who haven’t made a purchase yet late in the holiday season, encourage them to use online pickup in-store. If you notice a customer has become more price-sensitive based on their purchase history, highlight your ‘buy now and pay later’ option in your holiday messaging.”
In its holiday debrief for 2020, Rack Room Shoes gathered as a cross-functional team to analyze product, brand, and e-commerce sales. They noted significant growth in curbside delivery and buy online, pick-up in store (BOPUS) shipping options. Given that, they will continue to push these in 2021, even offering member points to customers who choose these options.
Mull emphasized the importance of listening to customers through a “voice of the customer” program and market research.
“It’s so important to understand what your customers want from you and what kind of experiences they’re looking for,” she said. “With this kind of understanding, you’re better able to optimize the customer experience, eliminate customer friction points, and build a holistic view of your customer to increase overall lifetime value.”