Brands Bradley Hearn By Meggan Mercury

Q&A with the Experts: Digital Marketing Best Practices for the Holidays

The holidays are fast approaching and brands and retailers of all sizes are busy with last-minute preparations. To help sellers prepare for the season ahead, we decided to highlight some advice from our Managed Services experts in a Q&A blog series. (Read part I here.) 

The ChannelAdvisor Managed Services team works with clients every day to provide strategy and execution in their e-commerce efforts — maximizing their presence on marketplaces and optimizing their digital marketing campaigns. 

We sat down with Meggan Mercury, one of our client strategy directors for digital marketing, to get some of her strategies tips for the upcoming holiday season. (Read Part 1, on marketplaces best practices; and Part 3, on Amazon Advertising best practices.)

Q: It’s October. What are the three most urgent things sellers should be doing right now before the holidays?

The first thing to figure out right now is budgeting. What is your ad investment going to look like this year versus last year? This is the time to get a strong understanding of what the competitive landscape looks like. What can you afford to put into advertising so new competitors aren’t encroaching on your space?

Also, make sure your Cyber Five budgets are aligned with your seasonal budgets, and those budgets are aligned with your shipping capabilities. 

Once you have an idea of your budget, align it with your promotional calendar. You really should have these promotions locked by mid-October, so your digital marketing team (whether that’s your team at ChannelAdvisor or your internal digital marketing team) knows how to allocate your funds. 

Third, make sure your feed quality is top notch and you’ve resolved any errors or disapprovals in Google Merchant Center. When heading into the holiday season, you want all your products that can be live to be live. Image issues, GTIN issues — there are plenty of errors you can’t afford to ignore once the selling season heats up. Strive for a 3% product disapproval rate or lower.

Q: How should marketers approach their ad budget when looking ahead to the Cyber Five and beyond?

Benchmarking your budget is extremely important. There are a lot of benchmarking tools available, both through ChannelAdvisor and Google. Google will show you benchmarking data for click-through rates (CTRs), cost-per-clicks (CPCs), how your pricing compares to your competitors and more. Use those benchmarks to gain an understanding of where you stand in the competitive landscape. 

For many sellers, Amazon’s increase in Google ad spend this year is making it tougher to get products seen on the Google results page. And with more advertisers in every vertical, it’s important to shift your mindset and realize that you’re probably not going to achieve the same results you saw last year at the same ad budget. If you want to see more revenue this year, it’s probably not going to happen at the same efficiency. 

Google Shopping Actions is also a smart play for brands and retailers who want to increase their odds of appearing on the search results page, though it’s doubtful you’ll be live before the holidays if you haven’t started the process already. If you want to be live and ready in 2020, however, start now.

Q: Brands and retailers hear a lot about getting products “in front of the right consumer, at the right place, at the right time.” What does that look like from a specific strategy/tactic perspective? 

One way to do this is by segmenting audiences. Google has more audience options than ever before, as well more detailed demographics for segmenting campaigns.  

By leveraging Google’s in-market audiences, you’re using Google’s consumer information for pretty granular in-market segmentations. Google even offers seasonal audience segmentations such as  “Black Friday shoppers” and “Cyber Monday shoppers” which you can apply to all your campaigns. 

Another easy way to target a specific subset of your own database is to use retargeting ads with specific messaging for each. For example, cart abandoners may receive one message while past customers may receive another. There are a lot of ways to leverage the power of your customer data to create a robust and granular audience targeting strategy. 

“Right place, right time” also comes down to bidding. Marketers need to put different bid value on different customers, depending on what point in the purchasing funnel they’re in. For example, if your potential customer is further down the funnel, knows what they want and is using longer-tail search terms, you’ll want to bid up to serve them very specific product ads. 

Q: What are the best ways to highlight promotions throughout the season?

Google ad extensions — whether showcasing prices, promotions or site links — are great ways to get more attention on your ads and can be set up in the Google UI. According to Google, extensions provide an average CTR uplift of around 10-15% per extension.  

Around the holidays, everyone is looking for a sale, so why wouldn’t you highlight yours in your ads? 

On the Google Shopping side, Merchant Promotions allows you to set up promotions within your Shopping ads in Google Merchant Center. 

Q: Which ad types do you recommend for sellers to promote products across Google, Facebook and Instagram? Does it change by vertical? 

It certainly can vary by vertical, and there are tons of ad types to choose from, especially at the top of the buying funnel. 

For example, using Showcase ads (via Google Shopping) is a great way to acquire new customers by differentiating your brand and showcasing more of your products to those customers who aren’t sure yet what they want.

Google is obviously heading in a much more visual direction with its ad formats and layout. Gallery ads and Discovery ads are relatively new formats that allow you to introduce your products to top-of-funnel consumers in a much more visual format. 

As I mentioned earlier, signing up for Shopping Actions is very important. Google is making a lot of exciting changes to its ad formats. As Shopping Actions increases its percentage of the SERP in 2020, brands and retailers can’t afford to sit on the sidelines and watch.

There are also plenty of ad types across Facebook and Instagram. From Stories ads and Collection ads to Dynamic ads and Carousel ads, a lot of options could align with your vertical — especially in the apparel and beauty sectors. 

Q: Anything else brands and retailers should be thinking about?

With all the emphasis on digital, it’s still really important to focus on your omnichannel efforts. If you have brick-and-mortar stores, concentrate on how your online and offline teams can work together. You need cohesion in both your messaging and strategy. 

For example, Google has local ads and local inventory ads (LIAs) that can help drive foot traffic, especially after the “last ship date.”

But you can leverage several other things from a digital standpoint to improve brick-and-mortar sales. “Near me” campaigns allow you to target consumers shopping on their phones within a three-mile radius around your stores. Or you can add bid modifiers on Google text ads to work a local angle. 

Basically, if you have physical stores, omnichannel should be a serious topic of conversation within your team.