empty store shelves

How To Avoid Nine Pitfalls Of Holiday Marketing

Are you ready to set yourself up for holiday marketing success? You can get a headstart by avoiding these nine common pitfalls.

Even though major holidays tend to happen at the same time each year, it’s amazing how often we aren’t fully prepared for them. The days get shorter, the lines get longer and before you know it, you’re scrambling to get everything done. For consumer brands and retailers, preparing for the holidays takes more than just ordering extra inventory and slapping fake snow on the windows.

Successful holiday campaigns are well-designed, well-executed and planned far in advance. They capture the imagination and create magical connections with consumers. Unfortunately, not every holiday marketing effort reaches those heights. Here’s a list of some of the most common pitfalls of holiday marketing — and how you can avoid them.

#1 Not updating advertising/marketing when stock runs out

If the worst happens and you see product supplies getting low, you should immediately notify your marketing partners — they should be alerted so that any online campaigns like Google Adwords can be updated or redirected. If there’s anything worse than missing out on a sale, it might be wasting money on ads driving people to an unavailable item.

Update low and out-of-stock items immediately, and make sure social and other channels no longer push those items. Also, ensure your shipping options are kept up-to-date, so shoppers can be sure whether purchases will arrive in time. Real-time inventory management can also be used to urge consumers to purchase quickly or risk missing out (only 2 items left — buy now!).

#2 Not enough stock

Running out of a popular product during your prime selling season is a retail nightmare. When planning inventory for the holiday season, ensure you have sufficient stock on hand. It’s better to have items left over after the holiday rush than miss out on all those sales because of low inventory. Make sure your distributors and suppliers are also prepared to deliver on-time as well.

#3 Waiting too late to plan

One of the easiest mistakes to make is to wait too late to start your holiday planning. Ideally, you’ve laid things out during the summer, so you’re already rolling come September. Before you know it, the telltale displays will start appearing in stores, and here we go with the spider webs and costumes and then turkeys and pilgrim hats. Before you have time to breathe, it’s ho- ho- ho-liday time again.

Good luck finding a vendor to create custom packaging for your holiday product in October or a photographer to take new photos or a programmer to update your website. Other, better prepared brands have already booked the best partners and vendors, and you’re left scrambling. Brands that wait until the last minute to start holiday planning will find their stockings filled with coal.

#4 Failing to adapt

Sometimes, even brilliant marketing plans don’t work. You sent the special email with the hilarious dancing elf and product coupon and … crickets. It can be tough to pivot so late in the season — after all, you’ve spent the entire budget on this plan. If this happens, look around to see what’s working for other brands. Is there a trend you hadn’t noticed? Do customers seem to be looking for something different or at a lower price point? Maybe the top-of-the-line, big-ticket item loaded with features isn’t what your shoppers are looking for. Pay attention to what is selling well, and don’t be afraid to scrap what’s not working.

#5 Shutting it down too soon

Sometimes the opposite situation happens. Your holiday campaign is a stunning success, but you shut it down just as it’s really taking off. While many consumers are Christmas-or-bust, others are willing to wait a little longer in order to get great deals. Consider extending your big holiday push into January to ensure you don’t miss out on more sales.

In fact, the week between Christmas and New Year’s Day is a prime time to continue your promotions and marketing — especially if those holidays fall on weekends (which means more shopping). Just because the calendar says it’s a new year doesn’t mean you have to automatically shut things down. If something is working, keep it going.

#6 Too much focus on Black Friday

Did you know that Black Friday is not the only shopping day that matters? It’s true! Unfortunately, many brands go for the big Black Friday splash rather than a strategy that lasts throughout the holiday shopping season. Today’s shoppers are savvier than ever when it comes to smelling a stunt. In fact, many brands are finding success embracing a contrarian position and closing on Black Friday. (See REI’s #OptOutside campaign.)

Why not look for ways to make holiday shopping less frenzied and more pleasant by offering great online sales that extend beyond that day. You don’t have to participate in the Black Friday arms race of opening earlier and earlier — you can chart your own course.

#7 Too little focus on Cyber Monday

Cyber Monday has overtaken Black Friday for top shopping day of the year. Mobile sales dominated desktop for the first time in 2017, and yet many retailers are still approaching mobile as an afterthought. Keep in mind that you are likely competing against the convenience, price-point and user experience offered by Amazon and other major e-tailers. Therefore, it pays to keep your ads and social channels updated frequently with new offers, so you remain top of mind. Digital cart abandonment is often triggered by a prolonged or annoying check-out process, so look for ways to improve the process for your customers, like reducing the number of checkout form fields, correctly labeling input requirements and switching on auto-suggest.

#8 Blending in with the crowd

Just because it’s a holiday doesn’t mean you have to offer your customers the exact same red-and-green-Christmas-flavored experience as other businesses. Whether it comes to picking a seasonal card or in-store decorations, holidays are a great opportunity to set your brand apart. Think about your business’ history. Do you have traditions you can highlight or memories of childhood you can conjure? Consider what kind of hours you want to be open versus the time off your staff will need to be with their families. Every decision you make will say something about your brand. Smart brands stand out from the “noise” of holiday advertising by connecting to people’s emotions — either through great stories or inspiring messages. There’s never been a better time to be unique “you.”

#9 Humor that misses the mark

In order to set themselves apart, brands often use the holidays as an opportunity to have a little fun and show their sense of humor. When these efforts work, they can do wonders for both image and awareness with consumers. When done poorly, however…

ruffles tofu-urkey chips ad

This Instagram ad was captioned “There’s a reason tofu-urkeys are never pardoned.” Unfortunately for Ruffles, this attempt at humor was taken as a slight by some vegans, who then started a #BoycottRuffles campaign. Lesson: Don’t make fun of potential customers, especially when they’re hungry. As a rule, you should probably also steer clear of anything mocking religion, ethnicity, language, disability or anything likely to alienate entire categories of potential customers.

It’s good to remember that, thanks to e-commerce, literally anyone in the world can be your customer. So whether you say “Merry Christmas,” “Feliz Navidad” or “Happy Festivus,” just remember that what really matters is how welcome you make people feel.

Have you seen any outstanding holiday marketing campaigns? Share your favorites with me at dkedinger@foodmarketingnow.