As the COVID-19 pandemic continues, marketers must adjust to the changing economy and be willing to adapt to unpredictability. Health risks and mandated safety precautions have resulted in a massive shift in consumer behavior and spending. For the first time since 2009, total US retail sales are expected to decline by an estimated 10.5% (eMarketer, June 2020). However, ecommerce demand is projected to increase by 18%, which positions digitally focused brands to better weather the COVID-19 storm.
As retailers transition to the peak Q4 months, seasonal holiday demand will be accelerated by the existing consumer shift to online purchasing. eMarketer projects holiday ecommerce sales will be over $150b, the most ever recorded for a single holiday period. Also, DaVinci payments reports 71% of US adults plan to do more than half of their 2020 holiday shopping digitally. This means digital marketing execution will be more important than ever. In this article, we’ve compiled a series of strategies paid media and digital merchandising teams can leverage to take advantage of this peak time period.
- Forecasting your peak demand days should be a critical exercise done prior to the holiday time period. Base your forecast initially on your organization’s previous holiday revenue performance, supplemented with industry projections from publishers like Google or Facebook. Project how much traffic and revenue you should be driving on a daily basis, paying particular attention to the key “Cyber-5” days where demand will be highest. Below is a chart of the top holiday shopping days in 2019 for reference.
- Secure your paid media budgets ahead of time based on the demand you forecasted. Leave some room for flexibility depending on how your campaigns perform. Flexible budgeting allows paid media teams to react faster during time periods of improved conversion rate to capture additional revenue.
- Media buying teams should then create daily pacing plans to closely manage ad spend pacing throughout the peak holiday time periods. Even creating hourly pacing plans on peak days like Black Friday and Cyber Monday can be helpful to ensure your campaigns are serving as intended.
- Ensure IO’s and payment methods are up to date and can accommodate the forecasted budgets so that campaigns are not at risk of being paused.
- Solidify promotional offers and calendar well ahead of time. Have creative assets and ad copy prepared for promotions shared with media buying teams with extra lead time. Creative approval times from publishers are extended in Q4, so sharing assets well ahead of time and avoiding last minute changes ensures there is no advertising downtime.
- If you are using seasonal creative, media teams should upload the ads into the advertising platforms several days ahead of time to ensure there are no creative disapprovals or policy issues.
- Take advantage of new, beta and seasonal formats offered from publishers. These change each year, but Google, Microsoft and Facebook each typically offer these. Below are examples of the Black Friday Promotion Extension for Google search ads, and the Flyers Extensions for Bing search ads that were available in 2019.
Paid Media Campaign Tactics
- Install analytics and reporting systems to monitor performance data in real time. You need the ability to see and react to intra-day demand changes. Scripts or API based tools can be helpful here. If you are using a 3rd party analytics or bid management platform, understand if there is latency associated with the product. Automated alerts can be a compliment here as well.
- Ensure you have keyword coverage on Black Friday / Cyber Monday and other holiday related search terms.
- Don’t rely completely on automated bidding from either Google, Facebook or a 3rd party platform on key demand days. While machine learning based bidding systems have improved over recent years and are now the standards across Google and Facebook, these systems react to observed historical performance and make changes based on that. Because of the very short window of demand spikes during the “Cyber-5,” you risk underbidding during times of initial demand then overbidding after. One option here is to install a hybrid campaign structure where duplicate, manually bid campaigns can be used to react more quickly to real time trends if algorithms are not adjusting spend quickly enough. Seasonality overrides are a newer option for campaigns on Google using Smart Bidding that allow you to estimate conversion rate changes on specific days which the machine learning models incorporate into the bidding logic. However, this feature doesn’t completely account for all the variability in metrics that can occur during holiday (spikes in traffic or CPC) so we don’t recommend using it at this point.
- Take time to make sure your product feed is well optimized. While product feed optimization is a best practice for retailers, making an extra effort to ensure its quality can result in improved performance, particularly in Q4. Optimizations for product feeds include populating all available product attributes such as MPN, GTIN, color, size and shipping cost. Also having your feed filed delivered on a daily or intraday basis will provide the most up to date information to shoppers and will avoid any product related disapprovals.
- Account clean-up and QA: Ensure tracking pixels firing correctly and campaign settings set as ad scheduling, location and network targeting are correct.
- Monitor auction insights reporting for your branded search campaigns on peak demand days. Competitive behavior can change rapidly in Q4 and you’ll want to be sure your branded search ads are serving in top positions. Monitor for trademark violations and for short term deal sites that advertise heavily during the Cyber-5 time period.
- Ensure you have comprehensive audience coverage across all available options including remarketing, 1st party customer data (Facebook Custom Audiences, Google Customer Match), similar audiences/lookalikes and ADARA Cortex Signals.
- Determine a crisis response plan. Confirm on call contacts from client, agency and publisher sides. Define what determines a crisis, who should be involved and what the expected turnaround time to address issues should be.
- Enforce code freezes from development during peak demand periods to avoid any website or cart issues.
- Closely manage product inventory and your supply chain. Have a plan in place to pause media buying if inventory sells out.
- Offer digital installment payment options and prepare for more budget-conscious holiday shoppers in 2020.
- Install curbside pickup options for products purchase online. Google reports queries for ‘curbside pickup’ have increased 23x since the start of March:
In closing, while COVID-19 is continuing to challenge businesses in different ways, those organizations that can adjust quickly and react to the changes in customer demand and digital purchase behavior are primed to see a successful Q4.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Search Engineer, ADARA