Jacking up Your Online Marketing Game this December

It seems like Halloween was only yesterday and Black Friday is nearly upon us, but smart marketers will already have an eye on their Christmas campaigns. For many companies, December's revenue will be helping to support them through leaner months, so this is really a matter of striking while the iron is hot.

Consumers are more willing to spend on both treats and durable goods, while companies may well place orders to make sure they're ready for the new year. Additionally, the general feeling of goodwill and relaxation during this time means that steering advertising to holiday topics is a great way to improve a brand's overall positioning.

Tweak AdWords

Although every company with an online presence should review their AdWords strategy from time to time, this can be particularly effective in the weeks leading up to Christmas day. During this time, the average U.S. household is expected to spend as much as $2,000 on holiday-related shopping, much of it online. Regardless of what products you sell, incorporating keywords such as "gift", "holidays" and "festive" in your advertising will do your sales figures no harm.

In a more tactical sense, AdWords also offers you a good avenue to publicizing specific promotions. Unfortunately, you will probably face a great deal of competition in the search results, so looking into what ad extensions can do for you in terms of visibility will be well worth it. Additionally, running two or three versions of the same ad and comparing their performance, as well as making sure each contains a call to action, will noticeably boost your conversion rates.

Don't Skimp on Graphic Design

Equally, the graphics and messages on your landing page and in your ads should reflect the holiday spirit. Although not every company can claim to have ninja-level web design skills, it's also true that bland and even familiar ads are practically invisible to web users. Although garish isn't good either, it's certainly possible to make the connection between the holiday season and your brand clear, while also highlighting any promotional offers. Facebook as well as third party websites become much more effective, and hence cheaper, when you don't scrimp on the visual aspects of advertising.

Fix Your Mobile Experience

About half of online purchases are made over mobile devices, and this figure would probably be higher if more smaller websites were truly responsive. In this case, it's probably better not to simply take the developer's word for it, but actually try out the visitor experience on a variety of phones. Web users are extremely demanding and fickle, with a full 40% willing to leave a site that takes longer than 3 seconds to load. While having a website that looks good on a 15" screen is non-negotiable, if a mobile user is faced with a complicated layout or unnecessary frills, they're likely to click out and not return.

Capitalize on Emotion

Why does every single company echo messages around family, peace and generosity around Christmas? Put simply, because this has been shown to be so consistently successful that opting out of the holiday spirit is dumb (if not actually slightly offensive).

Nearly everyone has powerful memories of family, turkey dinners and festivities from childhood and more recently. While obviously trying to exploit this can backfire, reinforcing the motifs most people associate with Christmas will hopefully let your brand be associated with similar feelings.

At the same time, you do ideally want to motivate customers to buy something. They will most likely not want to disappoint the people who are important to them, so reminding them that time is running out will almost always be effective, while time-bound discounts can also help avoid peak periods later in the month.

Offer Something for Free

The theme of giving features prominently in the run-up to Christmas day, and companies who show that they share this value are seen as more caring and less interested in making a quick profit. The cash value of a gift added to some size of order can be relatively little, as long as it's especially useful, novel or stylish.

This year, Free Shipping Day falls on December 15, something which all online retailers should be aware of. Discounts, special offers and giveaways are also good options, as is presenting a free podcast or webinar which combines the spirit of the holidays with educational content about your product or industry. Engaging with your market in this way, particularly if your product or service is relatively complex, allows you to show the human face of your company while automatically creating buzz and improving the chances that attendees will purchase something. Digital consumers are increasingly sophisticated, though: while they might be willing to sit through a presentation in return for a coupon, replacing interesting content with overt salesmanship is likely to leave a sour taste in their mouths.

Use Social Media

The real value of a high number of likes is debatable, but you would be a fool to ignore the marketing potential of customers actively following you on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook. As long as you can keep their attention, they automatically represent the demographic most likely to buy from you. Even better, they will be more exposed to your advertising, as well as being more engaged by being able to interact with the brand. Clearly, this kind of social presence can't be built up over two weeks in November, meaning that communicating consistently with your customers should be part of the ordinary course of business.

One creative way of leveraging this reciprocal element of social media campaigns is to trade likes for charitable donations made by you, or reposts of your ads for discount codes. If this is done, consumers are far more likely to become evangelists for your brands and post positive reviews. It also allows them to spread the campaign's influence across multiple social media platforms without having to spend the earth.

Remarket Intelligently

We all know that flight prices go up every time you visit the website – this is an example of sending a cookie to web users and using information from it to create a false sense of urgency. The idea isn't always to fleece the customer for the maximum possible, though.

As any marketer will know, the modern consumer is constantly bombarded with ads, messages and promotional offers, particularly during the holiday season. This means that their intentions and thoughts are less persistent than they might have been otherwise. Even though they may have had a purchase in mind a week ago, they might simply have forgotten by now.

A number of semi-automated systems exist to regain their business, such as when they made a product enquiry but didn't follow up, or placed something in their shopping cart without proceeding to check out. A brief email with a clear subject line and content that reminds shoppers of the holidays can be very effective, and pricing can even be dynamically adjusted to make a sale more probable. In case the prospect has not provided you with their email address, most digital advertising channels offer a remarketing service, allowing web users to see your ads more frequently within a certain period of time

Use Targeted Marketing to Increase Your Hit Rate

Plenty of companies doing online sales collect a huge amount of data on their customers: what products they search for, what pages they visit and finally what items they buy at which price point. However, is this information really being used optimally?

One way to apply web analytics is simply to measure how visitors use your site: where they come from, in what order they navigate different pages, how long they spend on each and at what point they leave. This may help in understanding what users like and what they have trouble with, but it is only when this same information is plugged into business intelligence and CRM software that real benefits result.

Messages and promotions that are targeted to a person's unique desires have been proven to be not only more effective than blanket advertising, but significantly so. This remains true whether their digital persona is derived from their online behavior, purchase history or some other method based on measurable data.

While most businesses already practice some form of market segmentation, automated analytics software can make this much easier and more accurate. When this is done, new opportunities for cross-selling and up-selling are often identified as if by magic, strategic decisions about the relative value of different demographics can be based on quantifiable data, and new markets identified based on segments that "look like" existing customers.

Post Festive Videos to Build Your Brand

TV advertising is expensive, but using Youtube or your own website to bring a short message to your audience may be nearly as effective (and good SEO practice, too). This need not be commercial at all, but rather a way to expand your brand's appeal and reach. That is: the goal shouldn't be garnering immediate sales, but build customer loyalty over the long term. Holiday greetings are always welcome, and even more so if they're made humorous and touching.

Try these out, you may find you get some great results and ultimately increases in conversions.