6 Ways Advertisers Can Prepare for the 2018 Holiday Season

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The winter holidays will be here before you know it. That means it's not too early for advertisers to get their holiday campaign planning started.

1. Perfect Your Holiday Strategy

Developing a campaign strategy means determining the best way to promote your brand through the holiday season. Much of the focus is usually on the big holiday shopping days that fall just after Thanksgiving in late November: Black Friday and Cyber Monday.

Thanksgiving, Christmas, Hanukkah, and New Year's Eve can also be vital to advertising success, as each holiday has its own competitive advantage. Once you determine which holiday(s) are ideal for your advertising campaign, it's easier to put your plan into motion.

2. Create Holiday-themed Promotions

Talking to others gets your creative juices flowing so you can prepare holiday-themed promotions that can be implemented when the time comes.

One effective promotion may be offers centered around your campaign theme, such as discounts on some of your bestselling items. Offers can also come in the form of content specifically created for holiday use. For example, gift guides give shoppers inspiration. A few ideas include:

●      $15 holiday treats for coffee enthusiasts

●      5 gifts Mom/Dad will love for $50 or less

●      3 must-have gifts for kids for $25 or less

3. Look at Other Sales Opportunities

Not every holiday campaign is exclusive to Christmas. There are other shopping days tied to the holidays that deserve promotional attention, too.

Small Business Saturday is the day after Black Friday and two days after Thanksgiving. On this day, people are encouraged to show support for local businesses in their area. This is a prime opportunity for advertisers to offer shoppers big deals. According to a survey from American Express, which promotes Small Business Saturday, and the National Federation of Independent Business, 108 million shoppers spent $12.9 billion on Small Business Saturday in November 2017.

Another promotional opportunity for online retailers is Green Monday, which falls on the second Monday of December.  Back in 2007, eBay noticed that was one of its best days for online sales, so a "holiday" was born.

Finally, there's Free Shipping Day, an annual one-day event held in mid-December and targeted towards procrastinating shoppers who have to get their presents shipped quickly. This promotional holiday provides consumers with a way to buy a lot and save big on shipping charges, with a guaranteed delivery by Christmas Eve.

4. Prepare a Marketing Calendar

With every marketing plan comes countless hours of research, refinement of tactics, creating a message, and cost analysis. What's next? A marketing calendar. A blueprint for the campaign launch process, a marketing calendar guides each stage, from initial planning to the precise time to increase online ad spending.

One thing you can do in advance is run organic campaigns on a platform such as Facebook Ads. Starting now gives you a head start to evaluate your audience to see what's trending, the content they're responding to, and the offers you think might be of interest to them.

When it comes to Facebook Ads, monitor ad performance regularly and make sure to follow Facebook's troubleshooting guide if there are problems. If your ads aren't getting results from consumers, you'll want to have time to rebound. But remember, according to a 2016 survey, 40 percent of U.S. consumers start their holiday shopping by Halloween.

5. Deploy a Social Media Strategy

Once you have your plan in place, it's time to get active on social media to get in front of the right audience before the winter holidays. Your marketing calendar comes back into play here. Think about what types of content you need to produce during the holiday season. Should you provide blog posts? eBooks? Be selective in your focus, because overwhelming your audience with holiday-related advertising to get them in the shopping mood doesn't cut it.

Your audience is likely to gravitate towards content that makes a difference in how they live or helps them narrow their holiday wish list. Engage with your audience and find out what it wants.

Get people talking, sharing, liking, and eventually buying. Have some fun. Ask your audience to share memorable moments with photos and the stories that go along with them. Branded hashtags for use on Instagram or Twitter keeps the conversation going.

Choose content guaranteed to solicit positive responses and then schedule publications for November through December. Don't forget to monitor all social media accounts, as performance is paramount to campaign success. Also, social monitoring helps track keywords to better respond to those commonly used during the holidays.

6. Review Previous Performances

Analyze which campaigns worked well in past years and determine what made them work. Like life itself, marketing trends change. You may have to dig through archives of data to find out which campaigns worked, which didn't, and which platforms affected visibility and reach.

Review past reports and use social media marketing tools and analytics to make prudent budgeting decisions. This will help to determine where your resources are best used for the upcoming holiday season.

Successful holiday campaigns are all about preparation. Be clear about what you want to offer and use the right approach to draw shoppers online and into your stores.