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Here’s How Retailers Can Conquer the Fiscal Calendar

Jeff Cohn Sep 22 2021 2 PM | 6 min read

Picture this: It’s Sunday. Perhaps the weather is nice outside, enticing you with a chance to go to the park or catch up with friends and family. Maybe there’s a sporting event or awards show you want to see. It’s all smooth sailing knowing that this is your last day to relax before the workweek resumes on Monday.

Or is it?

For those who work on behalf of big-box retail businesses, the first true day of the workweek might actually be Sunday. And that is because of the retail fiscal calendar.

The Retail Fiscal Calendar: Explained

While not all retail businesses may adhere to the retail fiscal calendar—also known as a 4-5-4 or 4-4-5 calendar—many do and it is important to understand how it impacts financial reporting, planning, and advertising campaign activation. The National Retail Federation explains the 4-5-4 calendar as “a guide for retailers that ensures sales comparability between years by dividing the year into months based on a 4 weeks – 5 weeks – 4 weeks format.” Typically each fiscal week and month of the calendar begins on a Sunday and ends on a Saturday. As such, social media advertising in the world of retail also often adheres to this calendar on a weekly, monthly, or quarterly basis. 

However, even if social advertising campaigns are scheduled to go live automatically over the weekend, there are rarely safeguards in place to catch immediate performance or launch issues. Moreover, these monthly and quarterly budgets can be extremely rigid from a financial perspective, meaning that any overspend can be detrimental and any underspend might have to drop to the bottom line (rather than being able to reinvest the budget into future campaigns).

Conquering the Calendar

Since Smartly.io’s inception, we’ve been focused on building social advertising solutions for better campaign and budget management. We have three key capabilities that are particularly helpful to retailers and agencies for conquering the fiscal calendar:

  1. Smart Budget Scheduling

    Smart Budget Scheduling gives you more control over your Facebook budget. With this feature, you can define time periods for when specific portions of your total budget should be spent—without the need to break out multiple campaigns and ad sets. This means you can pre-schedule your desired ‘monthly’ budgets while maintaining a lengthier campaign flight. Smart Budget Scheduling can also help you to avoid underspend at certain key moments, such as if you want to increase spend for sale days and promos.

  2. Budget Pools

    The application of Smartly.io’s Predictive Budget Allocation (PBA) can be further expanded with Budget Pools. These enable you to group campaigns together into one shared total budget. For example, you could group multiple campaigns dedicated to apparel, or beauty, or loyalty programs into one overarching campaign budget. With Budget Pools: underspend, siloed campaigns, and less-optimized delivery become things of the past.

  3. Custom Saved Reporting Views

    Being able to monitor pacing and performance based on the retail fiscal calendar can be challenging on all social platforms. But with Smartly.io you can create custom saved reporting views with preset time frames that map to all future fiscal months or weeks of the year. For instance, if events like Halloween or Black Friday are very important from a budgetary perspective, then you can have preset reporting views mapped specifically to those fiscal weeks across social platforms. This sets you up for success to easily analyze results with the same fiscal reporting inputs across Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, and Snap.

Three Similar Scenarios Pose Three Different Challenges

Let’s take a look at some of the scenarios where the fiscal calendar might impact retailers’ social advertising campaigns, and how Smartly.io’s solutions can help to solve their challenges. In each scenario, imagine a 12-month ad campaign:

Scenario 1: The dollar amount spent in platform must match the planned quarterly budgets to a T

Problem: With this rule in place, there is some flexibility for the campaign to run freely for up to three consecutive months at a time. However, after those three months, the campaign either needs to be set up anew or the total campaign funding source needs to be increased as well as the end dates of ad sets extended. So if the desire is to run an “always on” or evergreen campaign then it will still have to be paused or restarted every three months, meaning it is not truly “always on”.

Smartly.io’s Solution: An advertiser can use Smart Budget Scheduling to designate quarterly budgets for each business unit ahead of time. This will help to keep the campaign evergreen while avoiding the need to update funding sources and dates.

Scenario 2: The dollar amount spent in platform must match the planned monthly budgets to a T

Problem: Here there is hardly any flexibility for the campaign to run for more than one consecutive month at a time. Not only will this campaign not be “always on”, but media buyers might even consider resetting or rebuilding it every single month (yes, that means 12 times a year!) when they retraffic the URL and placement tags for the next months’ batch of new ads. Tracking the monthly pacing between planned and actual spend is also a challenge as there are so many recurring changes occurring in ads buying platforms within just a short period of time. And since retailers have multiple lines of business and countless products they advertise, a multiplier is also applied to this chaos.

Smartly.io’s Solution: If a campaign was planned at the seasonal level, then using Smart Budget Scheduling can help to pre-assign all six months of budgets. This eliminates the need to retraffic six separate campaigns per season while simultaneously reducing the dollars spent in the learning phase. In addition, a Budget Pool can be leveraged across similar campaigns to ensure that no underspend or overspend occurs within each singular month.

Scenario 3: Any underspent dollars within social platforms drop to the bottom line and cannot be reinvested into future campaigns

Problem: Sometimes campaigns just won’t scale—whether that’s due to narrow audiences, a competitive auction environment, short campaign flights, or other uncertainties. Under this rule, the risk of underspending on a social campaign is far worse than just a one-time underdelivery mishap; rather, this might lower sales projections for that business unit or product line for the rest of the fiscal year since the unspent dollars are effectively gone after the first month.

Smartly.io’s Solution: By grouping multiple campaign types together within the same business unit, a Budget Pool can optimize the budget across the best-performing campaigns and allocate budget away from ones with small audiences that won’t scale. This ensures that the dollars will be spent in full within the intended campaign months. With preset reporting views, an advertiser can monitor spending according to each upcoming fiscal month and quarter to see how the campaign is pacing to plan. This removes the possibility of any surprises coming up in a company-level financial report.

So what’s it going to be? Another weekend ruined by having to monitor campaign launches, or a new life where things truly can ‘wait until Monday’? Just contact us and our technology will do its part in keeping you—and your finance team—happy.

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Author
Jeff Cohn
Jeff Cohn is a global product marketing manager at Smartly.io. His thought leadership and expertise within digital advertising and the retail industry stands out in the articles he writes. Prior to joining Smartly.io he managed social media advertising campaigns for some of the largest clients in the world including AT&T, Target, and Macy's. He was also a Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report.

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