How to Navigate Through Another ‘Not-So Normal’ Holiday Season

Iain Lowis Aug 26 2021 3 PM | 7 min read

Another trip around the sun, and here we are in a very similar state of uncertainty. Our constant this year and guiding principle as we enter a holiday season like no other? Change. A steady wave of transformation that will make advertising more fluid and agile than we ever thought possible.

Halt! Are consumers going to be shopping online this holiday season?

According to our most recent survey, 87% of consumers plan to continue shopping online even as restrictions ease further and physical retailers open up. Recent data from YouGov also supports this point – finding that 78% of consumers intend to shop online with either the same frequency or even more than they did pre-outbreak.

If the consumer is online, that’s where brands need to be to provide the most seamless shopping experience - meeting their audiences where they’re at. This will ultimately raise brand loyalty and trust.

We’ve mustered up a few noteworthy tips and tricks we held on to from last year, along with a few more we picked up along the way to help as you further your marketing efficiencies and flexibility to be ready for change at the drop of a dime. Are you prepared?

1. Plan, plan and plan again

We said it once, and we’ll say it again: prioritize planning. And we don’t just mean making one in-depth plan for the whole season, we mean making multiple plans or ‘back-ups’ that can be turned to in a moment when the consumer landscape or pandemic status changes. Also, remember that it's equally important to plan for the holiday season as whole as it is to invest in specific shopping days like Black Friday. In fact, consider Black Friday a week, not only one day.  

Having made the right requests for assets that align with your company’s plans, will help your social advertising campaigns be nimble, and ultimately pay off instead of scrambling  to plan in-the-moment. 

It is also important to ask yourself what creatives you have from last year that you can repurpose, since a portion of the pandemic messaging from last year is similar. Don’t get caught sitting on high performing creatives this year! Stretching the lifespan of preexisting assets will go a long way as your brand attempts to harness maximum flexibility. Planning various scenarios weeks in advance will be essential in avoiding a situation where you have one version that may no longer cut it. 

Re-using or making iterations of the best performing creative assets from past campaigns is a hole in one tactic. It can be successfully accomplished by gathering all the learnings from previous years, and documenting what worked well and what didn’t work as planned. If you’re unable to re-use the content entirely, edits and iterations to messaging (such as text overlays) can help distinguish them from previous campaigns. 

While repurposing, don’t assume all creatives will work for all platforms. Diversifying your creative elements based on which platform they will be seen on is what consumers will be expecting.

After clarifying your brand marketing goals, you can begin planning social advertising campaigns and KPIs to support those goals, track down creative assets you have/will have, and develop creative testing hypotheses that will tie your strategy together before the big holiday happenings.

2. Can you hear me now?

If you’re already experiencing signal loss, have been noticing conversion events and data dropping off, or are seeing CPAs and ROIs taking a hit – it’s time to get a strong signal up and running ASAP. In the coming months (and years!), it will be critical to ensure you are getting a powerful signal flow and measuring for resilient signals across all social platforms as every platform is important to the marketing funnel, and within any vertical.

A few tips to mitigate signal loss and run successful social advertising campaigns:

  • Apply a creative-resilient approach to your social advertising strategy. By producing creative variations with consistent branding across all parts of the customer journey, you can personalize ads to your customer base—regardless of when and where the signal or tracking may fall off later in time.
  • Test and learn in the new era of digital advertising. Now is the time to reassess and rewrite benchmarks, as well as to expand your test-and-learn agenda. With the changes to measurement and attribution it will be worthwhile to try out new strategies, such as to compare performance across different objectives, audiences, and placements to see what works best for your business.
  • Embrace the rise of the mid-funnel. With a reduction in user-level tracking across apps, performance branding—or a consolidation of upper- and lower-funnel tactics into one—is becoming the new sweet spot for digital marketers and advertisers to master. This could mean audience consolidation, campaign simplification, or budget grouping for some of your advertising initiatives.
  • Explore broader targeting for lower-funnel campaigns. By going broad, you cast a wider net of prospective customers that ultimately could drive strong results. Putting more of a focus on Facebook’s Dynamic Ads for Broad Audiences (DABA) might be a good remedy when standard Dynamic Product Ads (DPA) audiences start to get smaller over time. Since DABA can learn from similar users who may not have opted out of IDFA tracking on apps, it could be leveraged as a lookalike-modeling or behavior-based solution to expand your audience pool while meeting your lower-funnel needs.

3. The holiday season isn’t a conTEST - or is it?

By focusing on testing and having a contingency plan, especially for brands with local or audience specific creatives, you can better ensure you’ll have the right creative and messaging for every situation. Why is this important? Because creative will be more influential than it ever has been this 2021 holiday season.

By testing different creative components and messaging, brands can set themselves up to have the best options available once the holidays are upon us. Whatever it is you’re planning to experiment with across platforms – plan to test it at a small scale as early as possible. Start by testing three to five creative concepts and iterating the winning ones to learn what kind of creative is most engaging to your audience. One of our biggest takeaways from last season was one-size testing does not fit all!

Savvy marketers are hypothesis-driven and begin their testing plans with what they want to learn. That said, produce creatives based on hypotheses that are relevant to your brand and solve business challenges. Map out the type of insights you’re looking to gain and how those could change your strategy; then, translate them into multiple creative concepts. Reminder: only test one change at a time to see what’s working. Once you home in on the creative approach that brings the best results, iterate specific creative elements to improve their performance continuously.

It is additionally important to test various seasonal concepts alongside your evergreen ads to see what truly makes an impact. Make sure your offer is clear, actionable, and always true to your brand's voice, look, and feel – even with the seasonal touches. Figuring out what works for the holidays is essential, but finding out what works as the holidays progress, deserves equal consideration – always iterate on what works and digging deeper to find more.

4. Consider raising creative intestments

By investing in a modular creative approach and testing plan, you can measure the specific elements within ads more likely to produce favorable campaign outcomes. Our new Ad Ranking view makes it easy for you to identify and visually analyze your top performing ads to inform future creative direction alongside performance analysts and campaign planners. Since creative decisions go a long way in determining performance, it is essential to have all teams working in lockstep this holiday season.

Advertisers last year faced a significant amount of competition in the marketplace, driving costs up exponentially around traditional holiday peaks like Black Friday or Cyber Monday. Many learned their lesson during this time, and our advice? Don’t focus so much on heavy budgets central to one specific date, but rather extend the sales period around these peaks to be as large as a week. Advertisers that spread out their investments will succeed in competing against increased costs of peak days.

Social advertising campaigns aren’t always complex in nature, but it’s the difficulty of achieving scale during the holiday season that can make them tricky – So be sure to contact us and we’ll be there to collaborate with you and help to make your seasonal campaigns are top-notch for 2021 and beyond.

   Creative Testing Playbook Finding the Winning Creative Concepts CHECK IT NOW
Iain Lowis
Iain is a Client Partner at living in Oakland, CA and working with some of Smartly’s key agency, travel, and education partners. When he is not busy taking care of his 50 plants he’s focused on bridging the gap between creative ideation at scale and automating the digital advertising lifecycle so marketers can spend more time doing what they love.

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