How to create an awesome holiday marketing plan

Every year the holiday season creeps up on me. The leaves begin to fall and the temperature starts to drop and before I know it there are holiday ads on the TV and stores are stocked floor to ceiling with decorations, stocking fillers and gift wrap.

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Despite this, I learned that it pays to plan ahead when it comes to marketing over the holidays. Too many times I've left it to the last minute and rushed into a half-hearted holiday campaign that - ultimately - didn't work. So this year I'm letting you in to a few secrets I've gathered over the years on how to create an awesome holiday marketing plan. Follow these simple steps and you won't go far wrong...

1. Set your goals

First off, it's important to do some strategic thinking on what you want to get out of the holiday season and decide on your objective. Is it increased sales you're looking for, customer loyalty or a boost in brand awareness? Whatever it is, make sure it rolls into your quarterly and annual business goals. Once you decide on your goals, ensure they can be tracked so you can easily see whether your efforts are working.

I've found it's also helpful to use this time period from last year's performance as a starting point for your goals and metrics - enabling me to see whether there is an increase year on year. If social media is a part of your strategy, don't forget to include indicators such as clicks, likes, shares, etc.

2. Select the right channels

Once you've set your strategy, determine what channels you need to use to reach those goals. An easy way to do this is to think about the audience you're trying to reach and where they're most likely to be found.

For example, if it's millennial customers you're looking to entice, try mobile marketing or social media. Or, perhaps you want to attract those last minute online shoppers? Be sure to have an inviting website that's mobile-friendly (as the majority of online shoppers now shop from their cell phones) and a targeted email campaign.

My recent blog post may give you some more ideas about the right marketing channels for you and your business.

3. Define your offering

Defining your holiday offering is an important step that many businesses ignore. Simply put, this is what you are offering your customers that will make them shop with you over and above your competitors. This could be promoting gift items you have in stock, or perhaps a delivery service that guarantees purchases will arrive in time for the holidays.

The Association of Strategic Marketing also suggests including bulk buying behaviors in your holiday marketing strategy, such as BOGOs (Buy One Get One), discounts and cashback on gift purchases. Whatever it is, think about what will appeal most to your target audience and help you achieve the goals you initially set out.

4. Create great content

Now it's time to get creative. It can be hard to make your voice heard above all the noise during the holiday season, so make sure you create content that stands out from the rest. Think about themes that will resonate with your audience by putting yourself in their shoes.

Perhaps you can help to alleviate the stress of those rushing around making holiday preparations with a ‘holiday survival kit' email including a task checklist and some handy coupons for your store. Or, if you're a clothes store, maybe you can help those holiday party-goers with some festive outfit ideas.

In terms of timing, although at today's date you may be a little late for Black Friday (tomorrow) and Cyber Monday, you still have time to plan and structure your communications around Super Saturday (the last Saturday before Christmas).

5. Think about the bigger picture

Don't forget to consider the bigger picture when bringing your holiday plan to life. Think about the channels you have access to - social media, SMS, print, email, in-store advertising - and how these fit together.

Be sure anything you're doing digitally, such as coupon codes or offers, works properly across all channels - whether online or offline. For example, if you're offering something online it's good form to reflect the offer in store also, otherwise you will appear inconsistent to your customers.

Whatever your strategy, be sure to amp up your customer service support to allow you to cope with higher customer volume. Nothing will lose a customer quicker than an online service that isn't easy to use - or poor customer service in store.

6. Automate your efforts

Remember it can get super busy over the holiday season - some years I've even found it difficult to find the time to make a cup of coffee! But, I've learned that I can make it much easier for myself by automating my marketing efforts - meaning I can get on with running my business and taking care of my customers.

Take advantage of automated social-media tools such as Buffer so you can pre-schedule your social posts. You can also pre-schedule email campaigns if you're using a service such as Mail Chimp. These services are reasonably priced and are well-worth it when you consider the time you can save in the long run.

The companies I mention or link to in this post are just examples that I thought you'd find useful - I don't endorse them or their services. I have no affiliation with them and make no representation about their services.