Making Your List and Checking It Twice


Robin Neifield

This extensive holiday checklist will give you an idea of what you need to focus on to ensure you have a successful holiday marketing season.

It’s the season of candy corn and pumpkin spice everything, but it will soon be the season of ad clutter, customer bombardment, and make-it-or-break-it sales. It’s time for marketers to put their Q4 digital holiday strategy into motion. Retailers are undeniably the most directly and forcefully impacted by the changing consumer frame of mind, media consumption habits, and buying patterns that the holidays inspire, but those changes impact all consumers and therefore all marketers.

Consider the following lessons learned when finalizing your Q4 digital programs.


  • Don’t treat your consumers like strangers. Recognize their past behaviors and purchases, device, email, and shipping preferences, plus other individual traits to create the smoothest path to sales. Thank past customers with special access or deals.
  • This is a time of immediate sales, but at least some focus still needs to be on the shoppers in the early phases of the buying cycles.
  • Keep track of your competitors. Sign up for all of their emails and keep tabs on their sites and social activity. Note the changes for planning insights next year.
  • Holiday activity is starting earlier every year. Thanksgiving promotions including Black Friday and Cyber Monday are opportunities that should be maximized.
  • Free shipping and free returns have been shown time and again across numerous studies to be the key to a consumer’s confidence and wallet. If you can’t work free shipping and returns into your margins and you don’t have a truly unique offering, then you may be crippling your efforts.
  • Offer a gift guide to make shopping easier and direct the overwhelmed consumer.
  • Test at least one new thing. This is a unique time of year and a unique opportunity to learn something and push your boundaries just a bit.
  • Remember that a lot of the buying during this time period is gift buying. Recommendation engines based on user profiles and past purchases still support personal buying (a lot of that goes on in the holidays, too!), but asking users what they are looking for and using behavioral and keyword cues is important, too.
  • Have a plan. Create a holiday reporting dashboard or a weekly meeting that allows the team to convene and discuss the results to date and prioritize next steps.
  • Think beyond this holiday to the period after to plan for long-term success. How are you going to continue to nurture the new exposures, touches, and customers that connect with your brand during the holiday?

Digital Display:

  • Both click rates and CPMs tend to rise as marketers vie for consumer attention. Even if you are not an online retailer, you are subject to the same rules of supply and demand as all kinds of marketers target your customers. Plan for this increase. Check your agreements and hold your supplier partners to getting you the best inventory and deals based on your particular goals. This is when thinking ahead with longer-term commitments and those strong partner relationships can help smooth the rocky road that is holiday advertising.
  • Be prepared to continue a dialogue with your audience across devices and time frames. Don’t be constrained by what worked last year – especially given the sharp rise in mobile usage.
  • Take advantage of dynamic creative with product/category inserts into banner ads, using search/page/category retargeting to ensure more relevant messaging including products and associated sales.
  • Build segmented cookie pools as early as you can, ideally well before Q4, to allow tailored messaging for different segments.


  • Holiday messaging can seem generic. Make sure you have appropriate and memorable images and messaging that highlight and enhance your unique brand.
  • Creative has to work harder to stand out in the sea of holiday clutter. Consider increasing your relevancy and your results by using dynamic techniques to personalize the messaging or images.
  • Update your website with some fresh and seasonally appropriate messaging. For non-retailers that might include blog content or images that reflect on the positive parts of the season or offer some insights into the year ahead for your company or brand. Make any changes you can early in the season so you can avoid unintentional site disruptions.
  • Make your calls to action in all ads and online destinations direct and obvious. Trying to get too cute or obtuse when consumers are time-pressured and overwhelmed will hurt your conversions.


  • Check your analytics from last year in Q4 to see what terms, days, and times were conversion contributors for you. Remember that the actual calendar date is less important in direct comparisons to prior years than the “days till” comparison.
  • Get more specific. Avoid broad terms that more marketers will be using and will be bidding up to unreasonable cost-per-clicks (CPCs).
  • Set clear daily budget caps and increase your oversight and optimization. With so many players and so much happening so quickly, things can get out of hand before you have a chance to address the impact of competitor changes. Be on top of your keyword bids and positions to safeguard budget and capture all the available demand.
  • Create holiday-specific sitelinks.These could include sitelinks that call out a gift guide, special promotions, or new inventory.
  • Create specific ad copy that calls out the holidays, Cyber Monday, and Black Friday using specific language. Call out your current promotions.
  • Use specific holiday keywords like Black Friday Sale or Black Friday Promotions.
  • Every year at this time Google and Bing start rolling out new beta opportunities to enhance paid search campaigns. This year’s beta, “Callout Extensions,” allows advertisers to add callouts to paid search ads, such as free shipping, returns, or price match guarantee.

Social Media:

  • Give your customers a reason to share their relationship with you to their friends. This could be a promotion or game play. Make it relevant – and fun!
  • Tap into the holiday frame of mind by focusing on event and calendar items, but make your message resonate with the family focus that marks the holiday. Don’t be too trite and don’t assume all families and all celebrations look alike or unfold similarly.
  • If your brand or company is involved in any social or philanthropic efforts, be sure to share that effort appropriately. Don’t use charitable initiatives to brag about how wonderful you are. Find ways for your audience to participate with you or through your framework to authenticate and extend the value of your giving.
  • Take advantage of unpublished posts and your CRM system to create custom posts that speak directly to your consumer.
  • Target friends of your friend list. If your fans like your brand, their friends are likely to as well.
  • Pinterest has proven to be a powerhouse retail channel. Use great imagery, gifty language, and offer pin-worthy content.

The stakes are high, the field is crowded, and the list of to-dos can be overwhelming, especially in an environment that can change from day to day. Go into the season with a plan in mind and a team mentality to maximize your results this Q4.

How do you plan to succeed this holiday season?