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2021 Holiday Retail Blog Series: Tips for Designing a Holiday Action Plan

Published: September 16, 2021

Author: Diana Gordon

Insights from the Experts: eCommerce Series. Diana Gordon, VP, eCommerce & Marketplace Strategy

Last holiday season, the focus was on keeping family and friends safe during the pandemic with consumers shopping and celebrating the season mainly from home. As we previously discussed, many elements of our pandemic lifestyles will carry over to this season and beyond – for example, more consumers are expected to continue shopping online this season. However, we also expect families to see each other more in-person this year.

It will be important to analyze your data from last year and keep in mind that the messaging that worked during the tumult of 2020 may not resonate with audiences this year. Also consider that people are shopping earlier, and your messaging should reflect this to get ahead of major retailers like Amazon and Walmart. Here are a few tips to get started:

Tip #1: Top-funnel brand introduction

To drive brand awareness, highlight key value propositions and competitive differentiators in your messaging. Test out product and lifestyle imagery layered together.

Tip #2: Mid-funnel strategy to nurture your audience

Develop persona messaging frameworks for consumers and test which barrier/motivator performs the best. Then, test different lifestyle imagery to determine what resonates most with each persona.

Tip #3: Acquisition messaging to capture sales

Use compelling offers and emphasize urgency within your messaging and test product imagery.

Tip #4: Retention targeting to drive lifetime value

Highlight customer success stories and testimonials to further persuade existing customers.

Planning Your Holiday Creative Refresh Schedule

Knowing that holiday shopping is starting earlier than ever this year and that most of it will be done online, you will want to consider using the following framework to test out your creative so that you aren’t heading into the season unprepared.

The key here is to start early! Develop and launch several variations (static, simple animation, carousel, etc.) of your core holiday concepts in September. By Halloween, you should be in the process of determining which creative variations of your core concepts are top performers.

Develop core concepts around labor day, determine creative variations around Halloween, and iterate at scale around Thanksgiving

Utilize Artificial Intelligence to Plan and Predict Holiday Performance

Your holiday strategy should harness the power of AI to analyze how marketing and advertising efforts will perform. 3Q Digital utilizes a creative AI tool called Pattern89 that analyzes billions of data points to predict creative performance before it even launches. This helps minimize creative bandwidth constraints while simultaneously improving outcomes.

Below, we’ve laid out the process our own teams use with Pattern89. This allows us to accurately analyze, predict, and optimize performance for our clients’ holiday campaigns. You may want to consider following a similar process if you have access to predictive AI technology, or manually follow the process to the best of your ability to review and determine strategy, adjust, and launch accordingly.

Analyze, Predict, and Optimize

User-Generated Content Drives Strong Clicks and Engagement

User-generated content (UGC) is any content (such as text, videos, images, and reviews) created by actual consumers – not brands. This content helps develop brand trust, promote credibility, and impact purchasing decisions.

To test this style of video, 3Q teams developed two videos for our client Guava Family to promote their Lotus Travel Crib product. We sourced the creative from Billo, a UGC creation platform and tested them in Acquisition and Retargeting campaigns. In each campaign, we tested the 2 UGC videos against our top performing ads.

Sample #1: User-generated content

Gif showing a woman and a travel crib

Sample 2: Traditional Video

Gif showing a travel baby crib

In both the Acquisition and Remarketing campaigns, we saw the UGC drive strong clicks compared to traditional video. We saw a 98% higher CTR, 84 comments, and 1,020 shares in Acquisition. In Remarketing, we saw a 106% higher CTR, 39 comments, and 115 shares. However, we also found that UGC was not as efficient at driving purchases or driving lower CVRs and higher CPAs. We saw a 99% lower CVR and 1,197% higher CPA in acquisition, along with a 77% lower CVR and 17% higher CPA in Remarketing.

Based on this research, we’ve provided a breakdown for the pros and cons associated with UGC:

  • Pros
    • UGC creative drove strong clicks and engagement because it’s a relatable way to explain key features to audiences who may have never heard of a product before.
    • UGC featuring a single persona showcasing a product is a key opportunity for upper- and middle-funnel awareness initiatives.
    • UGC provides social proof that others find your product valuable.
  • Cons
    • If your product has a higher price point, UGC creative might not drive purchases because the audience needs more time to decide and make a purchase.
    • Less polished creative (compared to something that is more professionally produced) may lack the trust factor some audiences need to make a purchase.

Best Practices to Follow on Retailer Media and Marketplaces

If you’re a brand already selling via Retailer Media or online marketplaces like Amazon, eBay, and Target+, here are a few best practices to ensure you make the most of the increased traffic and demand you’re likely to see this holiday season.

Plan your budget for peak shopping days

In addition to the typical days of Turkey 5 and Green Monday, expect each retailer to offer their own promotional window. Anticipate these days and ensure you have adequate budget to cover the demand for your top performing SKUs.

Routine inventory maintenance checks

There’s never a good time to lose the “buy box,” but the holidays could be the worst. Make sure well in advance that both your inventory levels and pricing strategy are in sound working order. Minimize advertising spend on those SKUs that you anticipate selling out of.

Recreate the “end cap”

Holiday shopping is a great time to test out new tactics. Try using onsite display as a way to introduce your product to shoppers in adjacent categories – this is an easy way to help recreate in-store browsing behaviors.

Finish strong

With Buy Online, Pick Up In-Store options, brands can continue selling right up to the last minute. When consumers have missed the deadlines for gifts to ship on time, make sure you promote your local inventory and the available in-store merchandise.

Complete Google Shopping Testing and Optimization Prior to the Holidays

Advertisers should always be experimenting to learn which tactics will drive the best outcomes. However, those tests should be wrapped up and learnings should be distilled by October at the latest. This way, they can feel confident relying on the top strategies during one of the most critical times of year.

Consider these tactics when optimizing your Google Shopping campaigns. They can help drive success through automation and provide better product data to Google, which will help your audience find you!

Consolidate smart shopping campaigns

Consider consolidating your Smart Shopping campaigns. 3Q Digital’s client teams have already started to implement this approach and early results have been excellent, showing a 22% increase in Return on Ad Spend and a 9% increase in clicks.

Optimize product feeds

Optimizing your product feeds should be an evergreen strategy that occurs year-round. Before the holiday season starts, conduct a thorough review of your entire product feed. Take a close look at all aspects, including product titles/types/categories, images, and descriptions.

Use image extensions (beta)

This beta allows you to highlight relevant imagery alongside your text ads. This test will help determine the effectiveness of utilizing image extensions within existing ad copy strategies.

Discovery ads utilizing merchant center (beta)

This beta connects your product feeds to Discovery campaigns and measures their effectiveness.

Improve Your Automated Bidding by Utilizing Google’s Value-Based Bidding

Value-Based Bidding (VBB) within Google Ads is an incredibly useful tactic that can help drive more effective performance marketing efforts. VBB moves brands away from narrowly-focused individual conversion goals and instead toward broader, longer-term metrics like return on investment and customer lifetime value.

All brands can benefit from VBB, including those with numerous products at different price points, multiple steps to conversions, or those that offer trial periods and free registrations.

How to implement VBB within your Google Ads accounts:

  • Assign values to your existing conversion actions. This will reduce bids for low-value interactions and increase competitiveness in customer segments with more potential.
  • Ensure that updated conversions are reflected inside the engine account. This confirms that the new conversion events are flowing through properly and gives the algorithm time to build history.
  • Once conversion actions are flowing through, allow at least two conversion cycles for the appropriate data history to build.
  • Finally, set up a Drafts and Experiments campaign that will allow you to split test new campaign elements and learn their impact on performance. With Drafts & Experiments, you can segment a strategy like VBB without having to implement it across an entire campaign or account.

Priming Your Account for Holiday Success with Paid Social

The holiday season often means peak sales and revenue for brands. However, this shopping rush also means peak advertising costs on platforms like Facebook and Instagram.

A critical aspect of holiday planning is ensuring that key tests and experiments are concluded prior to the season. Don’t be the flight crew that tries to build the plane while it’s taking off. Advertisers should have all of their strategies ready before the holidays begin. We know that once the holiday season starts rolling, brands want to capture demand and drive sales. But the old adage rings true – “failing to prepare is preparing to fail.”

Advertisers need to complete all of their media experiments and build their campaigns before October. Within Facebook Ads, there are numerous account structures and campaign settings that brands should be testing to determine their own best practices well before any holiday campaigns launch. Below are a few core tests that 3Q Digital teams run to set advertisers up for success.

  • Attribution window testing: Determine which attribution window is best suited for capturing promotional purchasers (e.g. 7-day click vs. 1-day click for promotional pushes).
  • Account consolidation: Evergreen and promotional campaigns often require different structures to drive results. To ensure you’re not leaving anyone out and driving maximum impact with your campaigns, we suggest segmenting Facebook to both prospect for new customers and retarget current customers.
  • Campaign objective: Establish a baseline for the campaign objectives best suited to drive success. This could be looking at catalog objectives against conversion objectives and store visit objectives against reach and frequency.
  • Automation strategies: Facebook offers various automation products, including Dynamic Creative Optimization, Value Optimization, Dynamic Language Optimization, Automated App Ads. Experiment with each of these and determine which ones will best amplify your campaign’s efforts.

Leverage the Power of Facebook Conversions API to Unlock Holiday Performance Data

Without visibility into customer activities and preferences, advertisers will lose valuable insights that can negatively impact all aspects of their Facebook campaigns from audience targeting, to automated bidding, to optimizing for continued growth. However, Facebook’s recently-released Conversions API tool utilizes your brand’s own first-party data so you can optimize toward the most effective point of conversion on that platform.

With so many major advertising platforms changing in response to mounting consumer privacy concerns, it’s more critical than ever to cultivate a strong first-party data strategy you can rely on to accurately target your audience, both now and in the future.

Customers visit the website, some data is lost due to browser changes, CAPI sends additional data from your servers to FB. This leads to more insights and data to optimize your campaigns.

If you feel like your insights are lacking, ask yourself the following questions:

  • Has iOS 14 impacted my account’s performance overall?
  • Is my pixel-based retargeting audience decreasing?
  • Do I plan to use past holiday customer lists for retargeting or lookalike audiences?

If you answered yes to any of the above, implementing Conversion API should be one of your top priorities to prepare for the holiday season.

We hope these tips help you get started in building your holiday retail strategy! Stay tuned for our additional upcoming blogs in this series, because we’ll be sharing even more insights! In the meantime, please reach out if you have any questions or if you’re ready to start working with 3Q’s eCommerce and retail experts.

You can also check out the other entries from our Holiday Retail blog series here.

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