With the holidays – Black Friday, Cyber Monday, and of course, Christmas – just around the corner, e-commerce companies are scrambling to make the most out of the busy shopping season.

In efforts to help with last-minute marketing decisions, PerformanceIN caught up with ten digital marketing gurus, tapping into their knowledge to reveal key areas of focus as the busiest dates in the retail calendar swiftly approach.  

“Mobile video should certainly be at the forefront”

Andrew Gerhart, COO at AerServ: Digital marketers have a lot of weapons at their disposal to ensure their digital campaigns are successful this holiday season. First, mobile video should certainly be at the forefront, as the medium has a dramatic impact on performance, engagement and impact. Second, if marketers want to compound those results, they can layer on interactive video. When advertisers use VPAID, a form of video that allows for interactive components, we see an explosive increase in performance – an almost 800% increase in engagement metrics over normal VAST.

Third, a hot topic for years, marketers can now take advantage of trusted third-party vendors for viewability to ensure their ad campaigns are only serving on viewable and audible inventory. Why pay for impressions that aren’t seen or heard? Fourth, marketers can ensure they’re hitting the right person with their message by utilising first and third-party data available via data management platforms (DMPs) and from publishers. Fifth, marketers need to be aware of the growing push for better creatives and better advertising. Spending time to produce better creatives, specifically designed for the medium – mobile vs. desktop vs. TV – is money well spent and will improve campaign performance and audience engagement.

“The best advisor is your own seasonal analysis”

Josh Payne, CEO at StackCommerce: Firstly, I urge all marketers to always be mindful to not over discount. Of course, always make sure your pricing is highly competitive, but don’t price below what makes sense for your company or discount an item to the point that it may devalue a great product. My second tip is to set up gift shops for your customers, who are uniquely shopping for others rather than themselves this time of year. The holidays are an especially essential time to deliver a curated shopping experience in order to help consumers make these challenging gifting decisions. Next, I would advise markers to always be transparent with customers around shipping times during this stressful time of year. Perhaps even offer digital gifting options for customers looking for last minute gift ideas, rather than risking a product arriving late. And finally, I always suggest that marketers review and analyse the performance of past holiday seasons. There is a lot of noise around what works and doesn’t work during the holiday season. Is Black Friday the biggest sales day of the year or Cyber Monday? Every audience is different, and the best advisor is your own seasonal analysis.

“Retargeting campaigns are going to be of utmost importance”

Tim Koschella, CEO at AppLift: First, retain the users who matter by targeting device IDs, for mobile marketers. It is crucial to understand the best practices for retargeting so as to not drive users away and kill the campaigns. Second, show users the correct creatives via a dynamic ad or static ad. Dynamic ads are extremely targeted and personalize the experience via user data and helps highlight creative assets. Third, integrate a products feed to connect with the right user at the correct time. Basic retargeting can put ads in front of the right audiences but by fine-tuning ad placements, mobile marketers can ensure greater relevancy and increased performance to serve only those ads to those consumers that are most relevant. Finally, drive users to take action with deep linking— whenever the user clicks on the ad, it is extremely important that the user is seamlessly brought back to the application, creating a full circle.

“Consumers intend on starting their holiday shopping before Thanksgiving”

Falguni Bhuta, vice president, global communications and engagement marketing, Opera Mediaworks: It used to be that the holiday rush began right after Thanksgiving, starting with Black Friday and picking up speed on Cyber Monday. But in 2016, that’s no longer the case. Opera Mediaworks found that 45% of consumers intend on starting their holiday shopping before Thanksgiving. For brands looking to entice millennials to shop on mobile this season, free shipping is the top tactic 73% for encouraging a holiday mobile transaction. Running sales/promotions came in second at 51%, followed by coupons, 45%, and price matching, 18%.

Mobile will be the ultimate shopping companion this holiday season, meaning we can most likely expect to see traffic increase among shopping apps. Marketers should keep this top of mind as they plan their holiday campaigns: Relevance is key, Adapt your content to mobile, Direct your attention to apps.

“Social advertising will play a significant role in hyper-targeting campaigns”

Galia Reichenstein, general manager of US at Taptica: This holiday we should expect to see social advertising – Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Pinterest – play a significant role in hyper-targeting campaigns. This year, Facebook’s Audience Network is much richer in inventory and data and creates a whole new buying power for e-commerce brands to reach bigger scales, lower CPIs and achieve higher ROAS, especially with the recent addition of block lists. Pinterest, with its new app install capabilities, could become an important player this holiday season, especially with the focus on e-commerce as a platform. It’s also important to note that brands with seasonal creative will receive higher click-through rates [CTRs], especially when using new formats such as 360 ads, native, Facebook canvas and dynamic product ads – brands will be able to capture high-intent users while using engaging content. We will also see a spike in reengagement campaigns as soon as brands try to maximise their annual spend and to capitalise on the end of year shopping frenzy.

“Marketers must tap all available resources to create omnichannel, personalised experiences”

Rob Lennon, senior product marketing manager at Thunder: The holiday shopping season is the most important period in retail, but it’s become louder than ever before. Meanwhile, consumers have higher expectations and more options. To drive sales during this noisy time, marketers must tap all available resources to create omnichannel, personalised experiences.

Although mobile plays a big role in influencing when and where someone shops, digital still only accounts for 16% of total retail sales. Rather than just promoting online deals, savvy marketers will use mobile ads to drive retail foot traffic, as well as sending holiday promotions to consumers while they are shopping in-store.

We will see an increase of “agile campaigns” during this holiday season, with marketers reacting and adjusting their campaigns in real time, as they see certain ads driving better results than others. Technology has made it possible to change ads in mid-flight and the most successful marketers are the most fluid – constantly testing, improving, and expanding their campaigns to get the greatest ROI.

Retailers will continue in their efforts to become more omnichannel in response to the flattening buyer’s journey, extending across social media platforms, TV, display ad space, and even matching ad content with landing pages. Campaigns should strongly support sales events within the holiday season which create moments of urgency to bring people to shop.

There will be an increasing use of social media for its influence on younger consumers, with marketers leveraging YouTube stars and Instagram celebrities, for example, to gain access to their highly-engaged audiences.

“The cookie is becoming irrelevant”

Ray Kingman, CEO and founder at Semcasting: The recurring themes that get asked about for the 2016 holiday promotion season are attribution and mobile. Advertisers are experienced enough with digital marketing at this point that they are spending more and they are beginning to require proof points that their investments are working. They want to confirm that their ads appeared in front of the consumers they wanted to reach, and whether or not those consumers who were served ads actually visited the brand’s website, app or brick-and-mortar store to make a purchase.

The closest thing to a linkage between offline and online in the current digital architectures has been an anonymous cookie. But with ad blockers and the uptick in mobile commerce, the cookie is becoming irrelevant. The more effective approach is to key off of IP-Addresses for campaign matching across platforms from campaign tactic to campaign tactic. This includes audience IP targeting, to mobile device IP in stores, to home or business IP networks. At the conclusion of the campaign they can be stitched together to identify Matchback results and patterns because they share this common ID in the form of the persistent IP address.  

We recommend that brands try to incorporate a Matchback component into each campaign of scale. Matchback is a solid starting point for adding attribution capabilities without having to make an over-the-top investment in an attribution study. Digital campaign investments are growing but until attribution is a normal component of every campaign those budgets are many times allocated as an afterthought.

“People were less likely to click on ads, but were also shopping more frequently”

Patrick Hopf, president and co-founder at SourceKnowledge: While nearly all brands cash in on Black Friday shopping, today’s omnichannel retail approach means that retailers need to be smart about how they measure their sales and where they allocate ad spend. This is especially important with many analysts projecting a major shift from brick-and-mortar shopping to e-commerce.

The good news is that ad opportunities are set to increase 4.2x over normal levels we saw in 2015. In that same period e-commerce retailers saw their investment in advertising paying off with average order values increasing as much as 2.7x and and conversation rates increasing by 12% across all advertiser verticals. It’s important to remember that shopping behavior can shift during this period of increased shopper activity. While people were less likely to click on ads they were also shopping more frequently on their mobile devices compared to desktop computers.

Armed with this information, advertisers can ensure their measuring and investing accordingly to capture a slice of the $3.05 billion in sales that marketers are predicting for Black Friday 2016.

“Audiences respond to heartwarming content during the Holidays”

Erick Brownstein, CSO and partner at Shareability: Audiences respond to heartwarming content during the Holidays and there’s going to be an even bigger appetite for those creative themes in this acrimonious and traumatic post-Election season. Togetherness, inclusiveness, bridging-divides, and speaking out against bigotry will be powerful themes in shareable content. There’s a vacuum to fill and corporate America has the opportunity to step in and tell much needed feel-good stories.

We’re also experiencing the “Rise of the Supershopper,” the customer who has their phone out in-store reading reviews, comparing prices, and consuming content. Searches for “best” and “unique” are starting to overtake “cheap” or “inexpensive” in relation to holiday gift search. Over 70% YOY growth in “best gift” vs. 35% for “cheap” or “inexpensive.”

One in four online consumers visit YouTube to learn more about a product. As the second largest search engine in the world, brands needs to be sure to give them good content to find. The “Product Review” category has grown 60% year-on-year. Using an influencer to review a product is no longer a cutting-edge tactic – but it’s still effective and such integrations are getting more creative.

“User attribution is a vital element of any marketing campaign”

Dmitry Atamanyuk, CEO at GDM Group: 2016’s holiday shopping season has already shown its potential on Singles Day with Alibaba’s new $17.7 billion sales record. That is a clear indicator that e-commerce is perpetually growing its market share and the coming holidays will show exactly far it has come. User attribution is a vital element of any marketing campaign, defining patterns in consumer’s behavior to tilt the odds and seek out demand, but recently it gained a new meaning. The amount of personalisation that mobile web is involved with allows to collect data just as personalised that is bound to show new connections and patterns in user behaviour, paving way for more efficient and targeted promotion. Brands are just starting to exploit the depth of available info and putting it against the bigger picture of what draws attention in their niche. Social media platforms are at the forefront of user attribution development, possessing an unrivaled amount of data on potential customers that creates targeting options based on groups of interest and previous activity. All those capabilities in the age of rapidly expanding e-commerce spawn infinite opportunities, and this holiday shopping season will be a fruitful time for everyone keeping up.