The holiday shopping season, digital version, is now in full swing following a record online take for both Black Friday and Cyber Monday. With eMarketer predicting a 17% jump in e-commerce sales over the holidays in 2015, this means strong opportunities for brands but also a blizzard of competition.

While perhaps the headline battle in this story is the competition between retailers, the fact of the matter is it’s also a slugfest between rival coffee machines, laptops, shoes, electric toothbrushes and even razors, lip gloss and deodorant. This battle is increasingly playing out not just on traditional digital channels but on retailer sites as well, with virtually all of the biggest names offering a variety of ad units on their platforms.

So how can your average electronics manufacturer, personal care brand, CPG giant and monoline fashion brand stand out? Following are seven tips to consider this holiday season.

Activate audience-powered search

With purchase intent high, search is generally the first tool shoppers turn to when researching gifts. But at the same time, shoppers’ keywords can be maddeningly generic, making it difficult for marketers to accurately bid on terms like “women’s shoes” or “new laptops.”

Enter audience-powered search, which allows marketers to utilise a retailer’s first-person customer data in combination with keywords to inform their search buys. It’s an extra level of precision that brings new meaning to generic keywords.  

For example, a PC maker could vary the model it showed in response to a “new laptops” query entered on a retailer’s site. Audiences with a history of big-ticket purchases, whether of electronics or not, might see an ad for the flagship model. Budget-minded consumers would see a more entry-level offering.

Expand your target audience

Grandparents buying first-person shooters, men buying cosmetics and people without kids buying nappies are just a handful of the myriad ways that consumer purchase behaviour changes during the holidays. For brands, this means casting a wider net than would be typical during the rest of the year.

Retail browsing and search history are great tools for identifying these non-routine audiences.  Cross-referencing past purchase data with audience profiles is another strategy for making these connections. But don’t overdo it. Frequency capping – which brands should be doing anyway – will help ensure consumers aren’t oversaturated.

In addition to expanding beyond target audiences, it’s also important for brands to consider how their regular customers’ shopping habits may change during the holidays.  

For example, during the regular season, upselling a mascara buyer on eyeliner as well would be a standard strategy. A holiday season upsell on the same purchase could be more expansive, focusing not just on cosmetics but on a brand’s broader product portfolio, including items for men and kids. The idea being that during the holidays that same mascara buyer is likely in-market for others in a way they generally aren’t during the rest of year.  

Help shoppers pull the trigger

With large numbers of shoppers making purchases for items they don’t normally buy, being an information resource is a great way to speed the path to purchase. On a basic level this could simply involve incorporating ratings and reviews into display ad units to demonstrate how people similar to the gift recipient rate the item in question.  

More ambitious campaigns could take the form of customised content and gift guides. For instance, a camera manufacturer could develop an interactive quiz that delivered suggestions on the best model for a particular customer type combined with the ability to instantly add a product to shopping cart.

Utilise retailer data to reach consumers on the open web

Retail media advertising allows brands to utilise retailer data to reach customers on e-commerce sites and apps with relevant messaging. In many cases, it also means that brands can use this same first-party data in targeting ads on the open web as well.

Bringing this shopper data to activations on Facebook, YouTube and elsewhere is an excellent way to add more accountability to campaigns, enabling brands to directly tie their ad efforts to e-commerce sales.

Coordinate with retailers to create shoppable content experiences

While it may sound facile, understanding retailer priorities is a great way for marketers to create successful holiday activations.  

For example, knowing that a retailer is interested in creating how-to guides, a CPG brand could propose a series on holiday entertaining that offered recipes, crafting ideas and stocking stuffer recommendations. Living on the retailer’s site or social channels, the content would enable customers to populate their shopping carts with all the items they needed to execute a particular initiative with a single click.

Optimise to sales

Brand lift, clicks and CPM can be appropriate metrics in the right circumstances, but the primary goal of the holiday marketer should come down to driving sales. Particularly in the extremely condensed holiday time frame, using sales as a KPI provides faster feedback on a campaign’s true performance, allowing marketers to adjust their strategies before the season ends.

Simplify messaging and leverage social listening

Purchase intent is higher, the sales cycle is shorter and information overload is at a peak during the holiday shopping season. Meaning ad messaging and creative must be concise, understandable at a glance and with a clear call to action targeted to the intended audience.  

Of course, simplifying copy and creative is just the start. The next question is whether the ads are performing. And whether they can be better. Because of the surge in traffic, the holidays allow marketers to do more testing and optimisation than at any other time of year.

Another key tool that can help fine tune brand messaging is social listening. On Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and dozens of other platforms, consumers generate a massive amount of information about the products, trends and news they are most interested in. Using this data can allow marketers to tailor their messaging to resonate with the current zeitgeist to help drive sales.