Q4 has become ever more crucial for online brand sales. Despite the unlocking of in-store shopping experiences, emarketer forecasts that e-commerce will increase its share of total retail sales by 17.5% year on year during the holiday season. 

A lockdown-free Q4 would quell consumer worries over product availability and delivery issues. This will breed happier customers, but also potentially longer promotional periods, greater competition, and a whole lot of pressure for marketers to deliver. 

Despite the need for brands to sell, sell, sell during this pivotal time, brands should continue to consider plenty of experimentation with new strategies and partners. In fact, I can provide three solid reasons why the time to twist – rather than stick – is right now: 

  • ‘Tried-and-tested’ promotional strategies are part of everyone’s programmes. Longer sales periods and fatter discounts have become expected by customers, rather than profoundly motivating.
  • It’s now easier than ever to launch and test new solutions: Conducting experiments often requires new partners and technologies. Outsourcing innovation is now made easier thanks to a fresh wave of partners who make it simple for brands to test the waters without having to build everything in-house.
  • It’s all still a free hit: Many new partners remain true to the ‘paid on results’ ethos. Conducting small experiments on a cost per acquisition (CPA) basis is a great way forward for risk-averse brands.

Inspiration for Q4

When it comes to weighing up the types of experiments to run, it can be hard to find something that aligns perfectly with your brand, goals, and customers. For those lacking inspiration ahead of the next few months, I have five pieces of advice to consider: 

  1. Start with your goals and objectives

Q4 can seem like a never-ending chase for revenue. Still, given how performance-based partners can align directly with more specific business priorities, it pays to dig a little deeper when considering what your experiments can achieve.

Are you looking for more high-margin sales to offset the cost of your discounting? Perhaps you’re expecting plenty of traffic but cart abandonment remains an issue. Start with a unique goal and build an experiment to drive it.

2. Think beyond bigger discounts

Some discounting has become table stakes in Holiday retailing. Discounts can always get bigger, but given the continued reports of retailers losing excessive margin by offering too many deep cuts  to low-value customers, it’s often not your smartest move. 

If your Black Friday Hail Mary involves a site-wide “40% off”, you should carefully consider  potential losses of brand equity and profit. There are so many better and more creative options to consider, like ‘free shipping’ overlays, delivered as soon as someone reaches a purchase threshold. With the right set-up, lighter incentives can be highly effective when delivered at key moments in the user journey. 

3.  Reach out to a new partner type

Experimentation within the affiliate channel is made easier thanks to the dawn of several new publisher types, which provide a menu of exciting options to choose from. Here are just two examples:

Influencers anyone? It’s a great time to start leveraging the tens of thousands of influencers willing to work on a performance or hybrid basis. Get out in front of all of the Gift Guides and other seasonal content these powerful social voices will be delivering this fall. 

Implement a ‘buy now, pay later’ partner like Afterpay or Klarna to make it easier for customers to justify a major Black Friday purchase. This payment category is growing extremely rapidly and some research suggests it helps customers be more comfortable making higher value purchases.

There are dozens of other possibilities. Examine the potential gaps within your e-commerce journey and see whether a new publisher type can plug them.

4. Focus on a new audience

Consider whether it’s time to look beyond your core deal-seeking target audience for incremental growth.  While programmes to your core can sometimes be quick wins, it’s also beneficial to consider looking beyond your foundational target. 

Some of the best experiments involve engaging new audiences. Why? Because you often need a completely different approach to resonate with them. Look to your data for insights on which audiences may be ripe for marketing efforts. Try drawing up a list of relevant audience segments and detail why they might shop with your brand. 

5.  Pick flexible vendors

Here’s the truth about experiments – they don’t always work. Thankfully, the dawn of light, ‘plug and play’ solutions has given many brands an opportunity to launch, test, keep or move on, and with no major investment of time and resources from their product and development teams.

In the dedicated section on plug-and-play technologies within the excellent 2021 Awin Report, Paul Stewart, the network’s Head of Global Strategic Partnerships & Innovation, sums up the situation perfectly.

“Why spend time, effort and resources developing this technology yourself when you can leave it to those who have real expertise in it… With the right technology partners at your disposal, you can continually surf and benefit from this surging wave of innovation.”

Provided a reasonable minimum contract is in play, brands are free to stick, twist, and experiment their way through a broad range of technology partner types.

What are you waiting for?

The time to experiment is now. Partnership and affiliate has become such a hotbed of experimentation that  it’s  attracting interest from other marketing teams. We’re almost spoilt for choice when it comes to new partners and Q4 is a great opportunity to see what each can offer.

Even a short trial conducted during a busy week in Q4 can generate a solid bank of data from which to base future tests. With a goal-oriented mindset, you can use Q4 to drive results while building momentum ahead of 2022.

All that’s left is to wish you and your brand a happy Q4, and I hope to see plenty of positive stories from your grand experiments.