How to Create an eCommerce Holiday Marketing Plan for Beginners [2022]

Create a holiday marketing plan for beginners

Making your lists and checking them twice?

Yes, it’s that time of year already.

It doesn’t matter whether it’s your main source of income or if it’s your weekend passion project — when you have an eCommerce website, the holiday season takes on extra importance.

Sure, it’s the season for family, friends, and those we love; but it’s also about cutting through the carols to increase your bottom line in one of the busiest retail seasons of the year.

And that’s especially true for 2022 — a year in which we’re all feeling the pinch of inflation.

Salesforce predicts that this year’s online sales won’t exceed those of 2021, bucking the net-positive trend we’ve experienced since 2019. November’s and December’s totals are expected to reach $1.12 trillion worldwide with $265 billion of that in the United States. Those numbers represent a 2% decrease in online international sales as compared to last year, and only a 3% increase in the U.S.

Being mindful of the current economic situation, how should you go about maximizing the holiday season for your business?

With thoughtful, data-driven planning.

And so, we’re learning to create an engaging and effective holiday marketing plan in this blog post.

Creating a Holiday Marketing Plan

A good marketing plan serves as the framework for building customer relationships and gaining mindshare in a cluttered digital landscape. Not only that, but it directly contributes to influencing positive customer and client actions, like increasing completed purchases or subscriptions.

A great marketing plan does all of the above, as simply as possible, because at the heart of marketing is humans building relationships with other humans, and we do that best when we communicate effectively.

Rob Garf, VP and GM of Retail at Salesforce, sets the stage for how we ought to approach a marketing plan with the following statement:

"Inflation has finally caught up to bullish spending, with consumers buying fewer items from fewer retailers. This likely isn't a temporary mindset, but instead a signal of a larger consumer behavioral shift towards value and convenience. For retailers to address this, it's ... [about] finding ways for channels to work symbiotically to attract and retain loyal shoppers." 

Keeping that larger consumer behavioral shift in mind, our challenge is to form a marketing plan that supports you working smarter, not harder.

Designing Your Plan’s Framework’s Content and Social Media Marketing teams use the following framework to kick off their marketing plans.

It distills your plan down to its core elements, providing clear direction for you to further define your specific tactics, S.M.A.R.T. goals, and Key Performance Indicators (KPIs). As we design our holiday plan, we always keep our brand, mission statement, and ideal customer top of mind.

Example of a marketing plan that can be adapted for your holiday needs.

Defining Your Target Audience

For holiday eCommerce success, you’ve got to know your archetypal customer.

Why is that so important?

Well, your eCommerce site, as great as it is, isn’t for everybody. Some folks will love what you offer and turn into repeat customers, some can appreciate what you offer but won’t commit to a purchase, and others won’t be interested at all. (Sounds a lot like dating, doesn’t it?)

This blog post, “How to Identify Your Ideal Customer” dives into the topic, discussing customer personas, demographics, and data and analytics in further detail.

The Holidays That Matter to Your Audience

Focus your time and attention where it’ll make the most impact.

Unless you’re a big box store with outposts across the world, odds are that your audience isn’t “everyone” and they don’t celebrate each and every fall and winter holiday. And generic spray-and-pray marketing is a dinosaur best left in the past.

To stay relevant and authentic, identify the holidays your customers most likely celebrate and concentrate your efforts there. This 2022 holiday calendar will help.

Now that you’ve selected the holidays where you’ll be concentrating your marketing efforts, let’s dive further into the specifics of what you’re trying to achieve, and how to get there.

Defining Goals and Specific Holiday Marketing Tactics

At this point, you should be asking yourself:

  • What actions do you want your audience to take? For example…
    • Is it to complete more purchases instead of abandoning items in their carts?
    • Do you want them to subscribe to your email newsletter?
      • DYK: In marketing lingo, every time one of these desired actions is successfully completed, it’s called a conversion.
  • How do you measure success? Identify the data points that matter.
    • E.g. – you’ll never know if your goal of increasing online sales is successful if you’re only measuring the total number of visitors to your site.
    • Bias has no place in data or data analysis, and vanity metrics are not actionable and won’t help you succeed.
    • Focus on the data points that are the most relevant and accurate reflections of performance.

S.M.A.R.T. Goals

A holiday marketing plan is no place for obscurities or egos.

Your plan defines how to connect and communicate with your audience effectively so as to positively influence them toward the desired outcome(s), thereby increasing conversions.

And now, we explore S.M.A.R.T. goals. You’ll want to have these goals concretized before launching any of your marketing initiatives and going live with specific tactics. The process of creating these goals includes brainstorming tactics to help move the needle toward conversion (though we have a dedicated section on tactics coming up next.)

S.M.A.R.T. Goals are:

  • Specific – Get granular.
  • Measurable – How can you quantify success?
  • Achievable – Did you seriously just create your first eCommerce site and genuinely expect to compete with Wallyworld’s online sales this holiday season? That would be the opposite of achievable.
  • Relevant – Keep it focused.
  • Timebound – At what point should you stop to assess your performance?

Here’s an example to help you create your S.M.A.R.T. goals. In this imagined scenario, an eComm site owner wants to leverage Black Friday fervor to increase their revenue.

Now to some, that last sentence might seem goal enough. But it begs the question: increased revenue as compared to what? And how will they be leveraging Black Friday — by asking it nicely?

S.M.A.R.T. goals don’t leave room for interpretation. Here’s a better goal for that eComm site owner:

On Black Friday, I’ll increase my eCommerce sales by 20% over last year by using social media to prompt my followers to visit my site for the following exclusive 24-hour deals: 20% off my best-selling goods, including discounted or free shipping, dependent on purchase size.

If this is your first year in eCommerce and you don’t have any historical data from previous years as a basis for comparison, your goal could look like this instead:

On Black Friday, I’ll increase my average daily sales by 20% by using social media to prompt my followers to visit my site for the following exclusive 24-hour deals: 20% off my best-selling goods, including discounted or free shipping, dependent on purchase size.

That goal encompasses all the elements of a true S.M.A.R.T goal — helping you to define and measure your successes — and perhaps those not-so-successful endeavors, too. It can happen to the best of us so don’t get discouraged — what we so often see as failure is just as readily a lesson in what doesn’t work. A learning experience so we don’t make the same mistake twice, if you will.

Depending on what you’re trying to achieve, your goals and accompanying tactics may vary. And while money does talk, there’s nothing restricting you to discounts and coupon codes. A little creativity can go a long way when it comes to creating value for your customers and encouraging them to transact on your site.

Holiday Marketing Tactics and Offers to Promote eCommerce

  • Gift Guides
    • Help those indecisive shoppers find the perfect gift with a holiday gift guide.
      • No one ever knows what to buy for Aunt Bea or Cousin Freddy, but with your excellently curated guides, their names are getting crossed off the shopping list early this year.
    • Include a variety of gift guides catered to different budgets and relationships (i.e. – separate gift guides for family, friends, and coworkers, respectively) so there’s a little something for everyone.
  • Free Gift Wrapping
    • Want to increase eCommerce sales on Small Business Saturday? Do something most other online retailers won’t and offer free gift wrapping.
  • Offer Free or Discounted Shipping
    • Drive online orders this Cyber Monday by offering free or discounted shipping based on the purchase total. Customers will be enticed to add more goods to their shopping carts so they can reap those free shipping rewards.
  • Tips, Tricks, & Advice
    • The holidays aren’t just about shopping and spending. Provide value to your customers by giving them relevant tips and advice to help make the holidays less stressful. For example, if you’re a salon you can offer tips on how to pamper yourself during the holidays. This is also a great way to highlight the services you offer and include ways for people to book them.
  • Holiday Recipes
    • Share a favorite holiday recipe from your family (or restaurant if that’s your industry) with your customers to provide value and make a connection without offering a discount.
  • Holiday Photo Contest
    • Ask your customers to share their holiday photos with your business online. You can ask them to tag you on social media or use specific hashtags to make sure you see their posts.
    • You can offer a prize for “best photo” or provide a discount to those who engage with your business online.
  • Gift Cards + Bonus Value
    • Want your customers to buy more in gift cards? Offer a bonus amount with each gift card purchase! For example, every time someone purchases $50 in gift cards you can give them an additional $10 for free.
  • Promote Holiday Events
    • If your business hosts events, whether virtual on in-person, you’ll want your customers to know about them and attend. Drive interest in your events by marketing them to your audience and offering a discount on tickets.

Leverage the Best Marketing Channels for Your Business

The holidays are often a busy, hectic time. With that in mind, it’s important that you get your message to the right audience and at the right time.

Stop and think about all the different ways your customers and prospects interact and communicate with your brand. Where are those engagements happening?

Below, we’ve listed some of the most popular channels and methods for communicating with your audience. Review them and decide what works best for you. Don’t dissuade people from doing business with you during this busy time by accosting them with messaging on every single platform — no one likes a nag.

  • Social Media
    • Social media is a valuable tool and almost everyone has a social media account on one platform or another. It’s not essential that your brand have a presence on every social media platform — focus on the ones where your customers are.
      • Facebook is a great platform to engage with your customers and audience throughout the year and especially during the holidays. Update your business page’s cover photo with a holiday image to reflect the festive season and post about your special events, discounts, and offers. Most Facebook users access the app through their mobile devices, so it’s a fantastic way to target local consumers.
      • Twitter’s platform works wonders for engaging with your audience and sharing bite-sized content that’s both helpful and insightful. Consider sharing your tips and advice on this platform, and don’t forget to share your offers. If your customers reply to you, engage them in conversation on this fun channel.
      • Instagram is heavy on visuals — which is perfect for styling and showcasing the items you mentioned in your gift guide. Share photos of your staff at your annual holiday party or behind-the-scenes clips as your business preps for the season.
      • YouTube’s popularity isn’t going anywhere. People love engaging with videos and absorbing content in that medium. Consider “unboxing” a popular product and sharing it with your audience.
  • Website
    • Your website is your business’s home base online. Update the images and text on your site to reflect the holiday season and any special events or offers you may be running.

Create Your Online Store Today

  • Email
    • Reach your customers where they are every single day: Their inbox. A few well-crafted emails to highlight your holiday offerings and events can do a lot to drive business. Include easy-to-click buttons that take your readers directly to your online store and the products you’re looking to sell. Don’t forget to include your discounts along with a clever subject line to entice your audience to open your emails.
    • Help your customers recognize you in their inboxes. Get a professional email address that matches your domain name so you don’t get sent to the spam folder.
    • You can perform a quick online search to find a reputable Email Service Provider to help with your email marketing needs.
  • Text/SMS
    • SMS marketing has grown in popularity over the years and there’s good reason for that. Gartner reports that “98% of SMS messages get opened” and Omnisend found that “SMS marketing’s conversion rate rose 102% in 2020.”
    • A quick online search can help you identify the perfect SMS marketing vendor to help you reach your customers.
  • Paid Advertising
    • Not all businesses have the budget for paid advertising, but if you do, you should consider leveraging it during the holiday season to get in front of the right audience. Paid advertising can be done on Google to appear higher in the search results, on social media, and on various other online platforms.
    • Concentrate your efforts on the platforms where your audience spends their time.

Once you’ve decided on the channels you’ll use to communicate with your customers, think about when to start sending your messages. Too soon and you may soon be forgotten. Too late and your message may get lost in a multitude of other last-minute, opportunistic messaging. Plan to send a series of communications starting a week or two before the holiday occurs and culminating on the holiday itself to stay top of mind with your audience.

Ready to rock your holiday marketing?

Don’t leave any room for silly mistakes or error in your planning. By leveraging the holiday marketing guidance in this post, and referring to this Holiday Marketing Checklist, you’ll be well on your way to a successful season of online sales.

With a little creativity, thoughtful planning, and some elbow grease, you can create the perfect offers to attract your audience and provide value all while nurturing customer relationships.

As you market your business this holiday season, keep track of what efforts are successful and which ones aren’t. You’ll want to have this information handy for future years so you can tweak and iterate your marketing messages instead of starting over from square one.  

Do you have any other holiday marketing ideas for businesses? Let us know in the comments below!

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Natalie Brownell
Natalie Brownell Marketing Manager. She believes in the power of words and loves a good story. She resides in MA and spends her days behind the keyboard with her two feline coworkers. Connect with her on LinkedIn.

Natalie Brownell
Natalie Brownell Marketing Manager. She believes in the power of words and loves a good story. She resides in MA and spends her days behind the keyboard with her two feline coworkers. Connect with her on LinkedIn.

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