Not thinking about Christmas yet? Here’s why you should be.

Angie Knibb, Head of Search at MC&C Media

Whilst many people rejoice in images of snowy plains, mulled wine, and snoozing away on the sofa after overindulging on the turkey, for us marketeers Christmas is more often synonymous with epic workloads, last minute changes and downright panic.

I’ve seen Christmas campaigns done well, and I’ve seen them done really badly. The problems can vary – crashing websites, communication breakdown, tracking issues, poor creative…the list goes on. But what’s consistent across all of this is planning. There’s an old adage that says, ‘failing to plan is planning to fail’, and in the crazy world of digital marketing, that could not be truer. And the earlier you start to plan, the smoother your campaign will go…

If you haven’t already started your Christmas planning, tut tut, you’re already behind. But don’t worry, you can still catch up with your competitors. 

Start your planning by working out what you want to achieve with your Christmas campaigns, and when you need to hit your goal. Are you a retailer who needs to sell your products before the last date for Christmas delivery? Are you a charity who needs to increase donations during peak? Are you a finance company who needs to be well prepared for your peak in Q1? And what is your goal – are you looking to beat last year’s revenue? Are you wanting to achieve a certain ROI? Are you looking to reach a new audience? Is there a limit to what you can actually sell and deliver within a reasonable timeframe, and what happens once you hit that limit? All sound like simple questions, but the first stage of planning is making sure that everyone involved is aligned in their answers.

The next question is budget…how much are you prepared to spend? The key here isn’t just adding or subtracting an arbitrary figure from last year’s numbers, but lies in identifying what will yield the maximum return. Stepping outside of pure media buying for a second, do you need to invest any of that budget elsewhere? We’ve all seen retailer’s sites crashing on Black Friday, unable to cope with the sheer volume of visitors – are your servers up to scratch, or do you need to invest here to be able to cope with peak? Are your support services sufficient to cope with an increase in enquiries?

The media budget available should then help you identify the tactics to help you hit those goals. What are you running offline/on TV and how are you aligning your digital to that? If you’re a retailer – are you running sales and promotions throughout the period? When will these be? What will the discount be? Is it available to everyone or just loyal customers? If you’re a charity, which causes and stories will appeal the most to your audience? Will they change? 

Once these questions are answered, that’s when we get into the nitty-gritty of campaign planning. I like to start with the advertiser’s marketing calendar. This gives a view of all promotions, products and brand pushes from the advertiser and allows us to identify the best possible way to support. This includes:

  • Identifying the channel mix, including budgets and targets per channel

  • Agreeing on creative, including timings for when they are live and paused

  • Identifying areas to build out, including additional keywords and audiences

  • Understanding what your key dates are, including Black Friday/Cyber Monday, Giving Tuesday, last day for Christmas delivery etc, and the impact these have on your activity

This planning process should, ideally, be taking place as soon as possible from a digital marketing point of view. As a general rule, October is when we start to see activity increasing, so you want to have your planning in place before then to allow you to get any campaign builds and ad copy/creative changes agreed well in advance of their launch date. Remember your teams will need time to upload campaigns as well!


A few final pearls of wisdom to have a successful Christmas campaign:

  • Try not to change messaging too often…adding urgency towards the end is clearly a no-brainer, but don’t change all your ads every single day

  • Take advantage of any relevant products, features and betas across your marketing platforms – e.g. audience targeting is key to a successful campaign across the year, but make sure you’re getting the most out of it for peak

  • Tap into automation opportunities for both visibility and efficiency purposes: e.g. Dynamic Search Ads can help keep on top of constant changes in user searches and retain visibility for new terms

If you only remember one thing from me, I’d like it to be this: PLAN. Plan thoroughly, plan holistically and plan now. And, within reason, stick to your plan to have a successful Christmas campaign.

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