Originally published on Target Marketing.

Your retail holiday strategy is well underway by now (or should be) but it’s never too late to fine tune your approach for today’s sales while building towards a stronger position for future sales. Syncing with your customers’ buying rhythms is one way to maximize your marketing dollars and year end results.

Relentless advertising messages bombarding consumers across new and old channels, expanded competitive sets, and promotional periods like Black Friday and Cyber Monday have altered consumer buying patterns and, subsequently, marketing plans over the last couple of decades making customer preference a critical but elusive goal. Consumers now explore, search, compare, price and buy with relative predictability that can be charted in your own data as well as external data.

Using the available info to surf and stoke the appropriate waves of consumer activity will help your marketing work harder and better as you get in sync with your consumers’ rhythms and create the framework that favors your selection over competitors.

Early Days = Exploration

The customers’ buying rhythm starts with an exploration phase that begins earlier and earlier in the calendar year. This year, as in recent years, holiday offerings appeared before Halloween candy was even off the shelf as retailers jockeyed to create and exploit demand. This is an ideal time to stir interest, create awareness and drive users to conversion focused landing pages. Even if consumers are not yet ready to buy, that consumer traffic can be used to retarget interested buyers later in the season or to build productive audience models. Keyword driven campaigns in search and social should be broader here as consumers have not yet narrowed their search. Watch the impression levels of certain keyword ad types for clues when consumer switch from “What will I buy?” to “Where can I get the best deal/pricing?”

Even during exploration phases much of the early marketing focus is conversion oriented, but marketers do this knowing that they can execute marketing messaging outside of the prime buying season. The goal in these early days is often to simultaneously use the same vehicles and channels with different messaging stratagems to both create a path to purchase and to close on the sale. That can be tricky to execute but is a low-cost strategy in a cost per click environment and may garner some early sales to justify the cost.

Even more important, this is the perfect time to touch base with your loyal customers and remind them of your relationship, emphasizing the point with great content, personalized recommendations and fantastic promos to further shore up their established preference. Be as generous as possible and give them an easy mechanism to share. Those early sales have the added benefit of providing fuel for product reviews and links that can help later sales. Many retailers simply get into sell, sell, sell mode early in the season and hit the same note all the way through the season. Long retail experience tells me that you need to build to the crescendo to get the maximum impact.

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