by Thomas Peham, VP of Marketing at enterprise CMS Storyblok
Last year my colleague Alex wrote an article for Ecommerce Age on how Christmas 2021 was going to be a season like no other for retailers. Exiting pandemic lockdowns, the explosion in rapid delivery companies, and radical changes in consumer behaviour were all combining to make the holidays a period of uncertainty. Key to navigating these choppy waters was reviewing all existing marketing campaigns to ensure they were flexible enough to adapt. I would love to say that, in contrast to 2021, 2022 has been plane sailing. The reality is the situation has become even more unpredictable. As a result, it is more important than ever before to ensure that your online offering is as efficient, competitive and compelling as possible.
One of the great unknowns in the run up to last Christmas was how, with high street shops reopening, would online and bricks and mortar sales rebalance? The latest data from the UK Government reveals a complicated picture. Online sales have remained around 10% higher from before the pandemic (although ticking slowly downward over the course of 2021) and 10% lower from record lockdown highs. In November 2021 there was another pre-Christmas surge which follows trends seen since 2016, however, it was much sharper. From what we can tell, around 10% of consumers have been essentially permanently converted to online shopping and there’s potentially another large percentage who will online shop for Christmas in November.
While lockdowns might now be a thing of the past, they have been replaced by economic uncertainty and rapid inflation rates. Added to this is the fragility of global supply chains which will once again be severely tested in the next few months.
This might all sound doom and gloom, however, if your company has managed to survive the past few years, it clearly has enough appeal to consumers and fortitude to tackle this new wave of challenges.
If Christmas 2021 was all about dynamic marketing to replicate the best of the online and bricks and mortar experiences, 2022 is more about being highly tactical, efficient and competitive. People are likely to be on tight budgets – meaning they will buy less and be on the lookout for bargains. This may result in the Black Friday sales period being the biggest ever. There may also be another burst of last minute shopping as consumers play chicken with retailers – holding off purchases in the hope of provoking and then capitalising on pre-Christmas sales.
To anticipate and respond to these changes you need to have the right marketing infrastructure in place. Ideally, a system that allows your business to quickly respond on every relevant marketing channel with the right content. It should integrate into your sales and website analytics so you can easily track the effectiveness of each marketing campaign, and decide which products need a harder push.
It’s important to remember you do not need a big monolithic tech stack to execute this. They are generally too inflexible, expensive and, with Christmas fast approaching – too time consuming to set up effectively. There are a range of new solutions available that, via APIs, can usually be easily integrated together. This means you have the freedom to build a suite of tools that work for your business. In addition, you also have the flexibility to swap out different solutions as your marketing develops. Headless CMS aligned with good data infrastructure is a combination that enables the highly response, data-driven marketing that is ideal for the festive period and beyond.
Marketing technology has also advanced to the point that, with the right system, you don’t need a whole team of ‘power users’ with deep technical expertise to build and execute campaigns. Nevertheless, it is essential that marketers have more strings to their bow. Understanding what your customer data is telling you and how you should best respond, is arguably much more important than being able to write snappy copy. As a result, your marketing team has to have a range of skills and they need to be fully integrated into your wider business. Information must flow from sales, customer service and backend analytics to your marketing team and vice versa. Gaining the ‘single customer view’ is of course the holy grail of any marketing department. However, with budgets tight and time short, you can gain a lot of ROI by upskilling your entire team on expertise such as the basics of data analysis. This can be done quickly and effectively through online courses. The result will be that your marketing team can become much more proactive – campaigns will evolve quickly in line with data insights and innovative ideas will come from your entire team.
In essence, your business moves from a top down marketing strategy that is defined well in advance, to a more fluid dynamic where tactical initiatives can be built and executed quickly to respond to consumer behaviour. Not only is this the best way to engage with customers during a period of uncertainty, it enables you to outmanoeuvre your competitors and operate with maximum efficiency.
Changing your tech infrastructure and upskilling your team might seem like a crazy initiative to undertake in the run up to Christmas. However, time pressure is an excellent motivator and you do not need to achieve everything all at once. You can start small, by reviewing your marketing tech stack and determining whether it’s fit for purpose and plug any big gaps you see with new tech with the view to a more complete overhaul over the course of the next year. Similarly, audit your team’s skills, identify where you need additional expertise right now, with the intention of undertaking a long term, holistic upskilling program. Christmas is the best time to see how beneficial a dynamic and multi-disciplinary marketing function can be. What you learn over this period will inform how you can best invest and plan for the future.