Seasonal & Holiday

4 ways retailers can position themselves for holiday season success

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues, one might assume that consumers may cut spending this holiday season. However, a recent survey by RetailMeNot found that 66% of consumers say they plan to spend the same amount or more year-over-year to create a sense of normalcy for their families and keep traditions alive.1 Holiday spending has been consistently trending up since 2009; whether 2020 will follow those trends remains to be seen.

One thing is clear, companies will need to pool their best resources and capitalize on significant revenue-drivers such as Black Friday, Cyber Monday, and Christmas to make up for lost revenue in 2020. Here are four strategies to create effective holiday campaigns and exceed Q4 goals.

1. Target the right audience

72% of consumers in 2019 said they only engaged with marketing messages that were customized to their specific interest. Retailers need to ensure they have the data and analytical capabilities to create targeted holiday season campaigns that will resonate with their audience. Personas and look-alike models are tools retailers can use to better understand their audiences and craft more effective campaigns.

a. A persona is a reference to a collection of attributes that represent a segment of a brand’s audience. A persona encompasses that segment’s demographic and psychographic attributes, behaviors, motivations, and purchase patterns. Personas help retailers understand their customers and craft more relevant products and messaging. Different personas respond to different messages, channels and creative. Retailers who invest in building out personas and catering to their messaging, channel, and communication frequency preferences, will have a strong competitive edge as we go into the holiday season.

b. Look-alike modeling is a process that uses data about your current customers to identify high-quality prospects. Once you have your look-alike model, you can build out an audience of prospects that most resemble your high-value customers and are more likely to engage with your ads and convert.

Both personas and look-alike models help you target the right audience with the right message. They also require that you have deep knowledge and insights on your customers. Not all retailers have a deep well of accurate data readily available so they often need to expand their knowledge through data from reputable 3rd party data providers, such as Data Axle, who can help target their high-value prospects.

Data Axle uses hundreds of different attributes to improve offline-to-online matching to enable retailers to accurately target customers across all significant programmatic marketing and advertising platforms and through email. Data Axle also has audiences specifically for the holidays, such as Black Friday, Cyber Monday, Small Business Saturday, and more.

Brand Example: Nordstrom

Department store, Nordstrom, wanted to create a targeted holiday campaign that would appeal to current and potential customers. Nordstrom’s marketing team defined its target audience, then used augmented third-party data based on key attributes of their customers. They tested multiple creative assets within the same segment to determine which messaging resonated best.

Using a third-party vendor, Nordstrom optimized their customer lists and targeted the list for programmatic display ads on other channels. Lookalike models were then used to target prospects with specially crafted holiday messaging. The campaign resulted in a 368% increase in audience engagement.

2. Start planning early

Consumers are planning to start buying early this year, lengthening the period of spend for the holiday season.2 In 2019, 43% of consumers said they would start their shopping in November.3 This year, according to an NRF survey, 48% of retailers are preparing for consumers to start buying as early as October and 62% say they will have the majority of the holiday stock they need for the season by then.4

Retailers can prepare by planning the offers they will use to entice shoppers, ensure their product supply will meet demand, and shoring up their data. This approach will amplify your campaign’s reach and significantly improve onboarding rates.

Brand Example: Honeywell

Honeywell, the technology and manufacturing company, implemented real-time creative optimization to tease their Black Friday offerings well in advance of the holiday. They also drove consumer interest and built intrigue by incorporating images that automatically revealed their Black Friday offers when a countdown timer reached zero. Consumers could also click on the banners to reveal each offer – scratch ticket style.

3. Reinforce e-commerce strategy

The majority of Americans (75%) say they prefer to shop online this year, with 88% indicating they will not shop the traditional in-store doorbuster deals on Thanksgiving. Simultaneously, 2 out of 3 retailers expect their brick and mortar locations to be open throughout October, November, and December. Even before COVID-19, shoppers were trending towards making more mobile purchases. In 2018, over 50% of Cyber Monday purchases were from a mobile device.5

It’s clear that companies need to shore-up their e-commerce strategies.

Tactics such as free delivery, exclusive sales, loyalty programs, and adding reviews and ratings to products are all tried-and-true strategies for e-commerce success.

Brand Example: Amazon

One of Amazon’s e-commerce strategies is to create a sense of urgency and exclusivity. The online retailing giant created their own sales-based holiday, Prime Day, as an exclusive event for their loyalty program. Usually, Prime Day takes place in July. However, the pandemic pushed it back to October 13-14th in 2020. Time will tell how Prime Day will fare so close to Black Friday and Cyber Monday – but Amazon is already at the head of the pack with creative that touts their superior savings to other retailers’ Black Friday offers.

4. Stand out from the competition

From direct mail, email, and display advertising, retailers have many options to capture consumer attention. Marketing teams can use data from their previous campaigns to determine the best way to reach their target audience. With in-person events significantly limited, retailers should focus on the digital channels that matter most to their audiences.

Brand example: Lagavulin Whisky

Spirit maker, Lagavulin Single Malt Scotch Whisky, wanted to reach millennials by connecting with them on YouTube. Lagavulin hired Parks and Rec actor Nick Offerman to shoot a 45-minute long video of the actor sipping whisky while sitting next to the traditional holiday Yule log – the type of absurdist humor they hoped would appeal to their millennial audience.

Lagavulin added a teaser of the video on their social media pages and previewed it on Elite Daily, a popular news source for millennials. Within hours of launch, the video went viral. After one week, the video had two million YouTube views, and the brand’s YouTube channel had a 400-percent increase in subscribers.6


The holiday season sparks intense competition among retailers. However, with proper planning, informed audience targeting, creativity, and smart e-commerce strategies, retailers can make sure they stand out from the pack and exceed their 2020 goals.

With Data Axle, you can access hundreds of standard and custom digital audiences. Browse our data guides or contact us if you have any specific needs.

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James Purtle
Sr. Director, Digital Strategy

For over 8 years James Purtle has driven digital data and media strategy for Fortune 500 brands and Agencies. As an expert in predictive marketing, he has created go-to-market strategies for major programmatic Ad Tech and Data Management platforms and currently helps oversee digital activation strategy for Data Axle. In his free time, he enjoys watching movies with his wife and their two dogs and rooting for the Yankees.