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How to prepare your eCommerce Marketing Plans for Christmas 2013

If you’re a mail order business you’ve probably already sent your Christmas catalogue to the printers. But, one of the dangers of online marketing is that because we can leave it late – we leave it late! We all know that failing to plan means planning to fail, so I’d like you to agree right now to spend some time in August nailing your marketing plan for the rest of the year.

August is a great month to be doing this because of the holiday merry-go-round – every week someone else is off on holiday so you can get so much done!

You should already have an idea of what your Christmas marketing is going to look like, but now is the time to set it all down in black and white. Defining what the stories and promotions are going be and getting the critical dates organised.

Planning for Christmas is great because we have a defined end date – we know the last date we can take orders and still get them delivered. So that’s the first thing you need to find out, when is your last order date for Christmas? This year Christmas is on a Wednesday, so Next Day Delivery deadline will probably be Monday 23rd, and normal delivery deadline either Thursday 19th or Friday 20th. (This means you are going to need your team picking, packing and despatching over the last weekend if you’re really going to maximise your sales – there’s a bonus tip for you!).

Once you’ve got your end date we can start planning in the stories and promotions. Hold on though – because before you do that you should look back at what you did last year. What worked? What didn’t? And (come on be honest, we’re all guilty of this) what did we want to do but run out of time to do?

Right, now you’ve pulled all of that together we can get on with creating the plan. Remember a good marketing plan is flexible, fits with your brand and supports your unique selling proposition, and is designed to help you meet your sales objectives.

The strongest marketing plans are those that are built on strong stories. Stories are the subjects and themes that hold together a set of activity over a number of weeks and marketing channels. The easiest way to demonstrate them is to think of your January Sale. Your Story is “January Sale”, and for two to six weeks it’s going to be the main message across all your marketing. There’ll be “sale now on” marketing, and “sale must end” marketing, and “more reductions” marketing – but all support the common “January Sale” story.

What should our stories for Christmas be? (and just saying “Christmas” for 3 months is copping out). Here’s some ideas get you started:

-          Last Order Dates / “Get your gifts on the sleigh”

-          Stock up on Stocking Fillers

-          Christmas Cards

-          Last minute gifts

-          Personalised gifts (usually an earlier last order date)

-          Launch

-          Order early discount weekend

None of those is particularly creative, but building on your brand and events around Christmas can give you some great stories. From 1st October to Christmas Day you should aim to have four to six different stories.

Once you’ve got your stories pencil them into your calendar. The calendar should be a spreadsheet with a column for each week and a row for the stories, and then a row for each marketing channel you use.

Once your stories are pencilled in, start filling in the big marketing activities. The big ones are those that get seen by lots of people; your emails, what’s on the homepage, social media competitions, blogs, videos and other content.

While you’re working out the actual emails and blogs etc. you’ll probably find you want to jig around some of the stories because you’ve got more ideas under some than others – that’s fine, that’s why we’re planning all this in August, so you have time to make those changes.

When you have all those filled in, put the plan away for a couple of days and come back to it with fresh eyes before you do the next part.

The next part is to fill in the mini-marketing activity, those areas that don’t require a whole blog post, or a whole email to be created but which are no less essential to a successful season. Here I mean Remarketing, PPC, Social Media Posts and so forth. For these you need to note when key changes need to be made – when budgets change, when adtext needs to be rewritten, and the key things you should be Tweeting about.

The very last thing you should do is make sure everyone involved knows what the plan is. That might mean running a presentation for them all, or it might mean writing a two-page guide for them, or if you’re a very focused team – shouting across the desk!

If you get your Christmas marketing plan together in August it’s going to make your season both more successful, and easier to manage. But, don’t forget a good marketing plan is flexible – so monitor the results and if you need to change it, change it.

About the Author

Chloë Thomas is author of ‘eCommerce MasterPlan 1.8’ and her third book ‘eCommerce Marketing’ will be published in September. Both are available from: