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A Web Christmas 2008 - Internet marketing

(First published in 2002, updated annually around October)

It's that time of the year again already - agh!

According to a recent survey from Mediamark Research & Intelligence (MRI), around a third of shoppers say they will start 2008 holiday shopping *before* Thanksgiving.

For any of you who know me, you'd be aware that Christmas is not my favorite time of the year. My only contribution towards specific Xmas marketing advice is this article, which I usually drag out once a year in October, blow the false Xmas cheer and tinsel off, update and then republish. 

It contains points of view you may not have considered in relation to the Christmas related marketing and I hope you find them of value.

So, for what it's worth, here's some handy web marketing advice for Xmas 2008 - ho ho ho, blegh ;).

The stores are showing glimmers of tinsel and the Christmas sale emails are already coming in. By the next century, I predict stores will begin *advertising* Christmas sales in earnest around about July. I admit it, I'm a regular Scrooge, full of cynicism (well, more than usual) in regards to the occasion.

The Christmas season causes a great conflict in me. Although I'm not religious, I am repulsed by the commercialization of what for many is a very sacred day, but I recognize that for many businesses, both offline and online - it's a crucial time of the year. Globally, billions are spent in online advertising over the next  months as fortunes are made and lost. 

In the world of web marketing, Christmas is a period of creative overdrive as we try to woo the people who have saved their pennies over the months and entice them to buy our products as the ultimate gift for someone they love, like or feel obligated to.

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Xmas marketing and sensitivity

Something else I recognize about the Xmas season is that many people also feel the same way I do about the end of year holidays. It can be a very sad time, a lonely time and a period of intense pressure as people struggle with a million more ads convincing them that they must buy this or that to prove that they love someone. 

Being a parent, I feel very sorry for other parents who have a hard time making ends meet during the rest of the year - Xmas can be a living hell as they struggle to try and satisfy the desires of their children.

Another point that many of us in web marketing forget is that Xmas tends to be a Western thing, and the whole world (thankfully) is not totally Westernized yet. People from other cultures and creeds can be very offended at the sight of all the Xmas images and ad copy littering the Internet. 

Added to this, deeply religious persons within our own culture at times feel disgusted at the trivialization of what for them is one of the most important days of the year, the day set aside to commemorate the birth of Jesus Christ.

It's for these reasons that on my own web site, you'll never see a Santa Claus, a Xmas tree, reindeer or Xmas carols playing in the background. It's something to think about.  

You don't have to use the term Christmas in your marketing or use cutsey animated elves to sell your products - the term "end of year sale", "end of year discounts", "holiday season clearance" or just "give a gift to end the year" can work just as well - and being generic, they are less likely to offend... it all depends on your target market. But, unfortunately, most shoppers will search on the dreaded term.

Having called a spade a spade, let's move on.

Free shipping and free gifts

Free shipping seems to be the one of the most sought after special deals most years for online shoppers buying physical products. If you can afford to provide it, definitely consider it. Next on the popularity list are free gifts with purchases. For physical goods, it may be an item you're having problems shifting, for digital goods such as software or information products, it could be free upgrades for X period, or a report that may be starting to sell slowly. 

But in 2007, it looks as though the clincher is going to be price. The rising costs of food and energy, along with fallout from the subprime mortgage crisis in the USA is causing consumers to be more conscious of their budgets -  and many big name stores will be aggressively competing on price.

Gift cards and certificates

We all tend to lead busy lives these days. I started work about 12 hours ago today and I'm not Robinson Crusoe (alone) in that habit. Even if I were a holiday gift buyer, I most likely wouldn't have time to go and shop for them. I'd need to know what the person liked, had or didn't have - bleh. Seems too much like hard work to me :). 

Gift certificates are a great option for people in a similar position. It may be considered a thoughtless gift by some, but it does allow the recipient to get *exactly* what they want or need. Over 50% of people surveyed this year by the National Retail Federation have said they would like to receive a gift card; in fact, it was the most popular gift choice. 

The other benefit is that a gift certificate also exposes the recipient to your store, which they may not have been aware of otherwise. Added to that, it's not unusual for holder of gift certificates to purchase an item that exceeds the value of the certificate. Extra cash for you. 

Gift cards and certificates don't necessarily need to be a physical plastic card - electronic certificates are also quite popular.

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Search engine marketing for Christmas

If you are struggling with what to do in regards to web marketing for this year's Christmas sales season, you haven't got much time left to make a decision - it's going to get mighty competitive very quickly this year.  This especially applies from a search engine point of view.

You'll need to start adding and tweaking content and optimizing now for your Christmas oriented advertising pitch to start securing good positions in rankings. Shoppers are already starting to search more on Christmas related terms. On a couple of search engines, it's already in the top 100 queries. 

Pay per click ad campaigns

It is tempting for webmasters and site owners to take out huge marketing campaigns with pay-per-click search engines leading up to Christmas. If this is an area that is new to you, proceed with caution. Pay per click can be very productive but can also turn into a financial black hole if you aren't careful. 

Newbie pay per click advertisers can actually inflate the costs for everyone by constantly bidding higher amounts and this becomes more prevalent during the latter stages of the year. 

The newbie advertiser may end up with top ranking, but at a cost that destroys any profit made from sales referred. If you're looking for some tips and hints before taking out a PPC campaign, read my overview of pay per click advertising.

Book banner ad campaigns now

If you've come across a web site where you would like advertise your products and services, it's probably best to book your space now. You may find that as it draws nearer to your intended date of launching a campaign, it will also be the same date for other merchants - ad space will be hard to get and may cost more. 

Now is the best time to negotiate an ad campaign with web site owners and also consider using one of the better known banner networks such as Valueclick Ad network  - you'll get broad coverage across thousands of sites in a single buy and have access to excellent monitoring and reporting facilities.

Link building

It's also a very important time to examine your link building strategies. Picking up a few links on some related sites with good traffic flows will definitely boost your online Christmas sales, as well as the added boost from search engines for having other sites link to you. You can learn more about finding links in our link building strategies  guide and my related article on Internet marketing etiquette.

Email marketing

Don't put your holiday email marketing campaigns off for too much longer. With so many consumers starting their holiday shopping prior to Halloween this year - 40% according to a recent Nation Retail Federation survey; it's now time to hit your lists with holiday season offers and start focusing efforts on building existing lists. 

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Give so that you may gain

Most importantly, in your race to maximize online sales and profits in the months ahead, please don't forget about those who have nothing. If you can afford to, give a little to someone who isn't as fortunate as you or commit to dedicating a small share of your profits to organizations who care for these people - especially children. This is literally the darkest time of the year for many tortured souls. Donating a slice of your profits can also be a powerful marketing strategy - see my article on cause marketing and social conscience.

Perhaps you could even gear your marketing to encourage people to buy your products to give to the needy. There are many charitable organizations around who would be happy to work with you on this sort of campaign. Then, instead of the usual recipient receiving the gift, they would receive a nice card or certificate stating that the gift had gone to a needy person or a project in an impoverished country that could truly benefit from it.

And please, don't lose sight of what Christmas is *truly* about for yourself and your family. In a world that's rapidly going to hell, find your peace and spread that peace to others.

Good luck in your web marketing in the months ahead, I hope that it is not only a profitable, but happy time for you.

"peace and goodwill to all men"

Enough said about Christmas and the Internet from me... gentlemen (and ladies), start your engines..

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Michael Bloch
Taming the Beast
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