Blog >> Marketing Strategy

Darcy Grabenstein Mar 22

Not All Leads Are Created Equal

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A lead is a lead, right? Wrong.

There’s a big difference between a lead and a qualified lead. The latter is someone whose interests/behaviors indicate that he or she is likely to be a good prospect. In the Executive MBA world, this means the lead is more likely to enroll in an EMBA program than other leads.

Lead scoring is a methodology used to identify “hot” vs. “cool” leads. It is used to rank prospects against a scale that represents the perceived value each lead may have for the organization. The resulting score is used to prioritize leads. “Hot” leads should be followed up first, with “cool” leads later.

Before you can score your leads, you need to obtain some information about them. You can do this several ways:

  • Include an inquiry form on your website and landing pages
  • Capture demographic information when leads call to get information on your EMBA program
  • Collect information via forms at open houses and other events

Among information you’ll want to track is which program(s) the lead is considering. If this particular lead is interested only in a traditional MBA, be sure to share that information with your MBA colleagues at your institution. Likewise, you’ll want other programs to share leads who show an interest in your particular program.

A word of warning: While you want to capture demographic information via your online forms, you also don’t want to scare off prospects with too many form fields to complete. You must strike a balance. Focus on capturing basic information first; once you have that, you should follow up via phone and/or email to learn more about your prospects.

You can use other methods to find out what programs a lead is interested in. On the web, you can monitor visitors’ activity on your website. Attributes such as where they clicked, how long they spent on certain content and whether they requested more information could tell you a lot about their particular interests.

So exactly how does lead scoring work in the EMBA realm? Truth be told, it works basically the same as in any other industry. You gauge prospects’ interests/actions and rank them accordingly.

To determine how interested prospects are in your institution overall, see how many different web pages they visited on your site. You also can see repeat visitors, and track how often leads visit your site in a given time period. If this coincides with your registration deadlines, you may have a “hot” lead on your hands. Another factor that may contribute to a lead being considered “hot” is whether the lead’s company will help fund the employee’s studies. Once the best leads are determined, your admissions team must work to guide them through the application and enrollment process.

If a lead is identified as “cool,” that lead could simply be researching in advance of making a decision down the road. Eventually, such leads could prove to be equally valuable, but not in the short term. However, you don’t want these leads to fall through the cracks. You must nurture these leads. Keep in mind that committing to an EMBA is a big decision, one that has a longer buying process than, say, purchasing a new piece of workout equipment.

How can you keep cool leads on your radar, and keep your program top of mind among them? Keep the lines of communication open. Remind them about upcoming seminars, deadlines and events such as class previews. Executive education courses are a great way to introduce your institution, its faculty and curriculum to prospective candidates. In addition, if you see that a decent number of leads are coming from a particular geographic area, go to them. Schedule an information session in a location convenient for a majority of your leads.

While lead scoring saves wasted time/effort after the fact, many overloaded EMBA marketing and recruitment staffs simply can’t devote the time to it up front. That’s why it’s important to automate the process. First, set up a point system for assigning points to leads. Determine prospect actions and behaviors that correspond to the various lead scores. Then weight those actions/behaviors in terms of the likelihood that the prospect will convert.

Annodyne’s proprietary lead tracking and lead management platform, Annotrak™, automates lead scoring and more. Leads are color coded for easy identification: red distinguishes high-priority (hot) leads from blue low-priority (cool) leads. Annotrak also tracks social media activity and multichannel marketing performance, and can send tailored email messages to your leads.

No matter how you capture leads and their demographics or how you prioritize them, you must remember that it’s more than just data. It’s all about relationships. In fact, this entire process is referred to as prospect relationship management. Your admissions team must work to develop relationships with prospects at every stage of the sales funnel, and through every step of the buyer’s journey.

Darcy Grabenstein is senior copywriter at Annodyne.

Darcy Grabenstein Jan 26

A marketing must: Make a good first impression

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When we think about first impressions, it’s usually in the context of a job interview or a first date. As the saying goes, “First impressions are lasting impressions.”

Make a good first impression

This holds true for marketing as well. Here, we’ll look at the importance of first impressions in digital marketing.

Unless the prospect knows your organization’s URL or enters your organization’s name directly into a search engine, chances are the first online impression will be a banner ad or search ad. It’s not only the ad itself that will impact that first impression, but how that ad is served up and who sees it.

Who sees your ads depends on how you target your audience. For example, you can target your audience via different demographics. Want to attract a diverse audience? Serve up ads, with appropriate imagery and messaging, to women and minorities. Want to drive traffic to a brick-and-mortar location? Target your audience geographically. Looking to hire someone with X years of experience? Target your audience by age.

Why bother targeting, you ask? Why not try to reach the largest possible audience? When you target, you will attract quality leads. You also will be delivering relevant content to viewers.

Digital marketing is both an art and a science. If you’re doing it right, when prospects click on a banner or search ad, they won’t go to the home page of your website. Instead, they’ll be taken to a carefully crafted landing page. You should have a separate landing page for each ad campaign. That way, there won’t be a disconnect between the ad and your site. Again, think relevant content. Make that your marketing mantra.

Keep in mind that the landing page cannot — and should not — include every single aspect of your product or service. It should include just enough information to pique the prospect’s interest. A key component of your landing page is the form capturing prospect data. To minimize distraction and encourage form completion, your landing page should have no other outbound links besides the form itself. You need enough form fields to capture data but not so many that the prospect is overwhelmed. A lengthy form can create an unfavorable first impression among prospects. And a strong call to action (CTA) will boost form completions.

For those who do go directly to your website by entering the URL or searching for you by name, your home page will make the all-important first impression. You want an attractive home page, but you shouldn’t sacrifice content for aesthetics. Make your site “sticky”; that is, include content and links that will keep visitors on your site longer.

Your entire website should include keywords that you (and your competitors) are bidding on in search marketing campaigns. If you’re not sure what keywords to use, free online tools such as Wordtracker can help you get started.

Timing is everything. Your sales cycle may or may not coincide with the buying pattern of prospects. There certainly will be overlap, such as at Christmastime for a gift retailer, but this will vary among your prospects. That’s why you should schedule ads throughout the calendar year. And that’s why you should constantly refresh your creative. If you have outdated ads, that first impression won’t be a positive one.

The first impression is just the first step in terms of marketing. While first impressions are important, it’s the continuing dialogue with your prospects and customers that will build your brand — and your business.

Darcy Grabenstein is senior copywriter at Annodyne.


Darcy Grabenstein Nov 29

Don’t Overlook the Importance of Brand Building

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At this time of year, consumers have visions of gifts being exchanged, and retailers have visions of record sales. While Q4 is key for retail and other industry segments, businesses that focus solely on moving product do so at their own risk.

In fact, branding may be even more crucial at holiday time to distinguish yourself from the competition. So what exactly is branding? It’s more than slapping a logo and tagline on your ads, products and packaging and calling it a day.

Some of the most effective seasonal branding campaigns could actually be construed as promoting the spirit of the holiday over the commercial aspect. Here’s a partial list of stores closed on Thanksgiving. Instead of cashing in early on Black Friday sales, these companies show that they value their employees. This can go a long way in winning over customers.

  • A.C. Moore
  • American Girl
  • Barnes & Noble
  • Bed Bath & Beyond (Select Locations)
  • BJ’s Wholesale Club
  • Burlington
  • Cabela’s
  • Christmas Tree Shops (Select Locations)
  • Costco
  • Crate and Barrel
  • Dillard’s
  • DSW Designer Shoe Warehouse
  • Gamestop
  • Guitar Center
  • HHGregg
  • HomeGoods
  • IKEA
  • Jo-Ann Fabrics
  • Lowe’s
  • Marshalls
  • Neiman Marcus
  • Nordstrom / Nordstrom Rack
  • Office Max / Office Depot
  • Patagonia
  • Petco
  • PetSmart
  • Pier 1 Imports
  • Raymour & Flanigan
  • REI
  • Sam’s Club
  • The Container Store
  • T.J. Maxx

Brands that reflect the spirit of the season with cause-related campaigns are definitely on the right track. Burlington Stores’ annual Warm Coats & Warm Hearts drive is a perfect example. Not only does it directly tie to its products, it encourages customer participation.

 Burlington Warm Coats & Warm Hearts

However, even the best-laid branding plans can backfire. Last year, Starbucks introduced a plain red holiday cup instead of its traditional Christmas cups and came under attack from many customers. This year, its festive red cups are making a comeback.

Starbucks holiday cups

A Starbucks news release reinforces the brand’s seasonal tradition: “Since 1997, Starbucks has welcomed the holidays with a special red cup that celebrates the spirit of the season.”

Think about it. The commercial side of Christmas itself has excellent branding. There’s Santa Claus, a charismatic spokesperson; the use of red, an exciting color; interactive elements (writing letters to St. Nick, exchanging presents); and brand symbolism in the form of the Christmas tree.

And to all those non-believers in branding during the holidays, I say: Bah, humbug!

Darcy Grabenstein is senior copywriter at Annodyne.

Darcy Grabenstein Oct 27

3 Ways to Refine Your Email Testing Process

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Whether you’re a seasoned veteran or relatively new to email marketing, you’ve got to think outside the inbox when it comes to A/B testing. If you’re not already running A/B tests, you’re missing out on a huge opportunity to optimize your email campaigns. If you are conducting A/B tests, don’t get complacent. Test various elements to ensure that your content continues to resonate with your subscribers.

However, resist the temptation to test multiple elements at once. To avoid skewing the results, test one element at a time. For instance, test a subject line in one email campaign, a call to action in another.

Also keep in mind that you should test a large-enough email sample to make the test statistically significant. What exactly constitutes a statistically valid sample size? Most email marketers will suggest at least 1,000 email addresses. That doesn’t mean you need to run every test on your entire email list. If your list is smaller than 1,000, test 85 percent to 95 percent of the list to ensure valid results.

For larger lists, you may want to test using the 20/80 rule. Send Version A of your email to 10 percent of your list, and Version B to another 10 percent. A couple hours after the email is deployed, the email with the most opens is determined the winner, and that version is sent to the remaining 80 percent of your list. Most email service providers (ESPs) have built-in functionality to automate these types of tests.

Now that we’ve got the technical aspects out of the way, let’s take a look at some of the more creative aspects of A/B testing. Following are three concepts to consider the next time you launch an A/B email test.

1. Go “old school”

Pit a text-only email against an HTML email and see which one converts better. Take a look at your inbox. You’ve undoubtedly got dozens and dozens of HTML-designed emails, filled with eye-catching graphics. When is the last time you remember seeing a text-only promotional email? The absence of distracting graphics may actually cause a text-only email to perform better than its image-filled counterpart. A case in point:


Note that a text-only email, such as the one above, doesn’t mean you should forsake all branding. Including your organization’s logo at the top of the email lends credibility and recognition to your communications.

Special characters in subject lines are so “yesterday,” which is why you just might want to test them again. This site is a good place to start if you need some ideas on what icons are available. The charts also include both Unicode and UTF-8 codes, one of which your developers will need for production. Here’s an excerpt from one of the charts:


If you’re targeting a B2B audience, though, you should know that Outlook and Gmail will display the special characters slightly differently. As with any email, you should do test sends with various email clients and browsers to make sure the email renders properly before sending.

And while personalization is nothing new, when done right it’s worth testing. Remember, personalization is not limited to the subject line. The following email also inserts the first name into the body of the email:


Be sure to use best practices when adding personalization to an email. Always include a generic subject line version in case the email record in your database does not include a first name. For example, the generic version of the Ticketmaster subject line could be “Your Ultimate Live Event Guide.” If you are personalizing the body copy, the name should be the same font/size/color as the rest of the body copy. Otherwise, it will look out of place and defeat the whole purpose of personalization.

Another throwback approach would be to use the tried-and-true direct mail technique of adding a “P.S.” line. According to Professor Siegfried Vogele in Handbook of Direct Mail, over 90 percent of people read the P.S. first in a direct-mail letter. Granted, a recipient may have to scroll down to see the P.S. line in an email, but a strong P.S. can reinforce the call to action.

2. Take advantage of technology

If you don’t think you have the bandwidth to conduct A/B tests on a regular basis, think again. The technology is out there to make A/B tests as simple as A-B-C. Take advantage of these tools of the trade (both free and inexpensive), and take the pain out of email testing.

The email isn’t the only thing you should be testing. If you want to test conversions, then you need to test the landing pages, too. Unbounce, as it states, lets you build, publish and test landing pages without the need for IT. Rates are as low as $49/month. The site also offers landing page templates.

Spaces’ Image Resizer makes the task of resizing images a no-brainer. It’s not only free, it’s handy for both A/B testing and for sharing your email content — especially when an offer is involved — on social media.

 Sweets-lg Sweets-sm

Email on Acid, which conducts email rendering tests (as recommended above) for its clients, has provided a list of sites that offer free email templates. The company offers its own free templates as well, including responsive templates such as these:


Any email you develop, whether from scratch or using a template, should be responsive. Mobile-friendly emails are a must, as more than half of all emails are opened on mobile devices.

You can test your email and landing page designs outside your own lists with UsabilityHub’s Five Second Test. Pricing is on a subscription or test basis. How it works: Your design is shown to testers for 5 seconds. Then the testers are asked questions to see what they remembered. It’s a way to get a quick read on different treatments of an email, landing page, etc.

3. Test. Analyze. Repeat.

Over time, your list demographics will change and it pays to re-test elements that you previously tested. Or your product/service offering may vary, necessitating new tests. So what else can you test in your emails? The options are seemingly endless:

  • Preheader text
  • Email segmentation
  • Number of links
  • Colors
  • Navigation elements
  • Video
  • “From” name
  • Testimonials
  • Incentives
  • Day/time you send email

Regardless of what you ultimately decide to test in your emails, it’s important that you test. It’s equally important to analyze the results, and then apply your findings to future email campaigns.

Darcy Grabenstein is senior copywriter at Annodyne.

Marisa Albanese Oct 13

Art and Data: The New ‘It’ Couple

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In case you haven’t noticed (because you’ve either awoken from a 15-year coma, raised by feral wolves, or a little of both), 2016 is an election year. Don’t worry — I will refrain from any political discourse.

The election did inspire me and two friends to take a day trip to Washington, D.C. to see the sights. We tried to venture to different types of attractions and eventually ended up at the Renwick Galley at the Smithsonian American Art Museum. One of my friends, Amanda, is an art teacher. She also possesses a crazy knowledge of all things art, so I love going to galleries with her.

The Renwick focuses on contemporary craft art — sculptures, pottery and installation pieces. While exploring, I stumbled across Norwood Viviano’s “Global Cities.” On the floor lay separate white panels with black outlines of the continents with the names of major cities geographically highlighted. The panels were arranged to provide an almost seamless view of the map. Above the panels were 29 pieces of blown glass, each a different size and shape. The glass hovered above a specific city.

The size and shape of the glass corresponded with amount of time humans had inhabited the area and how the population had grown or declined. It was a breathtaking sight. An exhibit specialist at the Renwick explained that population data was used to create the blown glass. The piece was meant to showcase the true distribution of populations through the use of a grand visual display.

This piece showed what all data nerds like me feel: Data can be beautiful.

While I stood transfixed, Amanda explained  that artists were beginning to utilize data more in their pieces. I honestly never saw the connection before her statement. Art is, well, art. It can be anything. There are no rules. Data is the exact opposite. It’s regimented and structured. Their marriage, though, has the ability to create understanding for a whole slew of people. Ergo, art is able to unlock the true job of data, which is bringing information to light.

This brings up an intriguing insight. Perhaps things we had a preconceived notion about in marketing bear a second look. Maybe an audience who was perceived as not being receptive to a message should get a deeper dive. A failed campaign re-examined to understand what went


“Global Cities”

If you ever get a chance to check out the Renwick and this piece, I highly recommend it. You may find it as inspiring as I did. I also recommend taking as many ridiculous pictures as you can in front of the Washington Monument. Why? No real reason, except to possibly annoy everyone around you.

 Marisa Albanese is database marketing analyst at Annodyne.

Darcy Grabenstein May 23

Bleisure travel: A blessing for the industry

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In the travel industry, the line in the beach resort’s sand is often blurred between business and pleasure. For many people, the blurring favors the side of business, with career-crazed vacationers reluctant to “unplug” from work even when using their precious PTO. For others, business travel gives them an opportunity to experience destinations they may not have otherwise visited.

What does this mean for the tourism industry? Business + leisure equals an opportunity to cater to customers’ needs, no matter what bleisure (don’t blame me; I didn’t coin the term) means to them.

Bleisure infographic

Infographic courtesy of BridgeStreet

For airlines, it means offering connectivity even at 39,000 feet. For airports, it means having even more phone-charging stations and accessible electrical outlets.

For hotels, it means offering free WiFi to business travelers, having business centers where guests can print from computers, free Internet access for guests and more. It also means having an on-site gym where guests can continue their at-home fitness routines even when away on business. It means having a trained concierge staff ready to answer guests’ questions about the area.

For companies, it means giving employees some free time before, during or after a business trip to explore. The same goes for conference planners; leisure time is a win-win as it boosts the local economy and also offers additional, less-formal opportunities for attendees to network. It’s also an opportunity to provide activities/suggestions for attendees’ vacationing partners who may accompany them on the trip. (I’ve accompanied my husband to an annual convention three years in a row, and usually am on my own when it comes to exploring the area.)

For corporate travel agents, it means getting creative with travel planning. Offer ideas on how business travelers can spend their precious free time in a given destination.

And for destination marketers, bleisure travel can be a big boon. It’s a bit like double-dipping. It means getting the word out to conference planners about after-hours options for dining and entertainment. It also means creating itineraries that will help time-crunched travelers make the most of their stay.

For bleisure travelers, it can mean choosing a vacation spot that’s conducive to the occasional conference call or video conference. It can mean attending an industry event because it’s in a highly desirable location. And it can mean, after getting a sneak peek of a destination on a business trip, returning there for a full-fledged vacation at a later date.

Let’s face it, bleisure travel is here to stay. Members of the tourism industry would be wise to capitalize on this trend.

Darcy Grabenstein is senior copywriter at Annodyne.


Darcy Grabenstein May 9

Marketing: A Matter of Perspective and Perception

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With the nation obsessed over the presidential election, many local candidates and races may not be getting the attention they deserve. In some cases, however, the opposite is occurring: More voters are turning out at the polls and, consequently, voting in local elections.

So how do local candidates grab the attention of voters? On a recent trip to Florida, I noticed that one candidate for sheriff did it very simply: by changing the perspective. My husband, who’s not in advertising, also noticed this, thus reinforcing the marketing theory I was forming in my head.

Take a look at the campaign sign below. It’s your typical square sign — turned on its side to form a diamond. (Of course, it doesn’t hurt that the candidate’s last name, Jett, lends itself to a visual icon.)

Campaign sign

The point is that this didn’t cost the candidate any more than a traditional square sign. But rotating the sign could mean the difference between capturing attention — and votes. The diamond-shaped sign stood out from the sea of square signs dotting both sides of the street.

Here’s where perspective and perception intersect. This diamond-shaped sign also may impart a subliminal message as well. Voters may see this as a reflection on the candidate himself, suggesting that he is non-traditional (which may not necessarily be a good thing in Florida’s Bible Belt) and willing to look at issues from a new perspective.

At the risk of jumping into the political fray, let’s go back to the presidential election for a moment. It just dawned on me that the campaign logos of the Democratic candidates focus on their first names, Hillary and Bernie, whereas the campaign logos for the Republican candidate focus on his last name, Trump. (So did those of the former Republican candidates: Cruz, Kasich, Bush.)  Candidates who truly want to connect with the people should probably take the more familiar approach. Politics. Perspective. Perception. Polls. President.

Changing the perspective works wonders for catching the eye — and ear — of your audience:

  • A speaker who really wants to make a point will whisper, not shout, to do so.
  • Printing your business card vertically instead of horizontally can differentiate you from the competition.
  • Sending a text-only promotional email will distinguish it from the glut of HTML emails cluttering the inbox.
  • A handwritten thank-you note, sent via traditional mail, is likely to be remembered.
  • Positioning a product upside-down on a billboard will turn heads.

So, the next time you’re looking for a unique way to market your brand, product or service, think of the diamond-shaped sign. You might just come up with a gem of an idea.

 Darcy Grabenstein is senior copywriter at Annodyne.



Darcy Grabenstein Feb 29

6 Marketing and PR Takeaways from the Oscars

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The Oscars logo


On Sunday night, actors, directors and producers weren’t the only winners in Sunday night’s Oscar ceremonies. Marketers and causes alike came out on top.

Here are a few lessons we can learn from the Oscars and their surrounding hype:

  1. You can get in the game – if you’re willing to pay. ABC was expected to command upwards of $2.2 million per 30-second spot during the Oscars. (Compare that to $5 million for a Super Bowl spot.)

  2. Get mileage with freebies. Each Oscar nominee received a swag bag worth about $200,000. Gifts include everything from personalized M&Ms to a $55,000 VIP all-access trip to Israel.

  3. A little product placement goes a long way. Fashion and jewelry designers rule the red carpet. Stylists and makeup artists get (hair?) plugs, too.

  4. Don’t underestimate the power of social media. Have a cause to promote? Take it to social media. #OscarsSoWhite is still trending after the big event. Also, take a lesson from emcee Chris Rock on how to handle controversy (not to mention the use of humor).

  5. Get your facts straight. Sam Smith won an Academy Award for best original song, “Writing’s on the Wall,” for the 2015 James Bond thriller “Spectre.” In his acceptance speech, he said “no openly gay man had ever won an Oscar,” which was incorrect. What should have resulted in positive publicity for the singer turned into negative PR from the backlash that ensued (see No. 4 above). 

  6. Thank your supporters. Businesses, like actors and actresses, should not forget to show appreciation for the people who helped them get where they are today. For businesses, this is your customers. How can you show your customers that they are valued? By delivering quality products and services, providing exemplary customer service and offering relevant content.

And the winner is… marketing and public relations professionals!

Darcy Grabenstein is senior copywriter at Annodyne.

Darcy Grabenstein Jan 22

These emails let it snow, let it snow, let it snow

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While the Northeast braces for a blizzard, it’s the perfect time to talk about emails and marketing strategy. Whether your business is located in the Northeast or the Southwest, if you have online customers there’s a good chance many of them live in blizzard-bound areas.

A snowstorm creates a captive audience for your email marketing communications. (That is, assuming the power doesn’t go out. Then again, as long as the Internet is up and running, charged mobile phones and other devices can give folks access.)

Of course, when you’re tying in a promotional message to a natural disaster, you have to be careful not to offend those most adversely affected by the situation. In other words, it would have been tacky to capitalize on Hurricane Sandy.

The Sears email below uses the preheader to set the stage for the email. Granted, 5 percent isn’t a big deal, but it is if you’re scrambling to get snow tires on your vehicle.

 Sears snow tires email


In the Audible email below, there’s a touch of humor in the various scenarios presented. These are all scenarios that those stuck in a snowstorm can relate to. Coining the word “snow-casion” is a clever finishing touch.

Audible snow-related email

Remember, you can geographically segment your list and target only the audience affected by the weather. Here, Barnes & Noble targets its New York customers. While the coupon is only for brick-and-mortar stores, the email promotes both in-store and online shopping.

Barnes & Noble geo-targeted email

Urban Outfitters, however, promotes online savings in this email. Even the coupon code, SNOWEDIN, is tied in to the theme.

Urban Outfitters snow day email

Steve Madden’s email is all-inclusive, with copy that addresses both those stranded by the snow and those living elsewhere in the country:

Steve Madden email

Recipients anywhere in the U.S. can relate to this email from terrain. What’s interesting here is that the email features colorful plants instead of snow and ice. It would be interesting to do an A/B test with two different graphical treatments and see which performs better.

terrain email

Other emails can include content as a public service, putting a PR spin on the situation. This just landed in my inbox minutes ago from a local business:

Winter driving tips

The beauty of these types of emails is that they can be created ahead of time and tweaked as needed immediately prior to deploying. When your recipients are homebound, they have more down time and are more likely to engage with your content.

Here’s to a safe, cozy weekend for everyone affected by the impending blizzard.

Darcy Grabenstein is senior copywriter at Annodyne.



Darcy Grabenstein Dec 2

Develop a Holiday Marketing Survival Plan

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Whether you’re B2B or B2C, for profit or nonprofit, online or brick and mortar, you need a (pre-) holiday marketing plan to make it through the holidays unscathed. Set up a calendar that includes everything: online and in-store promotions, email campaigns, social media content, print and banner ads, etc. This will help you keep track of deadlines and ensure consistency across channels.

Advance planning

Once the holidays are in full swing, the pace becomes frantic. Make any website upgrades at least six months in advance (there’s always next year!), so you’ll have plenty of time to test and get the bugs out before the holiday onslaught.

Design print and online materials (catalogs, ads, emails, etc.) as much in advance as possible. If you’re not sure of the exact sale price or offer, put in placeholders so you can easily update once they’re determined.

Beware of overkill

Marketers eager to capitalize on the holiday craziness are starting holiday sales earlier and earlier each year. Take a lesson from the little boy who cried wolf: If you start your promotions too early, they’re likely to fall on deaf ears. Also, if you launch your holiday campaigns too soon, you may cannibalize your other promotions, such as for Halloween and Thanksgiving.

Email marketers should be particularly cognizant of the frequency of their emails during the holidays. It’s understandable that you’ll bump up the frequency a bit, but you have to know where to draw the line. If you start sending emails on a daily basis and see a significant number of unsubscribes, you’d be wise to dial back on the frequency.

At holiday time, free shipping is pretty much a given for online retailers. What other value-added services can you provide to set yourself apart from your competitors? Free gift wrap? Shipping upgrades or discounted expedited shipping? Think outside the packing box.

Know your customers

You not only need to know your customers’ preferences, you need to know what they don’t like as well. Avoid an epic fail like this:

Chanukah ham

The retailer, in this case Balducci’s in New York, had an in-store display that was far from kosher. Observant Jews don’t eat ham at any time of the year, let alone during Chanukah. This type of advertising fail is what I call “oyful.”

For that matter, if the majority of your customers celebrate Christmas, it may be safe to use “Christmas” in your promotions. However, why risk alienating the minority of your customers who celebrate Kwanzaa, Chanukah, or nothing at all? The politically correct (and least offensive) wording would simply be to substitute “Holiday” for “Christmas.” But then again, you may incur the wrath of those who object to calling it anything but Christmas.

Know your capabilities

If you’re a retailer, you’ve got to make sure items will be in stock in time for the holiday rush. You also need to be staffed, especially for Black Friday (unless, of course, you’re following the lead of REI, whose retail stores will be closed and online store won’t be processing orders). If you’re an online retailer, you’ve got to make sure your servers can handle the boost in web traffic. You also need to be staffed, especially for Cyber Monday. All retailers should consider hiring season workers in customer service, warehouse/shipping and other areas.

Failure to plan accordingly will result in dissatisfied customers. Take the example of Toys R Us, which last holiday season pissed off customers who had put items on layaway, only to find them out of stock just prior to the holidays.

Ask, and it shall be given

While most of us enjoy the holiday season, nonprofits take particular joy in the increased donations at this time of year. Think about it: It wouldn’t be Christmas without the clang of the Salvation Army bell at storefronts throughout the season.

According to the Center for Nonprofit Excellence, studies have shown that 30 percent of annual giving occurs in December, with 10 percent of annual giving occurring in the last three days of the year. Nonprofits need to ramp up their fundraising campaigns to capitalize on the generosity of the general public.

What’s the best way to do this? Share personal stories of those who have benefited from your organization’s efforts. Emotional appeals tug at the heartstrings (and purse strings) of potential donors.

Give A Christmas

For-profit companies, too, can benefit indirectly from cause-related marketing during the holidays. Newspapers run articles about families down on their luck, encouraging readers to make donations.

Companies often donate a percentage of their sales to a charitable cause, or match donations made by their customers. The opportunities for giving are endless, and the goodwill generated by such campaigns lingers on well past the holiday season.

Don’t delay the debriefing

When the hectic holidays have passed, your first inclination is to take a breather. However, this is when the real work starts. You need to review what worked, what didn’t, and why. Then start the process all over again for the 2016 holiday season.

Darcy Grabenstein is senior copywriter at Annodyne.