Why Your Business’ Holiday Season Strategy Needs To Start Today

Winter holiday preparations are starting earlier and earlier, and not just for retailers, but for all kinds of businesses. If you go online right now, you can book a December cruise to a warm-weather destination or get tickets to the Radio City Christmas Spectacular.

Even non-seasonal businesses are affected; for example, if you’re selling business-to-business software, you need to keep the holidays in mind while you’re planning marketing efforts, so that you don’t end up doing a huge integrated campaign that hits the very day everyone in your target audience goes on winter vacation for two weeks.

The point is this: If you want to get ahead of this year’s holiday season, there’s no time to waste. Whatever business you’re in, you need to get your industry’s equivalent of the holiday wreaths, lights and ornaments ready to roll out in a strategic way. And because my business is data, I’m going to share three ways you can use customer data to fuel your success at the hap-happiest time of the year.

Personalized offers, with a twist

Personalized marketing based on customer data isn’t exactly a new concept, but when it comes to the holiday season, it’s a little more complicated. That’s because this is the main time of year when people are out buying products and services not for themselves, but for other people. So how do you know what to offer them? The key is to look closely at data from seasonal purchases in previous years and to see where and how they diverge from buying patterns the rest of the year.

For example, if you’re a fashion retailer, and you have a customer who buys dresses and women’s shoes every four to six weeks from January through October, but adds men’s outdoor clothing and accessories to the mix every November, you can personalize offers to this customer based on this pattern. Similarly, if you’re in the restaurant business and you have a loyal customer who comes in like clockwork every Friday night throughout the year and spends a hundred bucks on dinner, but who spends five hundred on each of the three Fridays between Thanksgiving and Christmas, maybe it’s time to think about sending offers related to large-group holiday dining.

The rule of early-and-often

An important point to remember about holiday-season marketing is that it’s not just the campaigns you run during the holidays that capture customers’ attention; it’s also the campaigns you run before the holidays. Those are the marketing communications that can predispose people you’re targeting to think positively about your business and be receptive to your holiday messages when the time comes. Also, a familiar voice is a lot less likely to be drowned out by all the other marketing talk going on around Black Friday, Small Business Saturday or Cyber Monday.

Let’s say your company is a small-electronics brand, and you want to target millennials who like to buy from online discounters most of the time, but who add shopping malls to the mix during the holidays. By all means, market to them through online discount channels in September and October — and then keep it going in November and December with additional coverage that reaches out to them through mall retailers. Not to mention, the holiday season is flooded with advertisers, so you’ll already be top of mind by the time the holidays roll around.

Holiday socializing

As the trend toward social media driving online salescontinues, don’t forget to think about how you can make social a part of your seasonal campaigns. Of course, as with other marketing channels, there’s going to be plenty of traffic out there in the social world — and you’ll want to use targeted, data-driven communications to be sure you’re engaging effectively. Here are some great tips for how to segment audiences using data based on factors such as group behaviors, consumer website activities and ecommerce purchasing histories.

If you’re one of the non-seasonal businesses I mentioned back in the third paragraph, data can definitely help you decide how to use marketing dollars to maximum effect at this time of year. While it’s generally true that you want to avoid launching B2B campaigns at the height of the holidays, let the data advise you about important exceptions to the rule. For example, remember that December 31 isn’t just New Year’s Eve, it’s also the end of the fiscal year for many companies. Look at your customers’ spend histories relative to that date, and see who has a pattern of stepping up spending toward the end of the year. That may be good information to uncover an opportunity with a customer that has a use-it-or-lose-it budget.

So go ahead, start celebrating the holidays early with a smart, data-driven campaign aimed at capturing your share of the seasonal market. And if you want to start by breaking out a holiday playlist, I won’t mind one bit.

To view the original post, please visit Forbes.com.