It's April. Time To Get Your Strategy In Order For Black Friday and Cyber Monday

How QR Codes, Thanksgiving Day and Social Media Could Steal This Year's Headlines

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John Squire
John Squire

I know what you are thinking, the 2012 holiday season is more than eight months away. That's a lifetime for many of us, but not for brands. For these businesses, March and April are when the teams put together their game plan for the season that this year will kick off one day early.

With that , let's look at some of areas that marketers should consider for the upcoming season. First, as I alluded to above, they must be ready to begin the holiday push earlier. How much earlier?

Traditionally, Black Friday has served as the launching point of the season with brands focusing all their energy on that day. However in 2011 we learned that Thanksgiving Day doesn't just kick off holiday football, but also the quest to find the best deals. Last year sales on Thanksgiving grew by nearly 40 percent over the previous year. Translation? There is a huge amount at stake on that day, a day that traditionally was spent enjoying a meal with friends and family. With the day expanding to include a post-meal course of online shopping, retailers must plan to target the Turkey Day shopper with compelling offers while building a plan that sustains interest into Black Friday, over the weekend and into on Cyber Monday.

When it comes to targeting shoppers, one method retailers should be considering are QR codes. It's true that QR codes have not lived up to their promise thus far, but one year ago we were saying the same thing about the mobile shopper. My point is that today the mobile stars are aligned and QR codes are ready to deliver. Retailers that embrace this technology now may be the ones making front-page news with their customers.

Beyond mobile, another area that is picking up momentum is social media. Last fall I spoke to far too many retailers who discounted the notion that social shopping could make significant contributions to their bottom lines. Others just threw up their hands in frustration, saying something along the lines of "I just don't understand how to use it to drive revenue."

These are the kinds of perspectives that drive retailers out of business. The fact is that the internet has evolved from a click-based experience to a people-based experience, where the opinions for your networks matter most. Perhaps my colleague Yuchun Lee put it best when he said that social media is like "truth serum" for businesses.

With that , huddle up with your team and start asking how plugged in are you to the social channels. Are you looking at how your customers are behaving on social media? Not just Facebook and Twitter, but other sites across the Web and even your own site where consumers frequently post comments about their shopping experiences. Next, are you able to identify patterns in how consumers are sharing specials and promotions within their networks which you can replicate and amplify in 2012?

In addition to social buying and sharing patterns, you should be examining social sentiment. In recent posts I have discussed this concept in depth so I won't delve into all the details, other than to say that now is the time to shift the focus from the social sentiment of the Superbowl champion New York Giants and the Oscars to the sentiment of your brand online. Examine how consumers perceive your company. What are you saying? Which of your products or campaigns are generating the most buzz? Is there any negative discussion? If so, what are they saying and can you fix it now? These insights are huge and can help you predict your customers' buying behavior and avoid any potential mishaps.

The way consumers shop has certainly changed in recent times, with buyers consistently shopping across channels. With that , it's time that business leaders investigate how customers interact with their brand through a new lens. This insight will allow businesses to not only tap into these vibrant conversations, but also determine how best to service these newly empowered customers on their terms. The business leaders who put in the time now to really understand their customers might be the brands I end up talking your ear off about this time next year.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR
John Squire is the director of digital marketing and analytics IBM where he focuses on the company's Smarter Commerce initiative. John writes frequently, including for IBM's Smarter Commerce blog, and also loves to hear from readers. Follow him on Twitter: @IBMsmrtcommerce.
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