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To offset the volatility of the disruptive months we experienced last year (and are still experiencing), marketers must create compelling promotional strategies to maximize sales. Here are six suggestions that can effectively help marketers optimize promotional strategies through the research, planning, and communication stages.

1. Run competitive analysis

Analyze your past performance of similar promotion events thoroughly and identify wins and losses. A good strategy for this upcoming season is to leverage previous successes while avoiding repetitive tactics that did not work. As times have drastically changed, you want to make sure you are creating the necessary changes to reflect your industry. Additionally, make sure to share lessons learned with critical non-marketing team members (e.g., merchandiser, demand planner, designer, copywriter).

Retailers tend to follow similar promotional calendars from prior years. Audit your key competitors' promotion planning (e.g., calendar, cadence, offer depth, creative concept, etc.) by reviewing their previous year's emails. You can utilize this information to your advantage when developing your strategy.

2. Plan for “Plan B”

2020 was notably uncertain for everyone, and there is no guarantee that 2021 will return to "normal". Keep monitoring what is happening around the world carefully. Customers' behaviors and sentiments are incredibly volatile; COVID-19 cases continue to surge, although the vaccination journey has started. Marketers must create a contingent promotional calendar in case unexpected macro factors interfere with the current plan. If there is one main theme we learned last year it is to remain agile and prepared for the unexpected.

3. Be flexible with your promotional budget

Many businesses have struggled to maintain profitability in 2020. Depending on your business's financial goals, merely offering the deepest discount of the year for every customer may not be the best solution. Personalization can be vital in retaining customer loyalty. For example, consider testing customized promotions (e.g., a bargain at higher spend thresholds), targeting existing customers who have frequently purchased to drive up AOV (Average Order Value) while saving margin and profitability.

4. Be creative and unique with content

Some promotional events may require follow-up communication touchpoints if they extend longer than one day. If using an urgency factor such as "Ends at Midnight," marketers should consider differentiating content by adding unique messages each time you follow up with the customers. For example, in the middle of the sale period, collaborate with your merchandising partner, and communicate any new products that may have been added in the headline to give customers an additional reason to shop. Also, brainstorm with your designer to visually differentiate the email each time, while still keeping one consistent theme, from a design perspective. It may help customers feel less fatigued, although your promotion's fundamentals remain unchanged.

5. Personalize content driven by data

It is essential to personalize your marketing content to enhance conversion. Take advantage of CRM data as competitors begin to seek out the same customers simultaneously, especially during the promotion-heavy seasons (e.g., Mother’s Day, Back-to-School, Cyber Week, etc.). Analyze your customers' shopping behaviors and preferences and create various persona-based segments such as "gifters," "deal-hunters," or "holiday-only shoppers." Treat each persona with relevant copy and images to increase the effectiveness of emails and social ads.

6. Create an integrated marketing calendar

Optimize the promotional calendar by effectively integrating various marketing channels beyond email, as this can maximize customer touchpoints during this competitive time of the year. Make sure each channel complements each other when incorporating them into your plan. For instance, prioritize your paid media budget by sending a promotional postcard or buying programmatic ads for customers who have unsubscribed from your email list.

Create an integrated calendar by proactively considering customers' expected interactions with all marketing & sales touchpoints: from organic marketing channels (e.g., email, SEO) to paid marketing channels (e.g., paid social, affiliate, SMS, direct mail), and from online sale channels (e.g., website, app) to offline sale channels (e.g., standalone stores, retailers and wholesalers).

A one-size-fits-all promotional approach will hurt your business and customer loyalty in the long-run. Developing a thoughtful promotional strategy should be one of your 2021 priorities. Successful marketers can optimize their 2021 promotion strategies by keeping the three major themes in mind: in-depth research, flexible planning, and creative communication fueled by data.