The holiday shopping calendar used to be straightforward: shoppers spent most of their money between Black Friday and Christmas, and marketers invested their ad dollars accordingly. Only the boldest brands ramped up advertising before Thanksgiving to boost brand visibility and sacrifice immediate ROI for longer-term success.

Fast forward to today and advertising before Black Friday is a no-brainer. Dentsu’s recent Consumer Navigator: Holiday Shopping 2023 report found that 58% of consumers plan to start their holiday shopping before November this year.

What’s not as clear is how to optimize your media efforts across the shopping calendar. When holiday is six months instead of six weeks, how do you invest wisely to drive ROI throughout the season? The answer is knowing your audience. Here are four tips to help you make the most of your media dollars for the holidays.

1. Understand Generational Differences in Timing

General trends like the shopping stat above are helpful for seeing the bigger picture, but what really matters most for your strategy is how your shopping audience behaves. If you target mainly baby boomers, for example, then your data from last year may be more reliable than other brands: only 12% of them plan to start shopping earlier this year than last. Volume trends from the 2022 holiday season can serve as a great roadmap for your brand. If your audiences are primarily Millennials or Gen Z, then you’ll need a different approach: 46% and 40% of those generations, respectively, plan to start shopping earlier than last year. Last year’s volume data is still valuable as a starting point, but recognize that you may need to start your efforts a few weeks earlier to fully capture demand.

2. Promote the Products That Resonate

Once you figure out when to advertise, it’s time to decide what to advertise. Historical data can also help here – even if your specific product assortment changes, your customers will likely show interest in similar product categories or brands. 

It’s critical to keep individual preferences in mind, though. Different products, brands, and categories will resonate across different segments of your audience. First-party data is hugely beneficial to clue you into recent and historical purchase behavior, and supplemental third-party data can enhance that customer picture with insights like recent life events and transactional trends across other brands. In combination, these data sources create a robust customer profile to help you understand the needs, interests, and motivations of your shoppers – enabling you to showcase an assortment that matters to them. Visit this page to learn more about Merkle’s data solutions.

Make sure that the products you’re promoting have strong support across channels. That means a solid landing page experience on your website, strong metadata for organic search listings, and accurate feed data for product-based ad formats. We’ve all experienced the disappointment of finding the perfect item, only to learn that it’s discontinued or priced $30 higher than expected. It’s an alienating experience you don’t want to put your customers through at any time, but especially in the high-stakes holiday shopping period.

3. Capture Your Audience’s Attention 

So you have the right product assortment – now how do you stand out from the countless other brands shoppers engage with every day? For media messaging, first-party data is once again helpful since it’ll show you what types of language different segments have preferred in the past. 

Beyond ad messaging, you’ll also want to consider loyalty and rewards programs – dentsu’s research found that they impact 78% of consumers’ decisions when choosing a retailer for their holiday shopping. Along with promotions, they’re also critical for keeping your brand top-of-mind throughout an extended holiday shopping season. Our 2023 Prizing Report found that consumers consistently prefer prizes that make life easier over those that make them feel special – so if you’re looking to re-engage a lapsed customer just before the holiday shopping season starts, a contest that provides a grocery gift card might generate more excitement than a spa retreat. As with shopping data, preferences vary by generation, gender, and income level – so be sure to check out the detailed prizing trends in the full report.

4. Show Up Where They Are

Once you know how to engage your audience, make sure you’re meeting them where they spend their time before and while shopping. You may uncover some surprising trends. Dentsu’s research, for example, found that 66% of consumers with a household income above $100K planned to shop for the holidays during Amazon’s fall Prime Day – placing them a whopping 14 points higher than the next-highest income level. Understanding where your customers shop and when will allow you to reach them in a timely moment.

Understanding how your audience segments engage with channels like video, email, social media, and more is also important. This means not just how often, but what they’re using those channels for. This, again, varies by generation – older consumers are more likely to find holiday gift inspiration while browsing in-store, while younger generations use visual media like Instagram and TikTok. Make sure your media delivery plan for key holiday offers, gift guides, and more align with where your audience is looking for them. 

Conclusion: Consider the Journey

Across all of these components – the when, the what, the how, the where – remember that holiday shopping is a journey, not a moment in time. Your customers’ needs will change as they move from making a list, to checking it twice, to finally making purchases. What excites and inspires them during ideation will not be the same as what helps them as they’re preparing to purchase. 

The changing retail calendar can add some complication to holiday promotion and advertising, but the ultimate goal – to serve your customer – remains the same. As long as you’re using first-party data and recent trends to inform your strategies and help your shoppers, you’ll be ready to reach them no matter when their holiday shopping season begins. For more about the key trends impacting the holiday season, read our ebook or sign up for our webinar below.


Unwrapping Success: How to Adapt to 2023’s Key Holiday Trends

Thursday, September 21, 2023 at 2:00 PM Eastern Daylight Time


Holiday present