There’s a good reason they call it ‘the golden quarter.’
From October to December, consumers splash out on a string of global promotional events and peak shopping occasions, from Black Friday to Christmas and New Year, turning this period into one of the most profitable for both brands and retailers.
And for marketers, that makes it a critical opportunity to engage with consumers, drive up sales and demonstrate the commercial clout of strategic marketing spend.
This year though, they face an additional set of challenges.
Estimates suggest there will be £4.4bn less in consumer spend due to the cost-of-living crisis. So, not only will marketing spend need to work harder, companies are likely to put a squeeze on internal budgets too, scrutinising the ROI of every penny spent.
Marketers face a dilemma: how can they deliver greater impact during this golden quarter without wasting a penny?
There’s no doubt that wasted ad spend is a major drain on resources.
In part, this is fuelled by entangled media consumption. In previous economic downturns, including the 2008 financial crash, digital media was in its nascency, with far more limited penetration and overlap. Now though, digital media represent a complex network of interlinked channels, making it more and more difficult for marketers to pinpoint the accurate reach of any marketing activity.
Clarifying reach – in other words, who and how many people are being exposed to content – is critical in predicting the sales uplift or brand engagement that may result for any piece of activity, and losing that therefore has a clear knock-on effect.
The complexity of digital media, for instance, can see “ads being delivered to the wrong target audience, a lack of understanding of where to reach the audience or which media channels to use, and a lack of knowledge of the optimal frequency to drive brand impact”, sums up Barney Farmer, UK commercial director for Nielsen.
In the throes of strong inflationary pressures, no brand can afford to let such waste go unchecked; least of all during a period when they need to ensure they’re achieving optimal cut-through.
The key to reducing misspend and ensuring marketing efforts deliver a stronger ROI is balance. Or, more specifically, striking a clear equilibrium between marketing activity that casts a wide net and efforts designed to reach a targeted audience.
Often, the former can feel like a safe bet; many brands channel the biggest proportion of their budgets into this type of activity. And it does come with some clear advantages, like greater cost- and time-efficiency per impression, a boost to broader brand awareness and the increased likelihood of capturing atypical consumers. For those reasons, it should form an integral part of any marketers strategy.
But channelling all budgets into this type of activity carries significant risks. In particular “that the core audience is missed completely, or that large parts of the budget are wasted on activity that isn’t targeted at those where it will deliver brand impact”, says Farmer.
Instead, it needs to be carefully balanced alongside more targeted marketing activity as part of a full funnel strategy, Farmer advises. Achieving this requires rethinking the way in which brands deploy digital analytics to track ROI. They need a holistic evaluation of both reach and frequency, taking into account both an on-target percentage that tracks the impressions across their target audience, but also reach and frequency metrics that evaluate exactly how well these on-target impressions are converted into reach – and ultimately sales.
A Christmas playbook
So, how can marketers strike this balance during this quarter in particular?
First, identify a strategic mix of digital channels that balance mass-market reach with targeted communications, and drive optimal reach, frequency and brand impact. That could mean ultra-targeted sponsored content running across social, with a broader brand-building message displayed across banner ads, for example. Or promotional collaborations with a niche podcast coupled with major retail partnerships. Identify the role each channel is playing and tailor tracking tools accordingly.
For each platform, craft content that packs a punch, too. “Consider what creative messaging to use, so that this stands out and is impactful during a peak period where lots of brands are competing for the same attention,” adds Farmer.
Now is not the time for brands to opt for bland communications. With UK retailers expected to plough an additional £446m into advertising during this final quarter, in a bid to win sales in a challenging environment, all marketers need to lead with bold, clever and disruptive marketing activity in order to achieve cut-through.
And, finally, ensure that consumers enjoy a seamless digital user experience, on whichever channel they encounter the brand.
“Where activity is running across media channels, make sure that the creative messaging is consistent across all media channels so that consumers exposed are able to link the campaign back to the same brand messaging,” Farmer advises. Though their consumption of digital media might be fragmented, the information they receive from brands shouldn’t be.
Despite a tough economic backdrop, this golden quarter holds plenty of potential for marketers to prove the power of great, strategic campaigns. But, with senior leadership keeping a close eye on budgets, they’ll also need to ensure they’re providing clear, demonstrable ROI for each penny spent – or risk a slightly grey start to 2023.
To understand more about how Nielsen can help solve these challenges, download this free guide to understand how to maximise your return.