Your Holiday Ads Checklist: 12 Tips for Peak Season Performance

Consumers shopping online know that holiday shopping doesn’t start or end with Black Friday or Cyber Monday. It’s a marathon, not a sprint — and DTC brands are planning accordingly. To learn from the best, the team at Black Crow AI partnered with Joe Yakuel, Founder & CEO of WITHIN, for an insight-packed webinar: Boost Performance for the Holidays & Beyond.

WITHIN is the world’s first performance branding company, helping brands like Nike, Budweiser, and Facebook bridge performance marketing and branded content to align on the single goal of maximizing long-term profitability.

Naturally, Joe came prepared with tips for eCom brands trying to figure out their best plays for the holidays. We dive into them below, including:

- 5 strategic do’s (and don’ts) for the holidays
- 4 ways to ensure your brand isn’t left behind in the seasonal rush
- 3 tactics for quickly adapting to market feedback throughout the holidays

“Keep it simple. That’s really critical and can be applied to everything. It’s okay to test new tactics, but don’t make that big bet at the peak of the season.”

5 Guidelines to Nail Your Holiday Campaigns

1. Spend Your Dollars on Tried & True Tactics

The holiday season is critical for eCom brands, so it makes sense that they’d want to make the most of it. Just make sure you don’t get too experimental during such a high-stakes quarter.

Joe advises keeping things simple and using tactics (i.e., specific promotions) that have proven successful — rather than betting big and trying some new software or content approach.

If you want to integrate a new technique, test it at a smaller scale before the peak of the season. Iron out the kinks and understand what works and what doesn’t before the thick of things.

2. Set Order Thresholds Carefully

For instance, don’t set a purchase minimum of $150 for a promotion if your AOV is $75.

This is especially important when the holidays are an ideal time of year to acquire new customers. Don’t set the threshold so high that first-time browsers are turned off from trying your brand and scoring a discount.

Aim for simpler offers, such as a basic percentage off sitewide. If you do set a benchmark, make it low enough that new customers will realistically be able to meet it.

3. Be Flexible About Free Shipping Cutoffs

Many brands end their free shipping promotion as soon as they’re unable to deliver 100% of shipments on time. Joe calls this a “massive mistake.”

Shipping isn’t ubiquitous. Everything is determined by where your warehouse and your unique buyer are positioned in relation to one another.

Instead of pulling the plug (and stunting conversion rates), try extending your free shipping cutoff by offering two-day shipping in the small percent of zones where delivery will take longer.

Even if it seems expensive, it’ll more than pay for itself when you consider how upgrading 5% of shipping addresses is offset by an extra day or two of purchases.

Joe encourages everyone to work closely with their logistics and fulfillment teams, whether they’re third-party or in-house, to understand the economics of holiday shipping and push promotional cutoffs as late as possible

4. Consider the LTV of Your Holiday Shoppers

Sometimes the average holiday customer is worth more than the average year-round customer. Sometimes not. To see where your brand stands, consider last year’s data.

For instance, you can compare the LTV of two segments of buyers: those acquired in October or January vs. those acquired in November or December (AKA peak season).

With these insights, you can avoid one common pitfall: paying hefty prices to acquire temporary customers who ultimately do not bring big-picture value.

5. Revert to the Classic Gift Guide

It’s standard practice for a good reason. For customers looking to treat loved ones, create a landing page with a gift guide.

This is a low-lift opportunity to drive AOVs, spotlight new products or hot-ticket items, or even move older inventory.

“​​Brands go wrong when they do a bunch of stuff that’s different from the usual playbook. Don’t mess with something new at such a critical time of the year — with so much spend and revenue in such a short duration.”

4 Tactical Items for Your QA Checklist

1. Build Your Ads & Make Sure They’re Approved in Advance

Prep and build your ads and get them approved at least one week in advance.

This helps avoid disasters like a dead ad set the day before a massive promotion. In that case, you’ll wind up scrambling to get something approved and reaching out to reps, who are usually far less available with the holidays coming.

That brings us to Joe’s next pointer.

2. Maintain Open Lines of Communication with Platform Reps

Reps at Google, Meta, etc. typically have reduced availability near Thanksgiving and Christmas.

As such, make sure you know whom to go to for troubleshooting when potential issues crop up and maintain an open line with those platform reps.

3. Confirm Your Spend & Credit Limits

Plan for normal days vs. peak days and set your spending and credit limits accordingly. You’ll have wiggle room when you need it most and avoid hitting your budget threshold unexpectedly.

4. QA Every Single Pixel

Run thorough QA on all triggers, events, variables, etc., especially as you approach code freeze.

Along those lines, don’t stage any overhauls or account-level changes that might create bugginess or instability leading up to your peak period.

We always get emails each year from Google or Facebook about unavailability during Thanksgiving and Christmas timelines. It’s really important to know who to go to and who’s available to you.”

3 Tips for Quickly Adapting to Seasonal Market Feedback

1. Remember Most Platforms Have Some Reporting Lag

With most paid ad channels, you’ll find a reporting and attribution lag as it takes time for people to convert. So, you want to limit frequent or drastic changes to reduce noise.

Don’t raise your CPA threshold from $80 to $120 in one shot or drastically up your spend from $1,000 to $10,000.

Instead, learn to work with the AI at hand because, whether we know it or like it or not, all of us leverage AI in our media buying.

You want your platforms to leverage user data to achieve the goals you set beforehand. The best way to achieve this is letting the AI learn what’s happening in real-time. It can see what’s happening, learn from it, and react accordingly — way faster than any marketer.

If you introduce a bid change randomly in that process — which Joe sums up as “whacking it over the head along the way” — you’ve thrown its efficiency off.

2. Let Things Play Out — But Also Have Contingency Plans

Along those lines, many brands feel the urge to make endless small tweaks instead of trusting the strategy, letting it play out, and taking stock of results. Give it space to run its course.

At the same time, it’s always good to have flexible tactics and contingency plans ready to roll in case of holiday peaks or some other very unexpected event.

For instance, maybe you were way off on volume predictions and aren’t driving enough traffic to your site. Having some reliable traffic campaigns on deck will allow you to switch gears seamlessly to address that.

3. Consider Upper-Funnel Metrics to Ensure You’re on Track

As mentioned, downstream purchase data (conversion rate, add-to-cart rate, ROAS, etc.) takes time to flow in, so tooling like Black Crow AI can be vital for getting an early read on things. For instance, eCom brands leverage Black Crow AI during the holidays for upper-funnel metrics.

In one use case, our models score all of your site traffic as it comes in in real-time. In about 15 milliseconds, before the page is even done loading, those predictions (low vs. medium vs. high likelihood of purchase) get pushed back to the site and toward any channel you integrate.

This helps brands better understand an upper-funnel metric like click-through rate by looking past junk traffic to qualified, high-intent clicks and high-propensity visitors.

Brands can leverage those insights to make decisions faster during the holiday rush, doubling down on assets that drive high-quality traffic or targeting any user who scores above a certain threshold in terms of likelihood to purchase.

“We can never really predict in advance when holiday shoppers will be activated and to what degree. Fluidity allows you to be proactive as it happens, not reactive to what’s already happened.”

What Can Brands Expect from the Coming Holiday Season?

In weeks to come, brands can expect two trends from this unique holiday season.

1. No Major Spikes in Promotions or Purchasing

Joe saw this last year, expects it this year, and tells us all to expect it for years to come:

That huge bubble of activity we’ve grown accustomed to seeing around Black Friday and Cyber Monday as individual high-ROI days will only become more and more subdued.

With current recession-like conditions and tons of shoppers working from home, people have the time and the intent to seek out the best deals. They also know discounts are happening earlier and earlier, all throughout November and December with similar savings.

There’s no need to wait for that big day or make a last-minute rush for it.

2. Let Things Play Out — But Also Have Contingency Plans

For reasons mentioned above, brands with higher AOVs will likely be hit the hardest this year.

Shoppers aren’t just gunning for better promotions. They’re also looking for items at lower price points all around, especially compared to gift-giving in years prior.

If you’re one of these higher-AOV brands, plan your media investment thoughtfully and begin building that funnel earlier. Get a read on how responses look, and potentially tweak promotional activity as you get closer to peak season.

“I think you’ll find that every year, we’re going to see holiday revenue grow even more distributed across more days — both earlier and more evenly.”