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GUEST COMMENT Don’t let your marketing plans freeze over this Christmas

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With UK online retail sales estimated to reach £126bn by the end of the year, retailers are already preparing for what could be their most prosperous festive season yet. But amid the excitement of these projections, the emergence of seasonal ‘code freezes’ threatens to leave digital marketers out in the cold.

During the Christmas shopping period, it is commonplace for IT departments to implement a code freeze – a restriction placed on a brand’s website or mobile app that prevents major changes being made that might affect the flow of online sales.

While the main purpose of a code freeze is to allow for the smooth running of a website during periods of peak traffic, such as Christmas, this is often when marketing teams need to be most agile in their efforts to increase customer engagement.

Code freezes can be imposed up to six months prior to a holiday shopping period and can remain in place until the end of the season. During this time, marketers are unable to launch new campaigns or leverage any new strategies which may improve customer experience, and ultimately, conversions. This is because adding or removing a third-party vendor involves embedding a tag – or a piece of code – into the existing code of a website or app – something the IT department would normally carry out.

In addition, marketers are not able to access data points along the path to purchase to measure the effectiveness of their campaigns and to adjust for continued real-time optimisation, which has become so important in today’s consumer-driven, omnichannel era of online shopping.

Crucially, as the marketing team is unable to access the website or mobile app, the implementation of a code freeze also restricts their ability to react spontaneously to external factors. For example, if a competitor website malfunctions in the week leading up to Christmas, the marketing team is not able to initiate a flash sale or activate temporary discount codes as a way of attracting the attention of their competitor’s customers.

While the IT department can rest in the knowledge the website will continue to function during the festive season, the marketing team is in danger of missing out on vital opportunities to compete in a rapidly changing market.

To provide customers with a better brand experience – from initial awareness to final conversion – marketing and IT teams need to work together to implement a successful strategy ahead of the festive period.

Now is a good time for retailers to consider taking the following steps to ensure their website or app will function during the code freeze:

Decide on your brand’s unique value proposition. What are you going to offer your customers this year that other brands will not? It’s no good promising “unbeatable delivery times” if your competitors are quicker off the mark. Taking the time to conduct market research and refine your offer accordingly will put you one step ahead of the competition, before a code freeze is implemented.

Reduce website latency. For each second a user has to wait for a page to load, the risk of shopping basket abandonment increases significantly. Therefore, it is important to make sure your website is optimised to cope with high volumes of traffic.

Reconnect with distracted customers. With the path to purchase becoming evermore fragmented, it is essential for brands to remind customers of the products they could be missing. You can do this by incorporating a ‘wish list’ function that stores favourite products for future visits, or you can implement a retargeting strategy to send messages to customers who have abandoned their shopping basket.

Synchronise warehouse data with website data. It’s important to ensure stock and delivery data is linked to your website and updated in real time so your customers are informed of fluctuating stock levels or delivery times. Allowing your customer to proceed with a transaction before informing them their purchased item is temporarily out of stock and will not be delivered in time for Christmas is likely to cost you the sale as they demand a refund.

Enable gift wrapping. Facilities such as gift wrapping or personalised gift tags are becoming increasingly important for time-pressed consumers. It may seem simple but if you haven’t adjusted your back end processing system as necessary, you may not have the right staffing levels to gift wrap and tag items during busy periods.

From gift tag management to website tag management

Until now, marketers had to rely upon their IT department to adjust the website or mobile app code depending on the requirements of a particular campaign. However, tag management is a new way of enabling marketers to manage their own vendor tags – or snippets of code – as and when necessary, and without the involvement of IT resources.

By using a web-based portal known as a TMS (Tag Management System), marketers can deploy one single tag to replace each individual vendor tag. This tag – which is pre-approved by the IT team prior to a code freeze – can be edited, added or removed at any time.

TMS provide marketers with access to a clean, actionable source of data which enables them firstly to retarget potential customers at critical times of the year through multiple channels in real-time, and secondly to set and adjust campaign metrics for continued optimisation. In this way, the collection and analysis of data from the various touchpoints in the customer journey, as well as the adjustment of campaign metrics, can all be carried out before the Christmas period is over.

As the customer journey becomes more complex, digital marketers are under increasing pressure to remain agile – not only in keeping up with the needs of their existing customers, but also in seizing impromptu marketing opportunities to entice prospective customers who are constantly on the lookout for the deal of the moment. Tag management allows digital marketers to monitor, optimise and launch campaigns during the Christmas freeze to ensure optimised results throughout the year.

For many brands, the 2016 holiday season will represent a significant window of opportunity for online shopping. However, marketing teams need to plan ahead of the freeze and consider alternatives such as tag management to avoid a frosty reception from online customers this Christmas.

Lindsay McEwan is vice president and managing director EMEA at Tealium

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