Holidays in Hindsight: Top Three Trends That Can Help Marketers Stay Relevant in 2018

By Preethy Vaidyanathan, CPO, Tapad — Every year, marketers ramp up spending for the impending holiday season, hitting consumers with what can feel like an endless array of deals and winter-themed ads. While the success of these strategies varies by campaign, there are a couple things we can learn from this year’s holiday ad season that could very well impact campaign strategies in 2018. Based on industry data, as well as proprietary research, below are three impactful trends that emerged from this year’s holiday season that marketers should consider when planning for 2018.

Desktop can still dethrone mobile
While the smartphone may be the belle of the ball—in the sense that it’s the one device consumers have on them almost constantly—desktop dominated on Black Friday. This year, desktop saw an increase of 44 percent in conversions compared to the two weeks prior to Black Friday, according to Tapad data, while mobile only grew by 29 percent. What’s interesting though is that there was a 17 percent increase of desktop impressions, but a 62 percent increase in mobile impressions. This data suggests that consumers prefer to plan their purchases on mobile, but actually buy on desktop.

Given that 50 percent of retail consumers converted on a device different from the one on which they started their research, knowing the decision-making sequence across devices is non-negotiable in planning for 2018. For example, this sequence could suggest to retailers that the mobile purchasing experience needs to improve in order to engage consumers longer in that device funnel, rather than risking they forget about the product when switching to desktop. It also emphasizes the need to enlist a comprehensive cross-device strategy, especially leading up to Black Friday, where we saw a 3x increase in retail traffic two-weeks prior. Just because mobile is on the rise, doesn’t mean it will dominate every big spending holiday. Paying attention to how customers browse both leading up to and during a big event will help you avoid getting caught up in what’s trending with the masses, and instead focus on what’s really working for your target audiences.

New Year means new audiences
This year, marketers met a new audience—the self-gifter. As identified by the NRF, this fairly self-explanatory group leverages holiday deals to treat themselves rather than just hunt for presents. In order to help marketers understand this audience, we did some digging ahead of the holidays and found that this audience is generally characterized as female 21-29 years old, has sizable expendable funds (>$60,000), looks up products on mobile but purchases on desktop, looks for online coupons, and likes to stay up-to-date on the latest fashion trends. Considering that the NRF reported millennials (25-34 years old) spent 25 percent more than the average consumer during the Black Friday weekend, it’s worth keeping this audience in mind both in terms of how they choose to purchase gifts for others, as well as for themselves.

Knowing who new audiences are is just half the battle. Each new bracket of consumers comes with different preferences. For example, do they prefer to make purchases on mobile during their lunch break at work? Or are they the ones who wait until they’re at home and on their laptops to make decisions? Before engaging a new audience, ensure you have a complete understanding of their nuances and behaviors.

In regards to what this means for 2018, perhaps it starts with finding the right technology partner to help navigate this, or digging back into data to see which consumers surprised you this year. For example, when working with a recent client of ours, we found that people who are looking for dating sites are most likely to sign up for health planning tools, meaning that audiences who would previously just have been targeted for dating sites, can now be referenced for health-focused content. This is evidence of data being used beyond a singular purpose and further reason to extend the search for new audiences beyond the holiday season.

Prepare for the year ahead with next-gen personalization
On Cyber Monday, the NRF found that three-quarters of shoppers used home computers, 43 percent used mobile devices, and 13 percent used their computers at work. Our data also supports this trend of desktop Cyber Monday shopping, as we saw an 83 percent increase in desktop conversions when compared to the week before.

Managers will be relieved to hear this, but marketers should pay careful attention as to what this can uncover about audience behaviors. For example, if most people are doing their shopping at home, then what does this consumer look like? Are they stay-at-home parents, or people who choose to do their shopping in the evenings after work? For the people making purchases at work, are they doing this during their lunch break, or sneaking in some shopping between meetings?

This is where more advanced personalization comes in if brands want to get ahead in 2018. Given that U.S. companies are set to spend $10.05 billion on third-party audience data this year alone, the value of data to produce personalized messages for consumers is more important than ever. A traditional take on personalization would include answering these questions in the silo of how it applies to Cyber Monday. The next stage is answering these questions in terms of both how it applies to 2017, and also how it provides a predictive analysis for consumer behavior in 2018.

To further strengthen this predictive mindset, advertisers should consider major events in the context of a consumer’s other life events. For example, if someone moves to a higher-paying job, we might expect to see them splurge on a new luxury product in the next two months or around an upcoming tentpole event (a major event, such as a blockbuster movie opening or big sports event that generates lots of buzz). Consumers act fast, and true personalization means making sure content isn’t geared solely towards a consumer’s past behavior, but that it also predicts what their preference will be as they choose to convert.

The holiday season doesn’t end with the New Year. Consumers will continue to make residual purchases, whether that is using gifted cash or gift cards from the holidays or taking advantage of New Years’ deals, and these behaviors may be indicative of their purchasing behaviors for the year ahead. The lesson for advertisers is to take new insights revealed during the holidays and apply them in 2018 to make it the best year yet for your campaigns.

(This piece originally ran on Internet Retailer)