That’s a huge question, I know. Before you answer, let me narrow down your options.
First, you’re only allowed to use numbers — hard data.
Second, an either-or hypothesis. Either story and marketing drive growth. Or, your ad account.
For most ecommerce businesses, it’s the ad account. And that dependency on paid media creates an ugly catch-22: an addictive, codependent cycle littered with lower and lower returns.
How do you break free?
Answer: An ecommerce marketing calendar that makes the most of your peaks without interrupting cash flow in the valleys.
Check out our CEO, Taylor Holiday, with an overview of how hard data can be transformed into a Four-Peaks Ecommerce Marketing Calendar.
Sneak a peek into the ecommerce marketing calendar breakdown …
- What Ecommerce Marketing Calendars Get Wrong
- Why You Need a ‘Four-Peaks Theory’ Instead of Two
- How to Plan for Growth: Three Strategies to Fill the Gaps
- When to Launch: Major Holidays, Plus 🗓 Automated Template
- Who Really Determines Your Events & Stories? (Hint, Not You!)
What Traditional Ecommerce Marketing Calendars Get Wrong
If you were to survey most ecommerce businesses, you’ll see they rely on a two-peaks revenue model.
Twice a year they experience massive spikes in revenue. These spikes center around the traditional Q4 season plus an additional gifting moment — usually, Father’s Day, Mother’s Day, Valentine’s Day, etc.
In fact, you don’t have to survey anyone.
Because we own and operate multiple ecommerce brands, we can show you exactly what this looks like behind the scenes.
FC Goods sells hand-crafted, vintage baseball glove wallets. We acquired the ecommerce brand in 2018 and saw a 15,500% ROI after we sold it in 2020 (seriously).
Its product is tailor-made for gifting. So, its calendar majored on two moments — and two moments only. Black Friday, Cyber Monday and Father’s Day:
Between those peaks lay valleys where ad spend, return on ad spend (ROAS), and overall growth declined.
Were we different advertisers in the low points? Were we worse at our jobs? Did we make less awesome social media ads than at any other period of the year?
Of course not.
Some of our most creative work was forced to happen there because there was no story, narrative, impetus for purchase.
What you’ll see in your own ad account is spend volume following this graph:
The question you have to ask …
Is the ad account driving the moment or is the moment driving the ad account?
In the case of FC Goods, it was the latter. Conversion rates spiked in key gifting periods … then, essentially flatlined.
With these spikes comes increased risk due to decreased cash flow. By not relying on accurate forecasts, you run the risk of under or overspending on inventory.
Peaks require more inventory. Unfortunately, cash runs low immediately before you really need it.
Why You Need a ‘Four-Peaks’ Marketing Calendar Instead
To combat these scenarios, we use the Four-Peaks Theory to shape our own marketing calendars as well as the calendars of our clients:
Year-round growth comes from a calendar with at least four peaks.
With this model, you to take advantage of the traditional holiday season, major gifting celebrations, and both cultural moments as well as product events.
You get a calendar that drives performance through storytelling and imperative purchase opportunities.
How to Create a Calendar for Growth: Three Strategies to Fill the Gaps
When creating your calendar, there are three strategies that will help you choose the right peaks. They center around …
- Cultural moments
- Cyclical product releases
The goal is to align with your customers’ needs. To provide them with what they want without relying on deep discounts.
“It should be about more than just big sales. Focus should also be centered around new product launches or even sharing compelling stories to drive brand awareness”
— Mark DiOrio, Growth Strategist at Common Thread Collective
Once you’ve identified existing high points, you can start filling in your off-seasons. To form your peaks, alternate between two holidays and two cultural moments.
Let’s take a look at the major holidays that can help you complete your calendar.
When to Launch Marketing Campaigns, Plus 🗓 Automated Template
To make this process easy, we’ve created an automated Ecommerce Marketing Calendar. In it, you’ll find:
- A list all US and international holidays
- Two prebuilt “Zaps” for setting work-back timelines
- And another Zapier integration to add your selected events into Asana
Q1: First Peak
New Year’s Day
The top of the year focuses on one big idea — new beginnings. New Year’s Day is one of the best marketing environments for health, wellness, and sports brands.
Use this time for product launches and brand-awareness campaigns that will attract new customers and retarget existing customers from Q4.
In early 2021, Lululemon launched an entire collection for the Lunar New Year to do exactly that.
Just last week, another one of our brands — Modern Fuel — took an unconventional approach:
- SMS + email for customers
- And Facebook ads for prospecting
“I wanted a big event where I could manufacture a peak in Q1.”
— David Rekuc, Brand Manager at 4×400
Valentine’s Day is the perfect time to jumpstart first-quarter sales. It’s one of those holidays where customers are obsessed with shopping. While jewelry stores see a lot of action, other industries such as sporting goods, apparel, and beauty also get tons of traffic.
Keep in mind that Valentine’s Day isn’t solely about romantic relationships. Platonic friendships, self-love (think Galentine’s Day), and even familial relationships are celebrated, too.
Most purchases fall between February 8-11 so running promotions early is critical when planning.
Q2: Second Peak
For Memorial Day, anything from food to clothing to home furnishing works best to boost your peaks. Just make sure you are drawing strong parallels to patriotism.
Gifting isn’t typical. Rather, discounting dominates.
Born Primitive, on the other hand, has a large military customer base. Memorial Day is ingrained in its brand. It uses this time to honor veterans and support military personnel.
The spirit of Memorial Day came alive in its 2020 campaign.
With $26.7B in sales, Mother’s Day is the third-largest retail event in the US. One thing to remember, mothers come in many different forms. Your brand should be sensitive to that fact.
Mother’s Day can also drive organic traffic through content marketing — social, email, and blogs about the mothers your customers love.
Bambu Earth, our fastest-growing in-house brand, asked customers to share their Mom Stories. It was one of those “hit you in the feels” kinda campaigns.
Like Mother’s Day, Father’s Day presents a great gifting moment. It also helps that both holidays run back-to-back. This develops an environment for a successful Q2 peak.
Stay inclusive and focus more on the essence of fatherhood versus what you think fatherhood looks like.
FC Goods used its “Past Time Custom Program” to tell Ray Cordova, Jr.’s amazing story. He was the first person to receive custom wallets made from his late father’s baseball gloves. The wallets were then personally delivered to his house.
Q3: Third Peak
The start of summer is an ecommerce event all of its own. This is where brands are heavily pushing beachwear, summer fashions, and footwear.
Essentially, it’s a race to make an impact before the midway point. Then, push sales to clear out remaining inventory.
Back to School
Although back-to-school shopping took a major hit due to schools closing during the pandemic, it can still be a major moment for building stories around the new school normals.
Ecommerce tech and supplies retailers should take full advantage of this by recreating what back-to-school shopping feels like.
Trends for fashion ecommerce brands look a bit different now. Nonetheless, opportunities to be creative in marketing campaigns still exist.
Q4: Fourth Peak
For most ecommerce brands, Q4 is the big show.
During this time, we have Halloween, Black Friday, Cyber Monday, and Christmas.
Even though sales reign supreme, your holiday marketing can be built around a variety of deal structures:
- Sitewide discounts
- Selected SKUs or collections
- Free gifts with purchase
- Buy X, Get Y (BOGO)
- Tiered savings based on spend
Amid all that, there’s room to squeeze in a feel good story or two.
Milano Di Rouge crafted a fun and nostalgic take on the hit sitcom Family Matters for its Black-Friday campaign. Instead of pushing a hot sale, it gave its audience memorable vibes they could feel.
Who Really Determines Your Events & Stories? (Hint, Not You!)
Where does your story exist? How do you think about this in a way that’s going to help your cashflow?
Your calendar doesn’t have to exclusively focus on running sales or pushing products.
Storytelling is how you humanize your brand. Particularly, unconventional stories. During the holiday season, instead of pushing big promotions, Amazon went with a feel good message in its “The Show Must Go On” ad.
Mirroring those sentiments, Nike inspired and motivated by highlighting its customer’s resiliency in You Can’t Stop Us.
“We know things won’t always go our way but whatever it is, we’ll find a way.”
What happens to the story when no shows are allowed?
Most fashion behemoths opted out. In contrast, Hanifa — a Philadelphia based fashion house — leaned into the new regulations by bringing the story of African seamstresses directly to its customers.
No travel necessary. No bodies either.
For the launch of the Pink Label Capsule Collection, Hanifa created a COVID-compliant, digital fashion show complete with virtual models.
As a luxury brand, deep discounts aren’t a part of the APL marketing calendar.
Instead, it launched special edition shoes for Breast Cancer Awareness month — offering 25% off on International Women’s Day. That one day made up 4% of its annual revenue: a glowing achievement, considering Nov. contributed 16% in total.
Hone in on what your customers care about. Give them a memorable experience surrounding that.
So, what really drives growth?
It’s not the ad account. At least, it shouldn’t be. Your ad account can, however, show you where your needs are: the valleys.
It’s up to you to raise those valleys with the Four-Peaks and an Ecommerce Marketing Calendar.