Ecommerce Holiday Marketing Strategy: How To Plan For Profit & Peace During 2021’s Black Friday, Cyber Monday


If 2020 was a gold rush, 2021’s going to be a turf war.

A year ago, COVID brought with it the biggest opportunity in ecommerce’s history. I felt a gnawing sense of anxiety that I was already behind the curve.

Fast forward to today: the anxiety is the same, but the reasons couldn’t be more different. We’ve already seen:

With ecommerce trends pointing towards an uncertain future, and the most challenging holiday season in your brand’s history on the horizon, what you need most is a North Star — a clear sense of where you’re going and what you need to get there.

In short, you need a plan.

That’s why we’ve built you the most comprehensive, most in-the-weeds, most nitty-gritty, dirt-under-your-fingernails holiday planning guide ever …

To guide you, we’ve created a Holiday Marketing Ecommerce Bundle that includes:

  • 2021 Holiday Marketing Calendar, Budget + Offer Calculator
  • Infographic on 437 of Last Year’s Top DTC Holiday Campaigns
  • Ecommerce Holiday Offer Swipe File: 1.9k Downloadable Screenshots
holiday ecommerce marketing strategies and planning bundle
Download the Holiday Marketing Ecommerce Bundle to follow along

Orchid Bertelsen

Orchid Bertelsen, Head of CX Strategy & Innovation at Nestlé

The holidays are going to look massively different this year. With global supply chain disruption and the rise of digital goods like NFTs, Twitch bits, and gift cards, the gap between physical and digital will close even more.

Paired with rising CAC, DTCs must pressure themselves to extend LTV more than ever before. That can come in the form of alternate revenue streams with digital extensions to their physical product.

Extensions can include a service layer, a digital copy of the physical product for use in the metaverse, or even gift carding — lowering CAC as you encourage your audience to acquire new customers for you.

What we’ll see is a bunch of seemingly disconnected ideas, projects, and initiatives converging to provide a deeper brand experience while also creating new revenue streams.

Jessica McGlory

Jessica McGlory, Head of Growth at Verb Energy

At the end of the day, consumers won’t really be shopping for different things nor along fundamentally different timelines and patterns. What they buy and when they buy it will be similar.

The different behavior that humans are going to display will be how they get their things.

You’re still going to have shoppers who would have otherwise driven to a store all of a sudden realize, “Oh my gosh, I have no way to give this gift to someone, and Christmas is almost here.”

Last-minute shopping will be more intense than ever before with the likelihood of businesses limiting in-store shopping. We’ll likely see shipping wars unmatched, but the vast majority of DTCs won’t be able to compete with same-day and overnight shipping which will see an uptick.

DTCs must find other options — such as incentivizing those who purchase earlier in the season.

Morgan Brown

Morgan Brown, VP of Growth Marketing at Shopify

The pandemic accelerated all things digital, further blurring the line between retail and online commerce. They are now one industry, making multi-channel strategies the key to success this holiday season and beyond.

Whether through social, online, or in-person, brands must enable convenient product discovery, deliver exceptional shopping experiences, and encourage local shopping.

The rise of social commerce will undoubtedly influence discovery, playing a key role as consumers look for recommended product options and seamless buying. Challenges with paid spend measurement will make activating owned audiences more important than ever and be a tailwind for brands that get it right.

With anticipated shipping woes and redefined expectations for convenience, DTC brands can strategically gain an upper hand by both marketing and catering to local shoppers. Look for ways to support independent retailers with local delivery and BOPIS options to get products in the hands of your customers quickly.

The reality is that whether it’s BFCM or a Tuesday in May, the future of retail is retail everywhere, and DTCs must cater to where their customers are spending their time and shopping dollars.

1. Ecommerce Holiday Planning: Goal, Success Metrics & Offers

Before the data, insights, and trends, the first question you have to answer is: “What are my business’ holiday goals?”

  • Is it to be profitable?
  • Is it to grow your customer base?
  • Is it to prepare for Q1 and gather data effectively?

The question is so crucial, I hesitate to call it a “tip.” Nonetheless, for the sake of making the main thing the main thing:

Ecommerce Holiday Marketing Tip #1 🎁

Determine your Black Friday, Cyber Monday goal and calculate your success metrics to support it.

Jeremy Cai

Jeremy Cai, CEO & Founder of Italic

Primarily relevant for brands looking to scale: you need to be realistic in looking at your business from an objective and quantitative lens.

Invest in reporting early on and develop competency around understanding and dialing in the metrics that matter for your business on a cohort basis. The sooner you do this, the better equipped you’ll be to answer how to grow your business. Don’t put this off.

For example, let’s say you sell your hero product for $100 and your contribution margin is $50, and let’s say you were acquiring early customers at $30 on FB, that’s great, double down. But once your CAC has grown to $60, it’ll be too late to course-correct. Sounds obvious, but it’s really easy to miss if you’re not keeping an eye on it constantly.

Economies of scale are purely theoretical in DTC and you need to invest in becoming a data-driven organization early on.

Jaime Schmidt

Jaime Schmidt, Founder of Schmidt’s Naturals & Supermaker Author

My path to success at Schmidt’s was to always say yes to every channel. Every brand should be thinking about it, especially because DTC is becoming increasingly competitive.

A lot of customers only discover brands in stores. And there’s real opportunity to partner with retailers for promotions, coupons, and circulars that DTC brands aren’t looking at. Don’t be afraid to go down different channels due to price points or perceptions around imitations with cost of goods.

Both brick-and-mortar and ecommerce (specifically DTC) need to prepare for a different type of Black Friday. A creative, customer-centric, omnichannel approach will be huge for visibility, engagement, and conversions.

Defining Your Holiday Season Success

Whether your goal is to profit, grow, or prepare — each requires you to understand the “why” behind your success metrics.

Success metrics should never be arbitrary nor be set because they sound nice (though a 4.0 ROAS does sound sexy). Instead, they should come directly from your overarching objective.

To do that, we’ve built a Holiday Profit Template with two tabs: (1) Cost Breakdown and (2) Profit Analysis:

ecommerce holiday planning and profit template for breakdown and analysis

Average Order Value (AOV)

Pull your AOV from last year’s holiday sale. If you don’t have data from last year, grab your evergreen AOV and adjust a bit higher if you’re projecting any sort of increase.

holiday ecommerce profit template: average order value

Chris Cantino Supermarker

Chris Cantino, Co-Founder of Supermaker (Previously Schmidt’s Naturals Dir. of Marketing)

Optimization is DTC’s strength. Big CPG relies only on guaranteed media buys and doesn’t look back. They just slap a discount on and don’t optimize.

Watch your AOV increase and be willing to raise your CAC accordingly. Know your margins and be clear on your COGS.

If your target CPA is around $15, but your AOV has gone up by 40%, can you flex on that CPA? This is different within every team.

If your company is EBITDA negative or your supply chain is backed up, your priorities may lie in actually slowing down a “too successful” campaign. Know your KPIs and make sure marketing is aligned with finance and ops.

Don’t rely on your discounting to do all the work:

  • Determine your audiences
  • Hone your content and variations
  • Walk people naturally into your BFCM campaigns
  • Prep them with content or advertising in the weeks beforehand

Marco Marandiz

Marco Marandiz, Ecommerce DTC Strategist

Choose a few channels that you have disproportionate leverage on, and scale those. It makes it a lot easier for your customers to find you and doesn’t dilute your messaging across multiple distribution channels.

Every customer touchpoint matters.

From top-of-the-funnel ads through your checkout flow, consistency makes sure that your customers don’t get confused and no red flags are set off. At scale, this can have dramatic impacts on your conversion. Starting out, this gives you value props more power and clarity.

Your customers decide to buy when they see the ad, the influencer, the content. Make it easy for them to convert from these touchpoints.

Cost of Delivery (COD)

This includes any costs associated with getting your product into your customer’s hands.

You’ll need your average COGS, credit card fees, all costs associated with shipping costs, and your return rate.

holiday marketing planning and profit sheet: cost of delivery

After you enter dollar values or percentages into the green cells, your unit margin will populate — i.e., gross profit.

Next, plug in your net target (the actual amount of dollars per purchase you want to make) and that will give your customer acquisition target (CAC or CPA) as well as your target ROAS.

ecommerce holiday planning and profit template: gross and net profits

Marjorie Chelius

Marjorie Chelius, Previous Director of User Acquisition at Native

Any seasonally-relevant “extra” you can give your customers during the holiday will provide that “little something” to make them feel valued. A simple gift upfront can go a long way toward building loyalty amongst your new and existing customers alike.

Other tactics are things like:

  • Structure your holiday promotions and product releases creatively to maintain audience engagement and profitability
  • Prioritize the audience segments and products that will minimize risk in terms of inventory and demand forecasting
  • Stagger product and content releases to stay top-of-mind at a time when everyone’s eyes are being bid on

One of the main things that our operations team does because we’re still very lean is triaging SKUs we know are going to give us problems.

Instead of trying to get demand forecast absolutely perfect across our entire portfolio, we zone in on SKUs that either (a) have a longer lead time or (b) can’t be replenished.

Jack Meredith

Jack Meredith, VP of Marketing at Kettle & Fire

Dial your demand forecasting in for the unpredictable season to come.

We learned this less last year, when people started stockpiling from the coronavirus. We weren’t ready, sales were through the roof, and just couldn’t keep up with demand.

From that, we set up a taskforce — a brain trust — that meets once a week. We spent a full hour once a week going through each SKU, understanding what the inventory available was for DTC, Amazon, and retail.

We tried to make the best decisions on the information that we had. That information included internal metrics, trends onsite and on Amazon, and SPINS data because we’re a CPG.

Do the same for your business.

Create a task force made up of finance, operations, logistics, and marketing to understand which products will be readily available — and how to best promote them.

Holiday Offer (Discount)

In another article, we cataloged 437 offers from the top DTC and ecommerce brands. That piece holds a wealth of competitive analysis, along with creative insights from nearly 1.9k screenshots taken during BFCM last year.

Get all 1,897 screenshots (gasp)

At the bottom of the Cost Breakdown tab, you can test the impact of the three most common offers:

  • Discount: $-off
  • Discount: %-off
  • Includes free gift

ecommerce holiday profit template: discounts

Griffin Thall

Griffin Thall, CEO of Pura Vida Bracelets

At Pura Vida, we choose to stay in our own lane when it comes to Black Friday, Cyber Monday promotions. We’ve run the same promo for the past seven years, which we know works best for our brand.

Urgency, high-value prop, free gift with purchase — all of that comes together to create an offer that shoppers cannot find anywhere else on the internet.

In terms of the bigger picture, I’m seeing more brands start their BFCM offers sooner and sooner so that might be something we adopt more this year.

But — in terms of the consistency of the offer, marketing, and urgency — we are hyper-focused on the strategy that has proven itself so well for us year over year.

Trey Sisson

Trey Sisson, Co-Founder & COO at BABOON TO THE MOON

BFCM doesn’t always have to be a deal or discount. Leverage what makes your brand special to get people excited and generate demand: new products, limited editions, etc. It’s all about setting expectations and providing value.

It’s about finding unique moments and going after them directly. The holiday season will be different this year — but our customers will still expect us to be there for them.

When it comes to messaging the moment and thinking about your tone of voice, it’s become a day-to-day exercise now. It’s more important than ever to pay attention and react quickly to what our customers are saying.

ROAS and Profit

Now that you have the Costs Breakdown tab complete, you can shift to Profit Analysis and analyze different monthly spend levels.

As you enter them, your true holiday success metrics will automatically populate, including:

  • Ad revenue
  • Number of transactions
  • ROAS targets
  • Total profit
  • And per order profit

holiday profit ecommerce marketing template: roas and profit

With your initial goals and metrics in hand …

Ecommerce Holiday Marketing Tip #2 🎁

Map a Q4 calendar by planning 3-5 campaigns centered on landers, ads, and emails for …

  1. Pre-Holiday — Oct. Dates
  2. Pre-Black Friday — Early-to-mid Nov.
  3. Black Friday — Week of Nov. 21-27
  4. Cyber Monday Weekend — Nov. 28-30
  5. Christmas — Gifting + Shipping Cut-Off

We’ve set up a holiday calendar in Google Sheets to guide you through those five phases. If you’ve downloaded the Holiday Marketing Ecommerce Bundle, you already have it your inbox:

ecommerce holiday marketing calendar
For instructions on how to use the calendar, jump over to Planning Your Black Friday Social Media Campaigns: Not a Listicle, An Ecommerce Calendar (That’s Useful)

To scale effectively, you’ll need to set a much more detailed budget.

That’s coming, but first …

2. Online Holiday Shopping: One Trend That Really F*cking Matters

We know that costs and conversion rates peak during BFCM. How do we take advantage of the latter without overpaying on the former?

Simple. Buy your traffic ahead of time.

Think of it this way — last year I wanted to buy a new watch. At some point in Oct. or early Nov., I went to a few websites, clicked around, found the one I wanted, and then …

I didn’t purchase. Instead, I waited.

I made a mental note to check back during Black Friday to find out what the discount would be. When I returned, the watch was 25% off and I happily made my long-awaited, discounted purchase.

We all follow a similar purchase path when it comes to holiday shopping; this is why, in the weeks prior to Black Friday, most advertisers see 1-day click ROAS fall well below target.

In response, they reduce budgets in Oct.-Nov. in order to spend big on BFCM itself. The problem?

  • CPMs are at an annual high on BFCM
  • No one wants a discount on a product they’ve never heard of
  • Especially when all the brands they have heard of are also running huge discounts

To meet those challenges, you must accept a lower 1-day ROAS leading up to Black Friday with the knowledge that those customers will return in droves over BFCM.

To account for this when goal-setting, you need a reasonable way to project how much Black Friday revenue to attribute to your pre-Black Friday ads.

We called this increase over time the Delayed Attribution Multiplier (DAM).

Though seemingly complex, the idea is straightforward: the more delayed attribution you get, the higher the multiplier. Typically, that’s around 1.36x ROAS over 28 days.

However, the holidays are anything but typical.

Prior to Black Friday 2020, DAMs jumped from their non-holiday averages of 1.36 to 1.51, spiking at 1.60 the week of Nov. 15.

delayed attribution multiplier (DAM) July-December 2020

That means average ROAS over the four weeks leading up to BFCM increased from 2.14 to 3.26 after 28 days, with ROAS increasing as much as 59.90% the week before Black Friday:

1-day ROAS vs. 28-Day ROAS; July-December 2020

Important Note: Although iOS14 has gutted Facebook’s native ability to report on delayed attribution, we have a solution — and we’ll show you how to calculate your delayed attribution multiplier when we walk through the Holiday Budget Planner in section 4.

Ecommerce Holiday Marketing Tip #3 🎁

Push spend pre-BFCM at a lower ROAS. It’ll pay off on Black Friday itself.

Your ROAS will look bad initially. Lean into that by being proactive:

Excite customers through gift guides that preview how good of a deal they’re going to get. Prospect heavily. Stay top of mind leading up to BFCM …

They will come back and buy.

3. Black Friday, Cyber Monday: Ecommerce Data & Trends

At an industry level, three macro trends shape Black Friday and Cyber Monday (BFCM):

  1. Ad costs
  2. Conversion rates
  3. Customer lifetime value

Because they interlock, the thing we want to understand is how industry-wide data can help shape your BFCM strategy.

Nick Sharma

Nik Sharma, Founder of Sharma Brands

Black Friday and Cyber Monday are animals of their own species. You can never assume that your Excel sheet projections will match up with your BFCM sales if they’re based on sales or growth numbers leading up to it.

Most brands leverage the fact that everyone is looking for a discount, but the smarter ones make sure AOV stays high throughout the sale.

While macro trends will give you indicators on what you should be discounting and for how much, micro trends give you better insights into the distribution channels of where you should offer those discounts and with how much spend.

Nate Checketts

Nate Checketts, CEO and Co-Founder of Rhone

We try to generally stay aware of macro trends by keeping in touch with brands we like, appreciate, respect, and have a similar audience with. However, we prioritize and focus on our internal company data as the lead determiner for any promotional activity, and adjust based on the market reaction.

This past year made predicting trends and promotional activity far more challenging. 2020 left many retailers high and dry, and in an effort to keep themselves afloat, sales and promotions were happening left and right. Once BFCM arrived, that noise heightened further, which challenged the retail industry to get creative and grab consumers' attention like never before.

For example, Rhone's strategy was to reach customers a few weeks ahead of BFCM. We paired macro trends and Rhone data with innovative thinking, resulting in our longest BFCM sale period to date.

No matter the situation, you have to go in with your best strategy and be ready to tailor it to the unpredictable reaction of the market.

Social Media Ad Costs for the Holidays: Facebook & Beyond

If I could sum up the struggle of 2021 in one sentence it would be this:

CPMs are rising, and ecomm businesses feel like they’re drowning.

For some of our clients, Q3 2021 CPMs are approaching the levels they were on BFCM in 2020. Which raises the question … what’s Black Friday going to look like this year?

I’m guessing your anxiety is saying something like: It’s gonna be the roughest November through December ever.

Maybe. Although, there’s a more nuanced answer.

It’s Like COVID Never Happened (Or, How CPMs are Like Your Morning Commute)

During lockdowns, we got used to a lot of difficult things. Worrying about our loved ones; being isolated in our homes; missing friends and family.

But I also got used to one amazing thing: On the rare occasions I had to drive, the freeways were empty.

Of course, as soon as things started opening up again, traffic rapidly returned; and Southern California was once more its familiar bumper-to-bumper self.

Spoiled by a world without smog and congestion, I experienced this return to the norm as a catastrophe: Where did all these cars come from?

In ecommerce, we’re feeling the exact same thing. Normal feels like catastrophe.

Consciously or not, we’ve gotten used to 2020’s dirt-cheap CPMs, and rising ad costs feel unprecedented. Just look at Jan.-July 2021 comped against Jan.-July 2020:

comparing CPMS: January-July in 2021 vs. 2020

In fact, the average CPM for the first half of 2021 ($12.09) is actually higher than the average CPM in the second half of 2020 ($11.48), including BFCM.

Pull back to 2019 and the delta with 2021 remains, though not nearly as wide:

comparing CPMS: January-July in 2021 vs. 2020

Pull back to 2018, however, and you see this:

comparing CPMS: January-July in 2021 vs. 2020

Yes, CPMs are rising. But that doesn’t necessarily signal the start of a brand-new era of sky-high ad costs.

Rather, it’s a return to the way things were:

Average CPMS: January 2018 - August 2021

The headline “CPMs Hit $12!” isn’t good news. But it isn’t new news. You’ve been here before; and if you haven’t, the ecommerce industry at large has.

What’s it all mean?

Finding cheaper placements for BFCM remarketing is the key to combating the inevitable CPM surge …

Kurt Elster

Kurt Elster, Founder of Ethercycle & Host of The Unofficial Shopify Podcast

When comparing industry trends with your own strategies, look for the overlap between the two. And then, test those new strategies early to a small segment of your audience.

When approached with industry data, I take it with a grain of salt. A lot of published research is self-serving, skewed, and the result of a PR effort. Treat it as inspiration or suggestions for marketing tests, not as gospel.

You already know what works in your business. Evolve that by being curious about new opportunities without going so far that you cannibalize your own success chasing shiny toys.

Kristen LaFrance

Kristen LaFrance, Director of Community at Repeat

At the macro level, pay attention to what sale formats the big players are tossing out.

How are they communicating those sales? What channels are they using to bring in new (and repeat) customers? Pay just as much attention to where they aren’t as where they are.

That being said, only you know your business the best. And at such a critical point in your sales cycle, don’t let industry trends skew you too far from your own knowledge.

A near majority of BFCM sales come from existing customers, not new customers. Don’t risk a good chunk of these sales by focusing too heavily on “the industry” and turning a blind eye to your own customer base.

Trust your own customers, trust your customer knowledge, test early and often with them. But, keep an eye for curiosity and adventure on the macro trends happening.

Diversifying for Cheaper Traffic: or, How I Learned to Stop Worrying & Love TikTok

Conventional wisdom states that most placements outside of Facebook and Instagram Feeds drive poor-converting traffic. That’s true. Most of the time.

On Black Friday, when everyone has high purchase intent, alternate placements become an incredible arbitrage moment:

Instagram Stories, Snapchat, and TikTok users convert over Black Friday weekend.

The first hint that alternate placements could help lower CPMs came in late 2018. Instagram Stories arrived and decreased ad costs throughout 2019.

A few reasons why:

  • Instagram users adopted Stories rapidly
  • Full-screen vertical creative increased engagement
  • The swipe-up function takes users directly to the brand’s site

Instagram Stories: Baboon to the Moon

In 2020, Stories had significantly lower CPMs than both Facebook and Instagram Feeds. Even over the holidays.

Q4 2020 CPMs by Placement
There are even less-expensive placements, but we’ll hit those in the next section

More importantly, ROAS was actually better on Stories than on either Facebook or Instagram Feeds over Black Friday weekend:

Q4 2020 ROAS by Placement

Ecommerce Holiday Marketing Tip #4 🎁

Diversify your platform mix to get cheaper delivery and higher reach.

Shoot your content in vertical 9×16 format to get the best bang for your buck. Story videos can then be used on Instagram and Facebook feeds automatically.

But there are other, Stories-like platforms with even better BFCM arbitrage opportunities …

1. TikTok

It’s the platform that took over the world in 2020 … and it’s shaping up to be an incredible arbitrage opportunity on BFCM.

From 2019-2021, the number of US adult TikTok users grew 5.5 times, receiving more downloads within Q1 2020 than any other app ever during the same timespan.

While our data on TikTok is still limited, initial efforts have been promising:

TikTok average CPMS are $4.50 (63% lower than Facebook.) TikTok average 1-day ROAS is 1.88 (10% higher than Facebook.)

2. Snapchat

2019 Snap ads for Homesick Candles, Dorsal Bracelets, and PupSocks

Since Snapchat hit the market ten years ago, it’s grown to boast over 514 million active daily users worldwide — quickly surpassing Twitter’s 397 million. Snapchat reaches 71% of 18-25-year-olds in the United States, surpassed only by Instagram and YouTube.

Beyond a few notable cases, scalable ROAS on Snapchat has yet to be proven. Cheap traffic, on the other hand, is plentiful.

And for the leadup to Black Friday, that’s what really matters:

Q4 2020 CPMs by Placement (including SNAP)

Q4 2020 ROAS by Placement (including SNAP)

3. Instagram Reels

The newest kid on the block, Reels are IG’s answer to the exploding popularity of TikTok’s aesthetic and functionality — and advertising is already open.

In a time when cheap traffic is good traffic, a brand-new placement like Reels is a good bet for pre-BFCM prospecting and remarketing on the big week itself.

Tracey Wallace

Tracey Wallace, Head of Marketing at Eterneva

The privacy-first web is around the corner, and so many marketing disciplines and channels are already feeling the crunch.

This holiday season, your owned channels will be more important than ever. That includes your ability to drive organic traffic, get earned press mentions and coverage, and build email and SMS lists.

The sooner you start on all of this, the better off you will be.

Remember, too, that every other brand is in this same predicament. Consumers’ email inboxes are going to be full as a result.

Figure out smart ways you can connect with and get in front of buyers outside of the traditional channels everyone else will use. Those are now table stakes. You need to find your brand a nice-to-have channel and optimize for it.

Jaime Schmidt

Jaime Schmidt, Founder of Schmidt’s Naturals & Supermaker Author

Have some fun with your customers this holiday season. Make this your year of UGC — provide incentives for the gift receivers to share videos and post photos with your product — packaging that is “extra,” trending hashtags, little props for selfies with the product.

No amount is too much. Make it fun and memorable, and get a little adventurous. Don’t overlook the huge potential in TikTok — start a holiday-themed trend for your brand and make it go viral!

Ecommerce Holiday Marketing Tip #5 🎁

Maximize your cross-channel efforts by prospecting at a lower price on TikTok, Snap, or Reels, and then remarketing to that traffic on Facebook.

In addition, integrate the Snap Pixel with your Shopify Store to retarget visitors on Snapchat acquired through other channels. The same should be done with TikTok.

With each, the point is to generate as large a retargeting pool as possible.

Google Ads & Shopping YoY

Living in the world of Facebook ads, it’s easy to forget about Google, the O.G. of paid advertising.

While Facebook is a great way to generate demand for your brand, Google excels at capturing demand.

Unlike Facebook, Google Search and Shopping show up based on keyword searches of the end-user. While they may not have intended to purchase your specific brand, they definitely have the intention of purchasing something within your product category.

While it is competitive to advertise during the holidays, conversion rates are at an all-time high.

Google Shopping images showing results for search 'candles' Homesick Candles placement

Ecommerce Holiday Marketing Tip #6 🎁

On Google, bid for maximizing clicks to optimize for the most traffic possible. Spend more than usual to capitalize on this opportunity.

Forget target ROAS or CPA bidding, especially on your branded search terms.

Tracey Wallace

Tracey Wallace, Head of Marketing at Eterneva

Nothing happens in a vacuum. Your strategy for any campaign, including holiday, is about how you mix the macro with the micro of your brand, your messaging, and your offer/conversation starter.

Think of REI. Its #OptOutdoors campaign resonated with their brand (micro), but it hit on a much larger trend (macro) — digital wellness.

For your own brand, start with the macro trends happening in your space that are top of mind for your customers and prospects. Then, think through what your brand’s take on it is, why it matters (this part is important!), and the action folks can take.

Of course, you want people buying more of your products. But they are getting bombarded by emails, ads, campaigns — all talking about the holidays and gifts for XYZ person in their life.

Tying your campaign back to a larger trend that your brand is aligned with (and as a result, your customers are aligned with), makes your campaign stand out and drive more sales, all while increasing loyalty and building your tribe.

Facebook Metrics: Your Ideal Holiday Ad Dashboard

The idea behind our holiday strategy is to drive cheap (but qualified) traffic prior to BFCM. Then, reap the rewards of converting that traffic during the sale.

Arguably, the most important part of a successful Facebook ad campaign is being able to accurately measure success.

For the weeks leading up to BFCM, focus on:

  • Outbound Click-through-Rate (CTR)
  • Cost Per Outbound Click (CPC)
  • Cost Per Unique Add To Cart
  • Cost Per Checkout Initiated

CTR and CPC tell you how engaging your ads are — as do video views and average watch times. Cost Per Unique Adds To Cart and Checkout Initiated tell you if there’s real purchase intent behind those clicks; that the ad is driving qualified traffic.

Emphasize creative testing during this time to find ads that will drive the lowest CPC and highest CTR.

Continually iterate on best-performing ad creative to find the winners ahead of Black Friday.

Normally, we measure creative through AIDA: attention, interest, desire, and action. Prior to the holidays, replace ROAS at the bottom of your AIDA funnel with Cost Per Unique Add To Cart and Cost Per Checkout Initiated.

This way, you still have a meaningful purchase metric to measure against while still taking into consideration that most people are waiting for the sales to begin before they hit “Complete Order.”

AIDA as a Model for Measuring Pre-Holiday Ad Creative

Ecommerce Holiday Marketing Tip #7 🎁

Create a default dashboard that shows the metrics that you should be looking at as you scale your ads up for holiday.

The first step is to go to Customize Columns:

Common Thread Collective's best practices for facebook ads setup: Customize your column view

Once there, you’ll have the option to type into the search bar which metrics you want to show on your dashboard.

In this order, these are the metrics to select:

  1. Campaign Name
  2. Delivery
  3. Bid Strategy
  4. Budget
  5. Amount Spent
  6. Purchases Conversion Value
  7. Purchase ROAS (Return on Ad Spend)
  8. Purchases
  9. Cost Per Purchase
  10. Unique Checkouts Initiated
  11. Cost Per Checkout Initiated
  12. Unique Ads to Cart
  13. Cost Per Unique Add to Cart
  14. Outbound Clicks
  15. Cost Per Outbound Click
  16. Outbound CTR (Click through Rate)
  17. CPM (Cost Per 1,000 Impressions)
  18. Reach
  19. Impressions

Facebook Ads Manage column view code location

To set that up for yourself, simply copy and past the following string after your business_id= in Facebook’s Ad Manager campaign-view URL:


During BFCM

Focus purely on ROAS and cost per acquisition (CPA). With the high cost of traffic, disregard CPC and CPM as much as possible. Skyrocketing conversion rates will offset the price.

Speaking of which …

Conversion Rates & Lifetime Value: Timing Is Everything

At CTC, growth revolves around one equation:

(V x CR x LTV) – VC = Profit

Four variables, that’s it:

  • V = How many visitors you get
  • CR = How many of them convert
  • LTV = How much they spend in 60-90 days
  • VC = How variable costs affect product margins

For Black Friday, Cyber Monday, how do you maximize the variables? No spoilers: conversion rates hit a high during Nov. with Dec. a close second.

2020 Conversion Rates by Month

That’s not a COVID anomaly.

Black Friday CPMs peaked at 3.92% both last year and the year prior.

Q4 Conversion Rate: 2019 vs. 2020

Unfortunately, even if your conversion rates skyrocket, buying those conversions becomes exponentially more expensive.

How much more?

Last year, weekly CPMs for BFCM increased 68% compared to the non-holiday average: $14.10 (BFCM) vs $8.40 (non-holiday).

On the big days themselves, they spiked even harder.

  • Black Friday: $20.63 (+145.60%)
  • Cyber Monday: $18.03 (+114.64%)

Holiday Facebook and Instagram Paid Media: Q4 2020

Ecommerce Holiday Marketing Tip #8 🎁

Drive new, qualified customers to your site before BFCM so you can remarket during BFCM.

Because we know the cost of traffic is going to spike, potential customers must enter the top of the funnel during Oct. and Nov.

In case you missed that, I repeat: BFCM weekend is not the time to focus on driving new traffic. This is the opportunity where you are retargeting all the website traffic you have developed over the last two months.

Oct. and Nov. are about acquiring visitors; BFCM is the time to convert them.

Email Marketing: When to Build Your BFCM List & What to Send

For email, the issues aren’t really how-to tactics like holiday templates, subject lines, frequency, etc.

All that’s important, but it pales in comparison to three questions:

  1. What is the value of an email address?
  2. When is an email address most valuable?
  3. And, when is it most valuable to get that email address?

Everyone loves comparing themselves to industry benchmarks when answering the first question.

Data we compiled with Klaviyo puts it at ~$4.17. But, there are so many variables between brands, that it’s an almost worthless data point.

Instead, let’s talk about the other two questions and frame them around payback periods: the time between paying to acquire email addresses and generating revenue from them.

The second question is easy.

Email addresses become exponentially more valuable during Q4 than at any other time of year.

By way of example, we pulled email revenue metrics for Bambu Earth, our in-house skincare brand:

email revenue for Bambu Earth in Q4 is much higher than any other time of the year

In Q4, email drove $334,657 — that’s 42% of our yearly email-attributed revenue driven over 25% of the year.

The reason? We sent more emails and our list converted more. At the same time. And we’re not alone.

For ecommerce at large, 56% of email’s annual revenue is generated in Nov. and Dec. Why? Because 89% of BFCM purchases are made by customers who open an email before the holidays.

Still, it’s the third question where the heart of BFCM lies.

When is it most valuable to get that most valuable email address? Answer: October.

Emails acquired in Oct. have the highest three-month value of any period of the year:

holiday email value for ecommerce businesses

Taylor Sicard

Taylor Sicard, Co-Founder of Win Brands Group

If you don’t already have a large email or SMS list, start building it. If you were late to one or the other, focus on the one that you’re good at right now.

You should always be aiming for efficiency. Q1-Q2, that’s CAC vs AOV. In Q3-Q4, how efficiently can we get emails, phone numbers, and traffic for targeted remarketing.

There’s no perfect way to predict what the holiday season has in store for ecommerce. The optimal way? Calculated risks.

Identify those who purchase for themselves for the creation of UGC and social proof now. Then, during the holiday season, you can showcase this content to those buying your products as gifts for their loved ones.

Marco Marandiz

Marco Marandiz, DTC Growth Strategist

Macro trends represent average movements of the market. They’re crucial to informing your BFCM strategy broadly, but no two businesses are identical. Therefore, I advise clients to create campaigns that acknowledge trends but stay true to their brand values and unique position.

Standing out with creative — while being spend-optimal — is a beautiful ideal, yet hard to execute on the most competitive holiday of the year.

Macro trend: Email marketers destroy your inbox because they’re unsophisticated.

Micro strategy: Offer exclusive merch at pricing otherwise unavailable to (1) your top ~500 customers as well as (2) non-customers through private FB groups, landing page sign-ups, and in-store collateral.

Three weeks before BFCM, email that list a pre-BFCM offer: e.g., 35% off versus your regular BFCM pricing of 25% off.

Ecommerce Holiday Marketing Tip #9 🎁

Do everything you can to acquire as many qualified email addresses as you can in Oct.

Even if you lose money in the short term, your payback period will be at its shortest. So you can afford to be aggressive.

On top of Black Friday email marketing itself, we’ve written extensively about email list building, the power of personalized quizzes, and email’s connection to retention:

But that’s not the only dynamic at play. The other factor is LTV.

Holiday Customer Lifetime Value: What’s a Purchase Worth?

Common sense suggests holiday customers are less valuable over time than non-holiday customers.

Rather than take that assumption at face value, we pulled data on 50 brands and compared the average LTV increase as a percent of first-purchase AOV over three time periods:

  • 60 days
  • 90 days
  • 180 days

Then, we examined three cohorts by date of first purchase:

  • Non-holiday customers
  • BFCM: Nov. 26-Dec. 2
  • Gifting: Dec. 3-19
The 'Value' of Holiday Shoppers: LTV increase as a percent of first-purchase AOV
Based on data from 50 brands at ~90M in revenue

Based on data from 50 brands at ~90M in revenue

At first glance, those numbers may not appear troubling.

Their gravity becomes clear as soon as you calculate the delta between non-holiday versus holiday LTV:

The 'Value' of Holiday Shoppers: Delta (Variance) to Non-Holiday LTV

In ecommerce, 60-90 day payback windows are essential to cash flow. Within that range …

BFCM shoppers are worth 41%-37% less than their non-holiday counterparts. And gifting customers, 21%-18% less.

Jake Cohen

Jake Cohen, Director of Product Marketing at Klaviyo

Over-invest in acquisition now, and so you can create and harvest demand when it comes through during the holidays. The holidays are the time to convert first, grow your list second.

The time ahead of the holidays is for list growth first, conversions second.

Why? People are looking now and they are not brand loyalists anymore. Among the 19,000 brands we surveyed last year, 95% of the incremental revenue that came as a result of COVID-19 came from new customers. Only 17% of consumer respondents said shopping at a well-known brand was a priority.


Make sure you have an aggressive email acquisition strategy before the holidays: welcome pop up for new visitors, embedded footer (just in case), and exit intent. Lock in a multi-step welcome series to seal the initial relationship. If you use SMS, collect valid phone numbers and get consent.

Delight prospects and customers with their initial experience. Now, more than ever, peer recommendations are driving a ton of purchases because people are shopping at more new brands than they ever have before. Be there for people when they’re looking for something to buy and they can’t get it in their local store.

How do you turn those industry trends into a step-by-step plan?

4. Your Holiday Marketing Strategy: ‘Projecting’ Triumph

Just like your business, your data and your trends are unique to you. These final tips will guide you through projecting a comprehensive marketing budget.

Open the Holiday Budget Planning (Sheet) and follow along.

Before you begin …

In section 2, we talked about the importance of calculating your Delayed Attribution Multiplier (DAM).

With iOS14 in place, Facebook no longer shows 28-day view attribution. This means that you’re going to have to do it yourself because it’s much too important not to.

Fortunately, there’s a solution: Supermetrics, an incredibly useful plugin that takes data from any marketing platform you use and pulls it into a spreadsheet for easier analysis.

It’s a paid subscription, but you can start the 14-day free trial for the purposes of this exercise and then cancel if you don’t want to use it anymore (although we’re willing to bet that you’ll be hooked).

Here’s how it works:

Sign Up for Supermetrics

Go to Supermetrics and click the “Start free trial” button. Select “Supermetrics for Google Sheets.” Then, click “Install” and follow the prompts. Supermetrics will now be available to you as an add-on in Google Sheets.

sign up for supermetrics (walkthrough)

Connect Supermetrics to Your Facebook Ad Account

In the Holiday Budget Planner, select the “Supermetrics_Active” tab at the bottom of the spreadsheet; then, cell B2:

connect supermetrics to your Facebook ad account inside the Supermetrics_Active tab

With that cell selected, click the “Add-ons” button, navigate to “Supermetrics,” and select “Launch sidebar” from the menu:

connect Supermetrics: launch the sidebar from the 'add-ons' menu

In the search bar, start typing in “Facebook” and select “Facebook Ads” when it pops up.

Follow the prompts to connect to Facebook. Select your business’ page from the menu, then give Supermetrics the requested access to that page:

Once Facebook is linked, you’re ready to begin filling out the Budget Planner.

How to Build a Bulletproof Budget in 5 Easy Steps

Step 1: CPM Data

Back in the Budget Planner, your Facebook Ads account should be connected to Supermetrics.

Go to “Select accounts” and start typing in the name of the ad account you want to use. Select it from the drop down when it appears:

Select cell B2. In the “Select Dates” menu, set the date range from July 29, 2020 to January 3rd, 2021:

Using the Holiday Profit Fuel Template: Select dates

For “Select metrics,” start typing in “CPM” and select it when it appears:

Using the Holiday Profit Fuel Template: Select metrics

Under “Split by dimensions,” select “Split to rows” and enter “Week (Mon-Sun)”:

Using the Holiday Profit Fuel Template: Split to rows

Once everything’s set, click “Get Data to Table.” When prompted, select “Overwrite”:

Supermetrics will return a “Query completed successfully” message, and column C will populate with your business’ CPM data!

Using the Holiday Profit Fuel Template: Split to rows

Navigate to the first tab of the Budget Planner. Your CPM data has automatically populated in column B, and the graph will have changed to match.

This allows you to determine whether or not your 2020 Q4 CPMs followed the macrotrends outlined in this article.

Holiday budget planning sheet: CPM trends data

Step 2: DAM

To calculate your delayed attribution multiplier, click back to the “Supermetrics_Active” tab. Select cell D2 and pull up the Supermetrics sidebar.

Create a query with the exact parameters as before, with two key differences:

First, in the “Select metrics” menu, select “Amount spent” and “Website purchases conversion value”:

Using the Holiday Profit Fuel Template: Select amount spent and website purchases conversion value

Second, in the “Options” menu, set “Conversion window” to “1 d click + 1 d view,” and “Report time of action stats” to “On impression date”:

Using the Holiday Profit Fuel Template: Set conversion window to 1-day click + 1-day view ...

Columns E and F will populate with your business’ 1-day click + 1-day view attribution data.

Next, you’ll need to pull your Q3–Q4 2020 28-day click + 1-day view data.

Click on cell H2, open the sidebar, and create a query using the exact same settings except for “Conversion window,” which will change to “28 d click + 1 d view.” Click “Get Data to Table.”

Using the Holiday Profit Fuel Template: 28-day click + 1-day view

Jump into the second tab in your Budget Planner — Step 2. DAM — and behold …

In cells D2-D4, you’ll see your DAM as compared to the industry average in E2-E4. The sheet will also calculate your week-by-week “Delayed Attribution 1 -> 28 Day” (column H). Plus, it’ll even create a chart for you to visualize the difference.

the Holiday Budget Planning sheet will calculate your week-by-week delayed attribution

Last, that data will automatically get sent to “Step 5. Budget Planner” tab. In that tab, set your overall Facebook ROAS target for Q4:

Using the Holiday Profit Fuel Template: Set your Facebook Roas target

After you enter it, you’ll see the 1-day ROAS targets you need to hit that overall number in column K:

Using the Holiday Profit Fuel Template: 1-day ROAS targets

Ecommerce Holiday Marketing Tip #10 🎁

Calculate your own Delayed Attribution Multiplier (DAM) and use it to update your BFCM ROAS 1-day targets.

It’s essential to calculate your delayed attribution multiplier so that you know what ROAS to accept and how much to spend in the weeks leading up to BFCM.

Your ROAS may look bad initially, but you have to take advantage of buying cheap, low-converting traffic before Black Friday in order to remarket to that traffic when the payoff is greatest.

Babak Azad

Babak Azad, CMO at GoodRx & Former Beachbody SVP

You have to start by considering if macro trends actually correlate with your business. Some businesses are outliers or just plain execute better than their competition and the market overall.

It’s similar to historical data. Perhaps you had a strong new product or promotion, but this year you don’t have something similar. Or perhaps, it’s the exact opposite.

Then, you have to decide what level of risk you want to take and the exposure:

  • If you over-ordered a physical product, is there an expiration on it?
  • How long do you think you’ll need to sell thru it, based on various scenarios?
  • If you get a ton of opt-ins but not as many buyers, do you have a plan for monetization beyond BFCM?.

The bottom line: I don’t think any of the above is that different from how someone approaches their broader strategy. Only a few businesses should approach BFCM in a fundamentally different way.

It’s certainly important, but if you’re nailing the other 350+ days of the year, then I think you approach it as an opportunity to get even better results.

Chris Cantino Supermarker

Chris Cantino, Co-Founder of Supermaker (Previously Schmidt’s Naturals Dir. of Marketing)

Historical data is everything. If you’re in year one and you don’t have it, run test campaigns to isolated audiences at your planned discount rate with the goal of identifying an uptick in your conversion rate.

Or, do some lead gen by offering customers to sign up for early access to the discount as a way to gauge interest and see if you’re incentivizing enough (or too much).

Educated guesses are key, but BFCM and discount events are not “set it and forget it” moments.

You have to be ready to invest opportunistically in winning ad sets, and that can mean pulling levers — increasing and decreasing budgets on several to dozens of sets at a time. Minimum and maximum advertising budgets are okay, but static budgets are not ideal.

Projecting BFCM Ad Spend

At this point, you have a 1-day target for both non-BFCM and BFCM periods aligned with your Q4 goal.

We can now take your revenue goal and combine it with the research on your account behavior.

If you have your revenue goal broken out by months, that’s great. If not, here’s an example of how to do that.

Step 3: Revenue Distribution

Back in the Supermetrics_Active tab, click on cell P2 and launch the Supermetrics sidebar. In “Data source,” select Shopify. Follow the prompts to link your Shopify store to Supermetrics.

Build a query with the following parameters:

  • Select accounts: [your store name]
  • Select dates: July 29, 2020 to January 3rd, 2021
  • Select metrics: Net sales
  • Split by dimensions: Week (Mon-Sun)

Leave everything else the same. Click “Get Data to Table.”

Go to the “Revenue Distribution” tab. Your Q4 weekly and monthly revenue is now populated in columns B and F, respectively.

As soon as you enter your Q4 Goal Revenue below the green box — $2.5 million, in this example — and historical revenue, all the percentages will populate. Even better, you’ll get an immediate calculation of your 2021 Monthly Est. Breakdown (column H).

Using the Holiday Profit Fuel Template and Budget Planner: Q4 Goal Revenue

Those are monthly goals based on your own historical trends and your 2021 goal.

Let’s take a similar approach with revenue from your marketing mix to truly back out spend.

Step 4: Six Month Revenue Attribution

Again, navigate to the “Supermetrics_Active” tab. Select cell L2 and pull up the Supermetrics sidebar. In “Data source,” search for “Google Ads” and connect your account to Supermetrics.

Once this is done, run a new query with the following parameters:

  • Select accounts: [your account name]
  • Select dates: July 29, 2020 to January 3rd, 2021
  • Select metrics: Cost, Conversion value
  • Split by dimensions: Week (Mon-Sun)

Using the Holiday Profit Fuel Template and Budget Planner: Running a parameter query

Head to the 6-Mon Rev Attribution tab 4. Your Facebook, Google, and sitewide revenue will be waiting for you in columns B, E, and, H, respectively:

Using the Holiday Profit Fuel Template and Budget Planner: Facebook, Google, and Sitewide revenue

Columns J-L will populate the percentage of revenue each channel should represent.

Setting Your Holiday Marketing Budget

Step 5: Budget Planner

Finally, we’ve arrived at the Budget Planner.

Everything you need will already be there waiting for you, except for your Facebook ROAS target, which needs to be entered in row 2 if you didn’t already do it in Step 2:

Ecommerce Holiday Budget Planning: Spend projections

You now have monthly and weekly spend projections for Facebook and Google based on your own data and your own goals:

Ecommerce Holiday Budget Planning: Facebook ROAS target

Ecommerce Holiday Marketing Tip #11 🎁

Project your weekly spend budgets by channel to meet your holiday goal and success metrics. Then scale, scale, scale.

Peace for Your Ecommerce Holiday Season

One of the hardest things about being an entrepreneur is that we’re constantly being reminded of all of the things we’re failing to do.

It’s the curse of the marketer or ecommerce brand owner to live in a world of “always more to do.” At its worst, information piles on this feeling and leaves you paralyzed.

At its best … it brings freedom, light to your path, and peace.

Thank you for spending thousands of words with us. We wish you a very happy holiday season with Shopify sale notifications so abundant on your phone that you have no choice but to mute them!

holiday ecommerce marketing strategies and planning bundle
Download the Holiday Marketing Ecommerce Bundle to follow along

Taylor Holiday is the CEO of Common Thread Collective. A former professional baseball player who lucked into entrepreneurship over a decade ago, Taylor lives in Southern California with his amazing wife and three kids — “who are my world.” He’d love to connect with you on Twitter or LinkedIn.

Special thanks to our friends at Common Thread Collective for their insights on this topic.
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