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How Brands Can Have an Insanely Successful Holiday Season

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It’s October. Most everyone you know is enjoying strolls through foliage filled parks, apple picking, and carving pumpkins. For brands and retailers, however, October is a heated month of around-the-clock projecting, planning, prioritizing…and more planning. Make way folks: The holidays are coming.

As a retailer, you realize the fourth quarter is traditionally the strongest of the year thanks to ample global holidays predicated around gifting. In America, large retail stores often send out their first holiday gift guides in late October. The online world isn't far behind. According to ecommerce intelligence site Internet Retailer, online sales in Q4 rose by over 10 percent last year - and many online apparel retailers have stated as much as 60 percent of their cumulative annual sales matriculate during the months of November and December.  Moreover, Internet sales will grow by more than 57 percent by 2018.

Last year our new brand, Zady, launched in August 2013. By the end of 2013 we had a lot to celebrate - we had, by all accounts, a fantastic holiday season. Though primarily online, a physical pop-up shop we created at LGA airport in New York City saw over $2,000 dollars a square foot in sales and our customer base grew by almost 20,000 newly registered customers online. An offline partnership with Vespa also garnered great media attention. Despite being a team of four, we knew that in order for a new (or traditional) brand to stand out during competitive months like November and December companies must prepare both their online and off-line experiences with care, find a way to stand out against the noise and focus on the core metrics that will move the needle for their brand in the fourth quarter.

Related: Tis the Season to Be Savvy: 6 Ways to Optimize Brand Marketing

For those brands needing a little help this holiday season, here are five tips to secure success during the busiest quarter of the year:  

1. Get planning.

If you are only now just thinking about the holidays, it is time to get a move on. And quickly. Your first step is to map out everything your brand would do in an ideal world, and then work backwards to address only the most important initiatives. Don't forget to map everything to your key performance metrics so the choices you make are clearly understood by both your marketing, sales and communications teams.  

2. Ensure you have enough inventory.

Retailers know, nothing is as important over the holidays as getting orders in on time and ensuring they also arrive in time.  Many retailers -- large and small -- hire extra help around the holidays to perfect this process. If you need extra staff during the holiday rush, turn to an agency like 24 Seven that specializes in staffing creative companies as well as LinkedIn and search for freelancers with expertise in merchandising and buying. Even an extra advisor will help your brand sort through the holiday order cycle mayhem. 

Related: 5 Ways to Dazzle and Delight Your Customers This Holiday Season

Additionally, calling your best suppliers and letting them know what you project will be a bestseller this year will help them produce more units in a tighter turnaround if necessary. If you are pitching your product to reporters and editors for potential inclusion in holiday gift guides, make sure your suppliers know that as well. Pro-active communication now may result in a much more stream-lined supply chain come this December.  

3. Focus on omni-chanel marketing.

Make sure when you are raising brand awareness and marketing you do so through all channels: off-line, web and mobile to name just three.

For example, at the beginning of Q4 this year, the brick-and-mortar shop Opening Ceremony launched a private sample sale exclusively to the mobile community members of Spring, an app built for on-the-go shoppers who like to be the first to discover new products by their favorite brands. By doing so the company signaled to their customer that they are on the cutting edge of what is new -- not only understanding which new designers are worth paying attention to but which apps are worth partnering with at the earliest. As mobile now accounts for more than 50 percent of many ecommerce businesses' sales, this was a sound awareness tactic for the 10-year-old New York retailer.

If creating a surround-sound marketing plan feels ominous, many brands outsource their Q4 marketing tactics to agencies large and small.  Research the agencies who have won awards through lists like the AdWeek Hot Digital 2014.  Reach out to the agencies that you think align most closely with your brand and ask them to pitch you on ideas for late-in-the-season activations with a clear ROI tailored to your most important metrics. 

4. Optimize your website.

Ensure your website is ready for holiday traffic now. Whether your developers are in-house or external vendors, set up a meeting with them for early November to discuss the potential rush that will ensue soon. Ask them to detail the rate at which your webpage "loads" now, which means the speed of one page opening on your website.  If that speed is more than five seconds, you are in trouble, as many web visitors bounce quickly from page to page over the holidays. Your goal will be to work with these developers to make sure your homepage is crystal clear, the mission of your organization stands out loudly, and it's easy for users to direct themselves to the products you would like to highlight to them immediately.

5. Work on your messaging.

Above all else this holiday season, focus on what you want to communicate and tighten-up your company’s positioning to stand out against competitors. At Zady, we are a mission-driven brand and our message is that we want our customers to vote with their dollars by purchasing stylish, ethically produced apparel.  You can tell that we believe in this fully, because our mission appears three times on our homepage.  Similarly, food blog Food52 makes their holiday value proposition crystal clear as of November. They'd like their community to become smarter, happier cooks -- especially around the holiday season. That mission is hard to miss when you land on their website. Plus, their email newsletters sent from the founders Amanda and Meryl, with helpful tips for novice and expert cooks, and options to communicate with them directly on social media drive the point home. 

This holiday season, whether you make and sell water filters or hand-painted globes, focus on the messaging of your website, social-media and online newsletters so your community can grow exponentially as it reaches new customers far and wide.  

Related: 5 Ecommerce Mistakes to Avoid During the Holiday