Retail Marketers Keep Steady with Budgets despite Uncertainty over Best Holiday Strategies

When it comes to the holiday shopping season, we shouldn’t forget that there are methods to the madness. As retailers strategize to fully leverage this year’s tepid projections, they’re employing a slew of marketing and advertising tactics during the holiday season to entice consumers and spur growth.

On one hand, results from our 2013 Retail Compass Survey of CMOs show that retailers are fairly consistent with last year’s marketing efforts: 72 percent of chief marketing officers planned to allocate about the same amount of funds towards their marketing and ad campaigns in 2013, with a one percent decline in budgets overall, compared to 2012. On the other hand, there’s a sharp contrast between scope and strategy. Budgets may have leveled off this year following cautiously optimistic projections, but retailers are still experimenting to determine the right blend of strategies in their holiday marketing playbooks.

Staying competitive in this year’s holiday environment is requiring retailers to increasingly embrace multiple marketing channels. While 41 percent of CMOs cite traditional print ads as their top holiday strategy, brands are continuing to adopt more digital methods of engaging consumers. A full 88 percent of retailers are utilizing social media this year, and average investments for the platform rose from 10 percent of retailers’ total marketing budgets in 2012 to 14 percent this year. For social brands, Facebook (99 percent) and Twitter (52 percent) remain the most popular platforms, though Pinterest (27 percent), YouTube (24 percent) and Instagram (16 percent) all gained considerable popularity this year as trusted tools that retailers are using to engage customers and help drive traffic to e-commerce destinations. In one of the most integrated social media holiday campaigns this year, Target’s “My Kind of Holiday” initiative leverages all five platforms to attract customers and keep them engaged throughout the season.

One of the more surprising findings from our survey was that only 38 percent of retail CMOs planned to use mobile marketing this season, as opposed to the 50 percent who did in 2012. Despite eMarketer’s projection of a 15 percent jump in mobile sales volume—as well as IBM’s report that almost 43 percent of this year’s Thanksgiving e-commerce traffic occurred via mobile this year—the declining numbers from the survey likely highlight a stubborn uncertainty around the platform’s real growth potential and ability to convert sales. Still, m-commerce is growing. Though some retailers are waiting for best practices to be more firmly established, those that are embracing mobile this year are increasing their stakes: the platform comprised as average of 5.9 percent of retailers’ overall marketing budgets in 2012, while this year that number shot up to 15 percent. Interestingly, mobile flash sales fell off in popularity this year, with mobile strategy heavily shifting to text message campaigns (33 percent) and mobile coupons (28 percent).

In the digital realm, big data remains as one of the most high-potential but still untapped opportunities for retailers. With impressive new technologies—from customer face-scanning to in-store body heat mapping, retailers have at their fingertips evermore data surrounding consumer behavior. The challenges persist, however: our survey demonstrated that nearly nine-in-ten retailers are still struggling to integrate and manage their data, down only slightly from 93 percent in 2012. In terms of top big data obstacles retailers face, 44 percent cite difficulties in effectively transforming these troves of data into actionable marketing insights (44 percent), while 22 percent find data organization and metric development to be the biggest challenge.

As the holiday season progresses, how is your company adapting its marketing and advertising efforts?