Peak Holiday Q&A with the Experts: Amazon Advertising Best Practices

October 31, 2019

Digital Marketing Amelia Erskine By Amelia Erskine

The peak season is fast approaching and brands and retailers of all sizes are busy with last-minute preparations. To help sellers prepare for the season ahead, we decided to highlight some advice from our Managed Services experts in a Q&A blog series.

The ChannelAdvisor Managed Services team works with clients every day to provide strategy and execution in their e-commerce efforts — maximising their presence on marketplaces and optimising their digital marketing campaigns.

We sat down with Michael Schwartz, one of our client strategy managers for digital marketing, to get some of his Amazon Advertising tips for the upcoming holiday season. (Read Part 1, on marketplaces best practices; and Part 2, on digital marketing best practices.)

Q: It’s October, what are the three most urgent things sellers should be doing right now before the peak season?

October is the true crunch time for peak success. Brands and retailers alike should be looking to get their last new efforts in place and lock in detailed plans several weeks before the mayhem starts. The festive season needs to be focused 100% on execution.

Normally I would say the following things should be completed by the end of October, but the late start to Black Friday this year gives us an extra week or two:

  1. Get any planned content updates in place NOW — especially for Vendors. Amazon is notoriously finicky, and you need to leave room to stamp out any unplanned fires. Keep a close eye on performance changes as you make updates, and revert any changes that aren’t showing positive impact.
  2. Finalise and launch any new campaign builds. It’s not just you that needs time and data to make smart optimisations — Amazon’s algorithms do too. You’ll want your campaigns to have the history to build up relevance on top terms and be ready to flip the switch on dynamic bidding for key product categories.
  3. Get a detailed weekly spending plan in place, possibly even daily over Cyber 5. Ensure that you’re driving enough awareness ahead of the sale, while not running out of budget on key dates, and that you have enough budget left over to stay relevant through Christmas.

Q: How should brands and retailers approach specific advertising “goals” for the holidays from an Amazon Advertising perspective?

One of the biggest things that I see business owners struggle with is setting goals that reflect their actual business objectives. Without a good set of goals, you can’t form a good plan to execute against.

Be sure to set specific, tangible goals based on your business objectives. Not “maximise sales while being efficient,” but rather, “achieve an X% increase in total revenue utilising £Y budget.”

When setting your goals, be sure to leverage at least two years worth of performance history so you can see the larger trends that you’ll be working with/against. Also consider that Amazon, as a whole, is growing 20-30% year over year depending on the category, and advertising spend on the platform is projected to grow over 50% in 2019.

Finally, plan to budget on a weekly level in a way that supports your goals. If you’re working with a limited budget or lackluster promotions, don’t spend the majority of your peak budget over the Cyber Weekend.

Q: What are some ways for sellers to boost visibility in a competitive category?

There are two main, tried-and-true ways to get visibility over peak without paying out the nose for it:

  • Manual, competitor product page targeting. This one is pretty simple. There’s more visible ad inventory available on product pages than on search, and that keeps costs down. Take your top-selling products and target relevant categories, segmented by competitor brands so you can bid on a brand level. This way, you’ll capture traffic for consumers who know what they want, but aren’t sure about your competitor.
  • Leverage deals/promotions to drive organic listing growth. Organic position is mainly determined by two things: recent sales history and content relevancy. So if your content is relevant (e.g., title, bullets, description, back-end keywords, in that order), driving an influx of sales over Cyber 5 is a surefire way to drive more organic reach from then until Christmas.

More sales happen between Cyber Weekend and Christmas than any other period over peak — and they happen without as many discounts. Leveraging deals to drive sales velocity over Cyber Weekend to drive ranking growth, and then using your ad spend to hold that position through your “last delivery date” is my #1 strategy for the festive season.

Q: What new advertising tools in Amazon Seller Central and Vendor Central (that weren’t available last holiday season) will make a big impact this year?

I think that the most useful new tool available to advertisers this peak season is going to be Dynamic Bidding. In case you are not familiar, here is a quick recap of the feature’s options:

  • Dynamic Down Only — This option (which is also the default setting) allows Amazon to dynamically lower your bids in real time for auctions where they don’t think the customer is close to making a purchase.
  • Dynamic Up & Down — This option allows Amazon to dynamically lower AND raise bids in real time based on how close they think the customer is to making a purchase.
  • Fixed Bids — This option turns off all dynamic bidding, and generally is not a recommended setting for use.

While I’ve found it best to use it selectively, Dynamic Up & Down is a powerful bidding option available to advertisers that are looking to maximise sales, and it’s a great fit for promotional periods like Cyber Weekend. Enable this feature on top campaigns — or those featuring deal products — to maximise visibility and sales without needing to alter your otherwise optimised bids.

Q: How important is it to reach customers in the days ahead of Cyber Weekend, and how should brands approach budget planning & execution?

As someone that pays a lot of attention to the peak holiday guides coming out from the major advertising channels, one thing that always sticks out to me is the contrast between where advertisers allocate their budgets, and where sales actually fall on the calendar. While the days of Cyber Weekend are each the individual highest revenue days of the season, they also carry a disproportionately high amount of overall spend.

There is a lot more opportunity in the days leading up to holiday than most brand stakeholders realise — and it’s not just direct revenue. Consumers are researching their purchases for Christmas, and getting in front of them early will keep you top of mind when they’re shopping over Cyber Weekend and the rest of the festive season. You can learn more about the buying journey on Amazon in this blog post.

By shifting some of your budget to earlier in the fourth quarter, you’ll drive more sales when others aren’t (which drives organic position growth), and you’ll create more awareness and consideration before your deals going live.

Leveraging both of these is key to strong performance.

Q: Any other best practices when it comes to reporting or leveraging your advertising results to enhance campaigns in the weeks ahead?

Keep in mind that the costs of bids — and, subsequently, costs per click (CPC) — will rise as we approach Cyber Weekend. You’ll need to keep up with those increases, so you’re not losing visibility. If you begin to see impressions, clicks or click through rates (CTRs) decline, then it may be a result of lost auctions or lower placement on the SERP. Be sure to keep this in mind as you navigate through the next several weeks.

Check out Part I of our Peak Season Q&A where we uncover why marketplaces are on top of everyone’s mind this season. And Part II focusing on maximising digital spend.