2021 Holiday Marketing Trends for Non-Retail Businesses

November 11, 2021

For retail or e-commerce businesses, the holiday season is often the most significant time of the year, accounting for 19% or more of annual revenue. Deloitte’s annual holiday retail survey finds that holiday spending will be up 5% in 2021 compared to 2020, despite rising inflation, higher prices for goods, and supply chain and shipping delays.

But what will this holiday season look like if you’re not in retail? 

Businesses in other verticals often see a decrease in conversions and conversion rates in late November and December because the decision-makers usually take long periods off work during the holidays while companies prepare for the new year.

To prepare for the upcoming season, it’s important to plan your Q4 marketing strategy carefully. To combat any dips in your goals, look for these trends and embrace the unique opportunities available to your business during the holidays.

Holiday Season 2021 Search Trends

While the actual holiday dates see a dip in search volume, the days surrounding the holidays prove otherwise. Around the holidays, when folks are off work or home from school, they have ample time for searching. Maybe you’re catching up on the news, planning a vacation, or searching for school programs to apply to. Regardless of customer personas, the precious moments surrounding the holiday season offer a moment of “me time” and productivity for potential consumers.

Many businesses not in the retail or holiday verticals tend to see more solid Google Search performance in early November and December. December is also when most companies begin planning for the new fiscal year. We see another increase in search volume once the holidays have passed and people return to their normal daily routines. For many non-retail businesses, the last week of December and the entire month of January can have the largest search volume of the year. 

More B2B businesses have embraced digital marketing strategies and shifted away from traditional marketing methods in 2020, investing in social media, virtual events, and other platforms to reach new customers. This shift away from conventional methods caused a substantial increase in B2B digital marketing spending in 2020 and 2021. 

Some B2B businesses pause their digital marketing campaigns over November and December, expecting sales to be low, but leads picked up in the year's final months can lead to a rise in new year sales. Search campaigns can get away with spending a little less because there is that lower search volume over the holidays, but it’s still worth investing in those campaigns to appear at the top of the search results for those still searching for your products or services. 

Display and Social Media Trends

Display and social media campaigns are unique because you are bidding on audiences and not specific keywords or searches. Therefore, there will be more competition in the weeks leading up to Black Friday and Christmas.

Retail and e-commerce companies spend most of their advertising budgets from about November 10 to December 20. This pushes up prices for everyone - cost per click tends to increase on both display and social media platforms during this time. 

Consumers tend to focus more on the holiday season during this time and click-through rates on non-holiday ads will often decrease, along with conversion rates. However, it is still important to have a presence online for your core customers if they are still interested in your products. 

We often recommend that our clients decrease their display and social media advertising budgets in November and December, focusing on their most reliable audiences around the holidays.

Similar to search, the weeks after Christmas and the New Year’s offer great windows to increase spending and generate new display and social media campaigns as businesses and consumers focus on the year ahead. During November and December, consider crafting new campaigns for January and perform small budget testing before launching those campaigns on a larger scale. 

Remember: cost per click decreases dramatically starting the week of Christmas as it’s too late to ship gifts and receive them by the holiday. This opens an excellent opportunity for businesses to reach their audience at a low cost. In 2021, with shipping delays looming, the cutoff for shipping gifts in time for Christmas is likely to be earlier than other years.

The most expensive week to advertise on Facebook is during Thanksgiving and Black Friday. The cheapest time is from December 21 to January 4.

In 2020, the most expensive week of the year to advertise on Facebook was the week of Thanksgiving and Black Friday, followed by the second week of December before the shipping cutoff. The cheapest times were from December 21 to January 4.

Holiday Marketing Strategies

The holiday season can make or break your company, so it’s important to plan your marketing strategy based on your specific type of business.  Commit to setting yourself apart from the competition. For example:

  • Use custom-designed photos, animations, illustrations, and videos in your ads instead of stock photos. 
  • Use color and animation to add some “pop” to your ads. 
  • Make sure that you are including your company’s unique value propositions - what sets you apart from your competitors - in your ad copy, along with promotions. 
  • Plan for more competition and costs and maximize your revenue by taking advantage of higher conversion rates during the holidays. 

Holiday Marketing Strategies for Business to Business (B2B) Companies

The best B2B strategies usually decrease spending during the holiday season, especially on display ads and social media. Search campaigns should not rise in cost and should still be very relevant to your goals. Consider keeping your search campaigns running in November and December. However, you should promptly address any leads generated, so you will need to have some sales support during this time of year if you continue to run ads.

Search volume will likely decrease, so less budget may be needed to maintain the same search impression share. Be mindful of how, during this time, search volume, and possibly competition, may decrease, which could influence your lead volume and cost per lead. 

You will want to optimize your remaining display and social media advertising to focus on your best audiences, like remarketing to other audiences that traditionally perform well at other times of the year.

Consider testing new strategies or campaigns at a low budget, keeping in mind that the last week of the year and the month of January are your biggest opportunities for reaching out to new clients. 

You want to be ready to ramp up ad spending and launch new campaigns following the holiday season.

Google Trends shows a decrease in searches at the end of November through December and then a rise in interest through January for “business services” searches in the United States.

Google Trends shows a decrease in searches at the end of November through December and then a rise in interest through January for “business services” searches in the United States. 

Holiday Marketing Strategies for Educational Companies

Educational companies can also observe decreases in search volume around the holidays, although the impact is not as large as with B2B companies. Potential students are searching for new education programs in November and December, given that the largest application period for the U.S. is in the spring. 

Scholarships and early admissions programs sometimes require applying from November to January, so students are starting their research. However, even students are distracted by holiday celebrations and shopping.

At this point in their journey, students are just starting to research schools and programs. This is not a time of year that education programs see too many applications. However, they may see a rise in people visiting their site, requesting information, or signing up for newsletters. For this reason, it’s important to have an online presence over the holidays, even with the rising costs for display and social media.

Takeaway: Schools need to make sure they spend on advertising over the holiday period. Potential students are out of school and have more time to be online and consider their future. But schools also need to focus on making their ads stand out from the other holiday retail ads and provide valuable information to searchers.

You may want to consider having:

  • An e-mail sign-up on your website to allow you to reach out to potential students.
  • Remarketing tags so you can show your ads later in the spring to people researching your school now.
  • A landing page with all the important info consumers need to know about your different programs, accreditations, awards, cost, and what sets you apart from your competitors (degrees, locations, admission/application requirements).
  • Ad copy and CTA (call to action) say “Learn more” instead of “Fill out an application today.”

Google Trends shows a decrease in educational interest around the holidays but high interest in early November, between Thanksgiving and Christmas, and then into January.

Google Trends shows a decrease in educational interest around the holidays but high interest in early November, between Thanksgiving and Christmas, and then into January.

Holiday Marketing Strategies for Nonprofit Organizations

For nonprofits, the end of the calendar year is the best time to get donations. People are reviewing their tax status and want to make deductions before the end of the tax year. Nonprofits should consider reaching out to their regular donors, as well as anyone searching to donate on search engines or interested in donating on social media or display.

Facebook offers a "Donate Now" button and allows people to run fundraisers on their pages for nonprofits that have been approved. Nonprofits that use Facebook’s payment platform to process donations also pay no fee to Facebook. Nonprofit organizations may want to encourage donations at the end of the year when people are feeling generous from the holiday spirit.

Nonprofit organizations should host events or other campaigns during the holiday season to gain volunteers. This may include food drives, clothing drives, gifts for the less fortunate, or religious services.

Keep in mind that social media and display costs will be higher during this time, and there will be competition from other nonprofits. Your focus should be on setting your nonprofit apart from everything else on social media around the holidays and illustrating your cause creatively.

If your nonprofit is a research or professionally-focused organization, the holiday season may be less critical to your company. The focus should be on the new year, similar to B2B companies if this is the case. 

Google Trends shows a spike in donation searches after Thanksgiving and throughout December and January.

Google Trends shows a spike in donation searches after Thanksgiving and throughout December and January.

Know Your Audience

The strongest holiday strategy is to understand both your audience and the trends for the season. Here are some questions that might help illuminate your audience and trends:

  • Who is your best consumer? 
  • Who are you trying to reach with your advertising? 
  • What do they do over the holiday season? 

The best way to study this is to ask actual customers or look at your company’s historical data during the holiday season. What campaigns did you run last year on which platforms? How did they perform? Did some platforms or audiences perform better than others?

There are also great tools online for researching trends. Google Trends lets you input specific keywords or topics and will break down trends over the past year, five years, or even as far back as 2004. 

You’ll be able to see which states or countries had the highest, lowest, or rising interests in those terms and related topics and queries with their trends. This is a great way to see holiday search volume and what types of keyword or location targets may do best.

And finally, partner with your marketing agency or experts. They will have the experience and knowledge base of similar clients and businesses that can guide your strategy during this time.

Final Takeaways

With the rollercoaster of market conditions during 2020 and 2021 due to the Covid-19 pandemic, it is more important than ever for companies to have a strategic approach to digital marketing opportunities during the holiday season. 

November and December can be challenging months for non-retail businesses to advertise due to the heavy volume of shopping ads and rising costs on ad platforms. However, there is still an opportunity to connect with new customers. 

The most important thing you can do is understand your customers and the trends in your industry. Then you can focus on making your ads stand out from the crowd and provide valuable information for searchers.

 

An expert digital marketing agency can help you craft a successful strategy through the holidays and into the new year. Contact the team at Perfect Search for a comprehensive site and strategy audit.

Senior Manager, Search & Social Strategy
Emily Lutz is from Kalispell, Montana and has been camping more times than she can count. She geeks out over musicals and the TV show Firefly (yes, she's on some chat sites). Before joining Perfect Search, Emily was a zookeeper for ten years.

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