How many times have you heard the word “unprecedented” in the last six months? I think it became a cliche sometime between Marchtober and Maypril. The thing is, cliches generally become cliches because they’re true.
Ok, here’s where I tie the above back into marketing: Q2 marketing dollars were nonexistent. Q3 marketing dollars recovered. Q4 is barrelling down on us – and it will, as most things these days, be unprecedented. Now that we’ve gotten that word out of the way, I want to back it up with some concretes. Let’s dive in.
The Word on the Street
I’ve written at length here about the transformation that has happened in online behavior. The TL;DR is this: Even with a lion’s share of marketing budgets frozen in Q2, consumer spend on eCommerce was larger than it was in Q4 of 2019. Let that sink in. Q4 is literally money time in online marketing. Black Friday, Christmas, and excess yearly budgets waiting to be spent. With all of that, Q2 – with very little help from advertising dollars – surpassed it. If there were an appropriate use of the word “unprecedented,” this is it.
Let’s take this year in context. Budgets set aside for Q2 went largely unspent. Some of those budgets rolled into Q3. July and August are generally considered slow months in the world of online advertising, where spend typically goes off a cliff in July and then ramps back up in September. This year, though numbers were generally lower, spend didn’t drop. It’s been on a growth trajectory.
We’re expecting to see even more growth in September. But everything that we’re hearing from our customers indicates that this is only the tip of the iceberg. Marketing budgets from Q2, on the whole, haven’t disappeared completely. They’ve been rolled over. Partially into Q3, but mostly into Q4. All indications are that Q4 will be massive. Ad spend will be – you guessed it – unprecedented. But that’s not the only thing to keep in mind when looking at Q4. Let me lay out the landscape for you.
Let’s start with some things we can establish from the get-go. Q4 is always incredibly competitive. Marketers compete for consumer attention and dollars aggressively, driving up prices significantly month over month, hitting a crescendo at the end of November. Black Friday, Cyber Monday, and the overall holiday season are usually the culprits. This year will likely be no different. Only there’s one more factor gumming up the works.
Not sure if you’ve noticed, but there’s an election happening on November 3rd in the US. Hundreds of millions of dollars are expected to be spent by both presidential campaigns, not to mention Congress and the Senate. There’s going to be hand-to-hand combat in the fight for attention. Swing states like Wisconsin and Florida are probably going to get the worst of it, but no state will be left in the lurch. With that in mind, we’re expecting the CPCs to spike early this year.
But all is not lost. With the right campaign strategies, you can still get ahead and get good mileage out of your ad dollars.
Strategies to Get Ahead
First thing’s first: there is a tried and true method to win the fight for attention in Q4, and that’s by starting to test and identify the audiences and messaging that works early. Considering the bigger competitive landscape expected in October, there’s no time to lose. You need to start testing now. See what creatives connect with high-converting audiences. Start building audiences now so you have a broad sample for lookalikes later. Not sure about your page format? Test it now. Not sure about ideal price points? Test those now. There is no time to lose.
Of course, the increased competition in October isn’t a reason to hold back or give up. The good thing about digital political campaigns is that they’re predictable. Political advertising in the home stretch is all about top-of-the-funnel. They’re looking for video views. Link clicks. Impressions. Likes. Shares. So competing for those audiences is what will inevitably drive prices.
Optimizing for lower-funnel actions like adding to cart, subscribing, and purchase won’t be as competitive, so there’s still room for flexibility. This means that if you build your campaigns to optimize for lower-funnel goals, you won’t be hit as hard by the expected price spike in October.
All told, it’s going to be an interesting – actually truly unprecedented – Q4 this year. But that doesn’t mean you’ll get lost in the shuffle. Start early to gain an edge and scale, so that when November rolls you’re in peak fighting condition.