This is a guest post from Julie Hopkins, who is (like me) one of the new analysts at Gartner for Marketing Leaders.  Julie’s impressive background includes agency experience shaping digital marketing strategies for very notable national and global brands. 


Ahh, December…or as the old song calls it, “the most wonderful time of the year.” Of course, it’s also often the busiest, especially if you’re in digital marketing. Inevitably, despite careful planning and budgeting, the word goes out after Thanksgiving: there’s money to spend, and budgets need to be drained by the end of the year. Most likely, the dollars available were never meant for digital programs, but the timing of the request causes all eyes to turn to members of the digital team to come up with a plan. Why? Digital programs can often turn on a dime. Within fairly short order, media can be purchased…emails can be sent…offers can be extended…giveaways can be launched… all en route to increased awareness, store traffic, sales, or spiritual enlightenment (OK, maybe not the last one).

To a certain extent, digital marketers love the challenge. Executing a program under these circumstances is a little like living a real life version of the 1985 film, “Brewster’s Millions,” where the late Richard Pryor and John Candy attempt to spend $30M in 30 days as a contest to secure the grand prize: a $300M inheritance. Digital marketers can’t expect that type of windfall, but in December, they understand the parallel.

You have a very clear budget ceiling; you have a hard timeline; you often have more freedom in what you pursue than you probably did earlier in the year. The biggest challenge for digital marketers is to avoid the temptation to chase the shiny object that perhaps earlier in the year was out of reach….inaccessible…less favored…more risky . Instead, though you may be moving quickly, look at possible options to create meaning with short order campaigns.

December campaigns are often great “test and learn” opportunities. Thanks to looser expectations and more flexible stakeholders, edgier tactics that are likely to get cut from plans early in the year, if implementable in a timely fashion, suddenly have legs. In addition, tactics that can bear repeating, but perhaps can be varied (different offer, different call to action, different creative or placement), can yield great learnings as well. You don’t always need to try something out of left field – sometimes a close cousin of a proven tactic is your best option. Finally, never underestimate the value of investing in less seductive tactics at times like these – perhaps the connection to sales is less direct, they don’t feel as buzzworthy, or maybe they just doesn’t look as cool on your campaign wrap-ups – but they may yield valuable consumer insight or database growth, and this could be just the payoff you need.

By now the budget dollars, like the eggnog, have started to flow. The creativity is high, and eyes are wide with possibility. Some programs are likely already in flight, while others are being refined, as the days get shorter and deadlines loom. There’s still time, though, to make sure programs are designed or tracked in a way that you’ll get something other than a receipt for what you spend. It’s the gift that keeps on giving!