Christmas in July: six things marketers should do now to prepare for the holidays

With temperatures rising and summertime in full swing, it’s hard to think about the upcoming winter holidays. Christmas comes early for marketers, however, and identifying a strategy now for what is the most impactful shopping season of the year can be the difference between success and disappointment.

In January, the NRF reported that holiday 2012 retail sales increased 3%t to $579.8bn.

Clearly, the holidays are a huge opportunity for brands to increase sales, but if you don’t plan accordingly, the holiday quarter can make or break a successful year.

So this holiday season, make your list in advance and check it twice. We’ve identified six considerations to help marketers across a variety of industries prepare for Black Friday, Cyber Monday and the whirlwind of the holidays.

1. Establish the relationship early

During the holidays, consumers are inundated with marketing promotions and sales. It’s extremely difficult to cut through that noise, so don’t wait until November to engage with consumers and create brand advocates.

Start building and refining your CRM database now. Find out when emails are more likely to be opened by your customers, or what mobile coupons are most redeemed, and adapt your message strategy accordingly.

Using data from surveys and polls uncovers consumer habits, interests and budgets that can be applied for the upcoming season.

Last summer, Michael’s launched a campaign to generate holiday buzz in July. The program, “Make Your Joy,” targeted holiday enthusiasts and crafters who make many of their gifts, allowing them to create, manage and sync holiday to-do lists.

Michael’s began to build a relationship with consumers ahead of the holidays by rewarding them for interacting with brand content via a dedicated microsite and mobile optimized site.

This is a strong example of starting with key insights on your target market, engaging those consumers early on, and driving results for the holiday season.

2. Ask yourself how you can be different

Even after cultivating an early relationship with your customers, the blitz of holiday campaigns in November and December can make it a challenge to remain top of mind. Think about the unique marketing campaigns your brand can offer and identify strategic ways to activate customers during the holiday rush.

How can you differentiate? Moving away from a traditional Christmas or Hanukkah marketing campaign, and playing off a different timely element, can help you stand out. Take, for example, the Xbox Live Rewards End of the Year Apocalypse campaign in 2012.

Instead of the usual Christmas-themed promotion, Xbox used the end of the world rumblings to create “Shop, until the world drops,” offering games and redeemable points for purchases made up until the purported apocalypse on December 21 – an interesting twist that was definitely buzz-worthy.

3. Solve shoppers’ problems

While holiday shopping can be fun, it can also be incredibly stressful to consumers: long lists, long lines, and parking lot nightmares.

Help consumers overcome these challenges by positioning your holiday marketing around alleviating shopping stress and simplifying lists. Integrating a shopping guide or interactive map on your microsite or mobile app is a great way to do this.

Don’t think about pushing product; it’s about solving shopper needs. Last year, Kirkland’s launched a multi-channel social loyalty program, “Home for the Holidays,” offering consumers a virtual living room accessible on the web and mobile.

The campaign offered consumers games, sweepstakes, and the ability to try decorations on a virtual Christmas tree before making their Kirkland’s purchases online.

4. Use tried and true promotions

Some types of campaigns fare better during the holidays. Try using contests to grab the attention of consumers, and tailor subsequent offers to the consumer based on the information they share during registration.

Combining sweepstakes and promotional offers at various intervals can catch consumers’ attention, keep things interesting, and personalize your offers based on their interests. Use your social channels to spread your campaign among your consumers’ communities.

Walgreen’s ‘Re-Gift Holiday Instant Win’ proved to be a highly sharable campaign last year. Consumers could pick one present (various instant win gift card prizes) from under a Christmas tree and choose to either open the present, or re-gift it to a friend.

They could open one present per day, and come back to re-gift to friends up to 10 times per day. The promotion became very popular by leveraging a social campaign that both increased engagement online but also got consumers into the store.

Saks Fifth Avenue is another brand that ran a holiday promotional campaign with strong engagement and viral buzz last season. The contest took advantage of Pinterest, a popular social channel among Saks customers, and used user-generated content to spread its message.

Consumers registered for the promotion through Facebook and were prompted to pin the Saks Fifth Avenue Gift List image to a Pinterest board, as well as six additional images of products from saks.com.

5. Make it fresh

Taking a phased marketing approach with your campaign is especially key leading up to the holidays in order to keep your messages fresh and reduce the likelihood of consumers tuning you out. Yes, the time period right up until the holidays is a sprint, but the months leading up to that are a marathon.

If you push the same message during that marathon, you lose relevancy. Differentiate your brand by using distinct stages of messaging and various promotions or giveaways.

Tier your promotions to follow a consumer’s purchase process, from awareness and general familiarity of a product, to the final sale. Use your messaging to tell an evolving story from start to finish, from the discovery of the perfect holiday gift to the urgency of getting the last product on the shelf.

Recognizing that holiday needs change in the weeks and months leading up to the big day, Old Navy’s ‘Wish It Win It’ promotion rewarded consumers for creating and updating gift wish-lists that featured Old Navy products.

To participate, consumers registered online and were asked to create a holiday shopping wish list, which they could instantly win. In addition, every time the consumer updated or added to their wish lists, they earned additional entries for a chance to win.

6. Keep it Simple

There are just as many marketing strategies to avoid as there are tips to leverage. First and most importantly, the holidays are not the time to market a complicated promotion. Everyone is moving so quickly during this time of year, and consumers participate in promotions that are easy and fast.

This holds true for messaging as well. Think of stronger, less confusing messages. During the holidays, brands are all competing for consumers’ time; quick hits and strong calls to action will help set your brand apart.

Begin reinventing the holidays now

The key to creating a dynamic and successful holiday marketing campaign is to get started early, plan ahead, and be concise. If you’re too self promotional, there’s a chance you’ll get lost in the holiday clutter.

Don’t push the next big product, but rather reinvent what the holidays look like for your customers. So, even though temperatures outside might be nearing triple digits, it’s time to get in the festive spirit and begin strategizing your plan for this year’s holiday shopping season.

 

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Christmas in July: six things marketers should do now to prepare for the holidays

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