Every year, as we enter the months ending with “ber”, people start to tease. Around the middle of October, memes start popping up on my Facebook wall. “40 sleeps until Christmas!” “I Christmas harder than you!”
My friends mean well, really. But they don’t respect the natural order of the universe. People call me a Grinch, but truly I’m not. It’s just that with all the great things going on as the year winds to a close, I like to enjoy them all, without rushing ahead.
I want to watch the leaves turn. I want to look forward to “falling back” for Daylight Savings Time. I want to brainstorm my Halloween outfit at the last minute, and I want to plan my Thanksgiving menu to the soundtrack of something OTHER than carols.
What I want, most of all, is a small space to carve out a birthday celebration on December 22, but in the mighty shadow of Kris Kringle, that’s a battle I’ve lost more than I’ve won.
At management meetings during my corporate life, I was often the lone holdout in the face of overwhelming pressure to roll out our Christmas campaign. I never wanted to do anything red, white, or green until mid-December.
One year, during my time as chief marketing cook and bottle washer at a small chain of retail stores, I got my wish. I planned the whole quarter’s worth of marketing campaigns, and didn’t even mention Christmas until the 2nd week of December.
Know what happened?
We saw more traffic in-store, we saw more activity on our social media channels. People even inboxed us to express their appreciation. Why? Because we were the only place they could go that didn’t make them experience holiday overload.
Décor in the stores was subtle, minimal. No plastic skeletons dangling from the rafters, no huge grinning pumpkins anywhere to be seen. Always looking for a way to be different, we took the opportunity to stand apart from the crowd.
This seemingly strange decision really cuts to the core of marketing, I think. Eyeballs equal dollars. How better to grab those coveted eyeballs than by being the girl at the prom dressed in (epic) skinny jeans and a (couture) t-shirt?
Now, don’t get me wrong. I am NOT saying that marketers and small businesses need to ignore the season completely. Not at all, that would be completely counterproductive. The holidays are well established (for good reason) as a major spending event for all customer bases; a business would be mad not to take advantage of the greater propensity to spend this time of year. And in fact, if your customers are the type to go all in on the sturm and drang of the seasons, then by all means go big – don’t let me stop you!
What I am saying, however, is that a somewhat counter-intuitive approach might be the way to maximize that propensity.
Consider reality. Aren’t you jaded by the incessantly cheery/nostalgic/cozy tone some big brands adopt? Doesn’t a lot of it ring false to you? Do you ever feel forced to keep up? To drink seasonally appropriate drinks and sing seasonally appropriate songs and wear the requisite colors and nubbly fabrics? Do the mall stores make you feel festive or restive with the aggressive snowflake stickers on their windows?
Keeping customers excited about spending money during the holiday season without overwhelming them with a blaring Holiday Message might seem tricky. However, it is really quite simple; find a real connection between your customers and the holiday. Draw them in gently instead of bashing them over the head. Give them a feeling that doesn’t rely on trite symbols and tired verbiage.
“But how, HOW?” I hear you asking. It does take a little bit of thought. You’ll have to decide for yourself and your business what’s at the core of your interaction with your customers. This is where the First Commandment of marketing comes in: Know Thy Customer. Is your market Jonathan the 20-something adventurous spirit, or Korrine the glam gourmand? Each of these personas needs a different approach.
My friend, the co-owner of a successful little yachting and marine services business, knows her customer. Sailors are no-frills type of people, they only want useful information and they don’t have that much time to check emails, since they’re constantly out on the water. So on November 1, she sent a beautiful e-card with just three lines of text. She thanked the reader for their business during the year and extended her warm wishes for the upcoming season. She signed off with the owners’ first names. And that’s it – her holiday marketing is totally finished, except for maybe another card in the first week of the New Year.
She knows that was all she needed to do to accomplish her business goals: acknowledge the season, engender a warm feeling, maintain brand awareness, and reinforce her brand message. And – it worked. A couple days later her mailing list started buzzing with activity: Personal responses thanking her for the card, inquiries about her and her partner’s well-being, and most importantly, service bookings and product enquiries from people who just needed that little nudge, to move all the ideas and plans in their head into the action phase.
There’s no need to give in to the frenzy of the season. You know that Korrine will need to plan her haircuts and other beauty services, in order to look her best least-harried self while carving the cranberry duck she roasted for the Thanksgiving dinner party. She’ll also need a foot massage and a pedi on December 26th, after those marathon cooking sessions.
How do you bring her through the door of your business? Should you batter her sensibilities with Jingle Bells, or hone in on her needs with a quiet but powerful message?
I know this might be a touchy subject! What do you think; am I just being a humbug, or are you also over the holiday hype? What is your business approach this season?