When can we mention the C word?

Whether you love it or hate it, Christmas is an integral part of commerce that can’t be avoided.

Picture of Theresa McLaughlin

Theresa McLaughlin

The best way to spread Christmas cheer is to sing loud for all to hear”,

 Buddy the Elf.

 

Whether you love it or hate it, Christmas is an integral part of commerce that can’t be avoided. With some companies generating an incredible 30% of their annual revenues during the period, it’s evident that festive strategy can make a big impact on your brand.

But just when should you start planning for it and more importantly, what should you be communicating? And where does Halloween come into the mix?

The short answer: no one has all the answers. But what we can look at what the trends are suggesting you can do, enabling you to make the most of your budget and stand out to consumers in a noisy marketplace.

So, here’s what we do know about Christmas (in a nutshell).

 

It’s on your customer’s minds…

Before consumers start shopping, they’ve already been thinking about Christmas for a while. eBay advertising insights suggest that August marks the beginning of Christmas shopping season. Searches for ‘Christmas’ in the DVD, films and TV category on eBay UK shot up by almost two thirds (63%) during the second week of August last year compared to the week before – proving it’s never too early to think about Christmas. Because your consumers are. Shoppers made two searches for ‘Christmas’ every second on eBay in August – four months before the day itself!

And consumers are starting their Christmas shopping well before the traditional shopping season, with 38% of people starting their shopping before November, jumping to 69.8% of people starting their shopping before the 1st of December! (http://www.rcs-uk.com/people-start-shopping-for-christmas/). So how do you get consumers thinking about your brand early in a highly saturated and competitive marketplace?

 

Your competitors are planning ahead.  

Every year, there’s a race between the big brands to see who’ll produce the most popular Christmas ad. Resultantly, UK advertisers spent an estimated £6.4bn on marketing in the run-up to Christmas in 2018 (an increase of 5% on 2017) and the most ever in the Christmas period according to statistics from the Advertising Association/Warc. And what concerns the Brexit result could have put a dampener on 2019 Christmas advertising budgets, on the face of it, the opposite seems to be the case with brands all keen to maximise their Christmas marketing spend this year.

But you don’t have to be a ‘big’ brand with an equally big budget to consider Christmas important. Christmas provides an opportunity for businesses in all sectors and the effects of a Christmas campaign extend far beyond the festive period. The success of a Christmas Marketing campaign can have both short-term and long-term effects in terms of showing an increase in sales and brand sentiment. The more popularity and buzz generated by an advert, the longer the impact it has on the brand. For example, John Lewis estimates that since 2012, its sales have increased by more than 35% thanks to the success of their Christmas advertising.

 

There’s serious value to doing it right.

Work by the Advertising association with Deloitte indicates that every £1 spent on advertising returns more than £6 to the UK economy. Additional studies have also shown each pound spent on advertising by an SME has eight times the effect on sales relative to its size than a large company (https://www.adassoc.org.uk/resource/advertisers-to-spend-6-4b-during-christmas-season/).

 

What should your approach be?

Christmas means a lot of things to a lot of people and brand activity needs to appeal to a multitude of audiences. The universal themes are what unite Christmas marketing activity; feel-good stories, spending time with loved ones and the act of giving all tend to resonate most strongly. This might mean adopting a more emotional approach to your campaigns at this time of year, to tap into the penchant for warmth and connectedness.

 

There’s no one size fits all approach.

With consumer confidence on the decline and shoppers becoming increasingly price-driven, its important marketing is tailored and points to how consumers are feeling. The challenge is to ensure your approach is fresh and unique, but it can be tempting to play it safe. Short-termism and risk aversion are perfectly natural, but in a highly competitive time of year, being brave and saying something a little different will make your brand stand out and generate buzz. We can take inspiration for this approach from John Lewis, who opted for an unusually unChristmassy festive blockbuster with Elton John in 2018, which still managed to retain all the emotional appeal and likeability we expect at Christmas.

 

Long term brand building or short-term sales activation?

It’s common to prioritise short term sales over long term brand building, particularly at Christmas time. But it's important to think of your brand’s identity and what consumers want to hear from you.  It’s not always a sales message. Sometimes a friendly brand communication that positions you in their minds is more effective than the loud and intrusive noise of a short-term sales drive. IPA research suggests the most effective ratio between short and long-term marketing is 40:60.

To decide what’s the best approach for your brand; consider your audience and objectives. In 2019, you’ll need to highlight your points of difference and address what consumers want to hear, whether that is price, quality or provenance. Use up to date insights and research to help understand evolving consumer behaviour and habits better, and review what’s working for your brand right now, considering how you could make the approach more holiday friendly.

As a results-focused agency, we place huge importance on clearly defined objectives at the start of campaign activity and the process of planning how best to achieve them. We set measurable goals and monitor attitudes and results throughout the campaign activity. Posthumously, we evaluate the performance to apply learnings to future campaigns.

 

Make your brand heard.

There will be a lot of voices in the market at this time of year, all vying for your audience’s business. As a result, your customer’s attention is limited, which means it takes something surprising or remarkable to stir action. Despite the temptation, don’t be too conservative. Creativity and effective multi-channel use will help your brand stand out!

 

When should you launch activity?

Traditionally the big brand Christmas ads hit TV in the first week of November, but every year we’re noticing brand activity cropping up earlier and earlier, with a local Christmas campaign launching just this week! But be careful of your timing; too early and you could antagonise consumers and face a backlash of negative sentiment.

On this note though, some brands are known for their Christmas offering and actively capitalise on it. London department store, Selfridges opened its Christmas shop a record 149 days before the event itself this year – two days earlier than last year! With a representative for the store commenting that they were ‘simply address the growing demand for convenience Christmas shopping outside the traditional Christmas season…including a large number of Christmas customers who love to Christmas shop very early in the year to get it wrapped and taken off their to-do list.’

 

What trends can we expect this year?

With Christmas less than 100 days away, retailers have already been ramping up their festive activities, with sales of chocolate boxes and gifts soaring by 65 per cent over the last four weeks (Irish News) http://www.irishnews.com/business/2019/09/24/news/shoppers-forego-big-shop-for-more-frequent-supermarket-visits-says-kantar-1720271/ .

In 2019, we’ll notice more differentiated and premium products made to order. Nestle has just launched made-to-order luxury KitKats for £14 a bar with 1,500 flavour combinations (versus a 41.5g four-fingered KitKat usually costs 65p!).  We’ll also see more brands offering customised gifts – named jars of Marmite, bottles of Shloer and tins of Quality Street have been a big Christmas hit in recent years.

And despite the economic uncertainty, other brands are confidently promoting their premium offering. Pernod Ricard is planning to spend nearly 70% more at Christmas this year promoting its premium brands including Campo Viejo, Jameson, Kahlua and Plymouth Gin than it did over the festive period in 2018 with more activity planned in mass media, PR and the on-trade. Despite the economic uncertainty suggesting that consumers are cutting back on spending, Pernod believes people are saving money by drinking more expensive alcohol at home, rather than making a trip to the pub where even the cheaper brands are more expensive.

We’ll also see an increased awareness from brands in environmental and societal issues in response to the trend for more ecological shopping behaviour. Searches for ‘reusable straws’ and ‘reusable coffee cup’ have soared over the past two years – highlighting the spend to be won by brands that adapt to societal trends.

The big brand ad race will continue but we’ll also see softer marketing initiatives focused on benefiting the consumer in response to the ever-changing politico-economic environment. For example, Morrisons have confirmed they will ditch their big Christmas TV ad spot for a second year, instead opting to spend its marketing money on staff and own-label goods, even at the expense of reach.

 

Whatever you do, just remember…

A one size fits all approach to marketing during this time will ultimately be ineffective. You’ll need to tailor your approach according to your consumer’s behaviour, whether that’s by kicking things off early to cater for Autumn searches or running a long campaign to target last-minute shoppers. By placing value on research, putting the consumer at the heart of your approach and not being afraid to stand out, you’ll reap the rewards of the festive period for your brand.

 

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