Brand Strategy

A Brand is For Life, Not Just For Christmas

Amidst the hustle and bustle of getting ready for Christmas, the parties and the present buying, it can be easy to overlook the commercial opportunities which the festive season presents to your business and brand, regardless of size.

That would be a mistake. Christmas is an important marketing and revenue-generating season. For some brands, it is the crucial part of their year in terms of sales so getting brand cut-through at Christmas can be critical for business success. But that can be challenging because the Christmas marketplace is so crowded and noisy with so many different brands competing for attention. To be successful it’s essential to find a way to stand out and be heard in such a busy environment.

A lot of businesses fall into the trap of doing that in ways which are not consistent with their longer-term brand strategy so they undermine themselves and consequently reduce the long tail effectiveness of their marketing activity. It is possible to use Christmas brand communication in a way which is fully congruent with your brand positioning and helps to build your brand long term.

In this article, we’ll share some proven techniques to help ensure that the marketing campaigns you invest in, in the lead up to, and around Christmas have the right impact for your brand in the longer term.

Brand Strategy

Stay True to Your Brand Positioning to Stand Out

McElhinneys Department Store links Christmas time pressure to the value of family year-round in their Christmas campaign. They do this very effectively by tying into core elements of their brand positioning, including family values and the concept of having everything under one roof so the commercial ties in with their brand position rather than damaging it.

Related: Family Business Branding and The Secret Drivers to Brand Success

Brand Tone of Voice Matters More Than Ever

The tone of voice a brand adopts is always important because it helps to set expectations with customers about everything from differentiation to positioning and pricing. Many brands invest considerable lot effort into fine-tuning their brand’s tone of voice.

Related: How to Develop Your Brand Tone of Voice to Increase Sales

What’s surprising is how many brands sacrifice their normal brand tone of voice at Christmas in the hope they’ll increase sales by following the herd. They typically replace it with one which is off-brand because they perceive it to be more Christmassy in feel.

This weakens the brand equity long term and, worse still confuses customers about what the brand stands for because its differentiation factors are diminished, if not entirely lost.

By contrast, a consistent tone of voice builds brand loyalty because it reaffirms what makes that brand special and supports your ongoing brand building strategy. A strongly amplified authentic brand tone of voice can also create a talking point at Christmas because, done powerfully, it stands out in the crowded media landscape.

Related: How to Use Brand Positioning to Build Brand Impact in an Overcrowded Market

Recently, Iceland’s Christmas advert was banned. An example of socially conscious branding, it focused on animal welfare, using the example of an orangutan whose habitat is destroyed partly to provide ingredients for shampoo and other consumer products. It was banned because it was perceived to breach rules on political advertising.

Contrary to statutory body intentions, the very act of banning the avert kept it in the news, and had all the social platforms buzzing, not to mention trending on the topic, without Iceland having to pay a cent for the publicity.

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Christmas Has a Unique Role to Play in Brand Adoption

What’s your favourite Christmas gift ever received? As Stephen Bayley observed in a recent Financial Times article, the perfect gift is typically something which the recipient likes but would never buy for themselves, for example, because they are not aware of it or its price is out of their perceived price range.[1]

Related: Increase Sales Using Buyer Personas, Your Guide to Understanding and Targeting Your Ideal Customers

That hits a crucial point about the opportunity which Christmas marketing can present to smartly run brands because all brands have a customer lifecycle. An early part of that is trial and then adoption but it can be hard to find suitable moments at which trial is compelling enough to target customers, especially if they have doubts about the value proposition of a brand.

Christmas presents an opportunity to break through this barrier. As Bayley suggests, gifting opportunities enable trial through targeting more open-minded gift-givers as gatekeepers.

A brand which may not find good opportunities at other times of year to create the right circumstances for trialing amongst some of its purchaser personas can use the Christmas gifting market as a perfect entry point.

Brand Strategy

Image via Morrisson’s

An interesting example from Christmas 2018 is Morrison’s range of alcohol advent calendars, offering a choice of 24 brands of gin etc. A perfect opportunity for trying something new without the bigger perceived commitment.

Are you a business leader, manager or entrepreneur who wants to re-evaluate or build your brand strategy so you can effectively leverage trends, seasonal occasions or events to increase your sales? Are you curious about how to build or scale a highly successful standout brand? Join one of our branding workshops because they empower you to build your brand, enhance customer experience, expand your market impact and create higher perceived value so you can command a premium.

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Brand Strategy

Boots, a UK chemist or pharmacy store brand, often has gifts curated by recipient archetype even at a simple level e.g. “him” or “her”, sometimes at a more sophisticated level. This is evidenced in their Christmas adverts.

Brand Strategy

By making gift giving easier for friends and relatives, it is enabling them to encourage trial amongst gift recipients in line with what Boots perceives those people would want, but may not buy themselves. The advert’s focus on a mother who is not as good at doing her makeup as she would like to be, so her daughter buys products which help her.

Brand Strategy

A Good Christmas Brand Campaign is an Ongoing Talking Point

A lot of Christmas marketing ties into seasonal tropes from Santa Claus to family togetherness. Although these may connect to a given brand positioning, they are not always campaignable outside the Christmas period. This goes against the principle of building a strong brand, because it requires a brand to be building a positioning consistently without deviation or causing primary customer confusion.

Related: Boring Brand? How To Create a Unique Brand and Market Positioning

At a minimum, in your Christmas marketing, you ought to create a buzz which helps customers understand and perhaps articulate for themselves your brand values. Some brands make their campaigns so compelling they create long lasting buzz.

Related: 7 Universal Branding Lessons From Christmas Adverts

An example, which is much talked about in the UK, is the department store chain John Lewis. Their Christmas advert is a national talking point in itself.[2]

For business to business marketing, this can be seen at a more simple level with the investment in high-quality entertainment around Christmas time for clients which forms a conversation point in the following year.

Christmas Can be a Brand Narrative Hook Point for Brands with Challenging Messages

It is easy to see why some brands do well at Christmas, with an appealing, cosy brand positioning which ties in to uplifting themes of family togetherness connected to the Christmas story.

But some brands have a positioning which makes it difficult for them to find a natural entry point at any time for discussion with target users or stakeholders such as donors.

A good example is charities whose socially conscious work is on topics which are taboo or uncomfortable for many people to discuss unless forced to by circumstance. Christmas can be a good pretext on which to launch such a discussion.

Related: Social Responsibility, How to Build a Socially Conscious Brand

A powerful example is provided by Alzheimer’s Research UK’s “Santa Forgot Christmas” campaign. Alzheimer’s is a difficult topic many people prefer not to think about, even more so when it’s close to home. Christmas is a time of reflection and charity, so is a good opportunity to broach Alzheimer’s and charitable giving for it.

Brands Whose Values aren’t Especially Relevant Shouldn’t Try to Compete at Christmas

Christmas is a crowded time so it is difficult to get consumer attention and spend. Brands whose brand personalities have a natural fit will be more impactful, for example, because they are around gifting, seasonally relevant or have a message tied to Christmas.

Related: 5 Remarkably Heartfelt Brand Personalities Winning Buyers at Christmas

But what if your brand does not have an obvious or relatable connection to Christmas? Other brands with less connection will struggle. Rather than trying to force a connection, it makes sense to step out of the fray so that the message is not lost in the noise and focus marketing activity on times of year when there is more relevance or at least less noise. This covers a plethora of businesses, from suntan lotions to tax accountants.

For some such businesses, it is simply that there is no connection between what they want to stand for and Christmas. For others, the Christmas season is well out of their core selling season so would be an inefficient time to invest in heavy brand communication.

This is true for brands based in the northern hemisphere, in relation to long summer days for products such as suntan lotion and refreshing drinks, for educational brands targeting fixed decision dates by students, by theme parks which do not sell tickets far in advance and by many home and gardening brands whose busiest season links to calendar dates when the garden is getting planted. The opposite effect is evidenced by brands in the southern hemisphere immersed in their spring/summer months during November through to January.

An interesting case study example is brands related to slimming programmes because typically, they ignore the Christmas period. However, they invest a lot of their annual marketing on the immediate post-Christmas period.

Come January 1st, overnight, their message of non-indulgence goes from being less appealing before Christmas when people want to feast without guilt, to being bang on target after Christmas excess when the wrapping paper is thrown away and people start to reflect on whether the past few days of gluttony and overindulgence needs a remedy.

Brand Strategy

Image via KFC

A playful example is KFC, championing chicken year round over the seasonal preference of turkey. Their Christmas commercial is playful but does it make a useful message or is it simply getting lost in the Christmas noise?

Some brands also use the simplicity of Christmas card or gift giving as a good opportunity to show their relevance. B2B marketing often involves sending token gifts to clients at Christmas, or at least a Christmas card.

Related: Use Psychology in Your Brand Strategy to Create Irresistible Brand Experiences and Increase Sales

This can be simple and cost-effective, but provides ongoing visibility for the business. That is especially true where, for example, a gift like a calendar or a diary is customized to include seasonally relevant points about the business on its pages over the coming year, such as order cut off dates or dates of a big event it is organizing.

Don’t Train Customers to Shop for Your Brand on Deals

Looking at the media in the run-up to Christmas, one can hardly fail to notice how many deals are on offer. Supermarkets are the most obvious example, but many businesses make a big point in their communication of detailing their price promotions.

Discounting around Christmas can make sense, especially as cash strapped customers, post-Christmas, start to think about the coming year. This is a popular tactic for some brands, particularly amongst furniture retailers and Summer holiday providers.

Related: 4 Myths About Branding That Will Forever Change Your Marketing Mindset

The fact is, price discounting and building a strong brand rarely fit together comfortably unless that’s a core part of your brand positioning e.g. discount airlines like Ryanair. Indeed, one of the main reasons to invest in building a well-thought-out, strong brand strategy is that it makes the brand less price sensitive because customers buy into what it stands for instead of just buying it because it is cheap.

Related: Profitable Lessons from Luxury Brand Leaders, Brand Positioning for Premium Pricing

So, discounting at Christmas, like any other time of the year, undermines the standard price proposition and positioning of the brand. Worse still, doing it regularly also trains customers not to shop at the normal price, because they expect heavy discounting at a fixed time of year and these purchases are not urgent time-sensitive ones.

Related: Why Do I Need A Brand? I’ve Got A Great Product and a Logo

That explains why furniture chain closures, such as the World of Furniture chain in Northern Ireland, often take place shortly after Christmas.

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Final Word

Christmas can be an expensive and unproductive marketing opportunity or one which helps you communicate your brand message clearly and powerfully. The key question is how relevant is the festival season to your brand values and positioning?

Your brand tone of voice needs to be consistent with what you normally do. It’s an opportunity to emphasise what makes your brand attractive and build loyalty, rather than to encourage less profitable deal shopping.

Christmas is not right for all brands, but for many, it’s a valuable opportunity to achieve trial usage with target customers. If your brand strategy is clear and well developed, it will be obvious what the Christmas opportunity is for your business and how best to utilize it.

Questions to Consider

  1. How clear are you about your brand strategy and its tone of voice? How would you describe your brand and its tone of voice?
  2. What is your current brand strategy in relation to achieving trial usage or purchase amongst your ideal target customers?
  3. Do any of your brand communications create a talking point strong enough to compel people to spontaneously share?
  4. What, if any, is the connection between your brand message and the elements of Christmas?
  5. What could you do to strengthen your brand equity and make customers focus less on price?
  6. Do you need to give your brand a brand audit health check so you can make more informed decisions?

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