Marketing the Holiday Season

The holiday season is upon us and you know what that means? Marketing efforts are at an all-time high as we near the end of the calendar year. Every year beginning with Halloween, product-driven campaigns permeate radio, television, print, and more recently, social media. Consumers happily – depending on who you ask – spend money on family, friends, and coworkers in the spirit of the season. While this is an annual occurrence, each year brings about a new set of challenges for business owners and entrepreneurs. So, what surprises lay ahead for you this holiday season, and how can you overcome them?


Rooted in folklore, U.S. History, and Christianity, end-of-the-year events have evolved into consumer-based holidays. From corporations to mom-and-pop shops, branding efforts are doubled in marketing collateral and messaging. ‘Free Shipping’ and ‘Special Savings’ opportunities are plentiful, as Steven Barr of PricewaterhouseCooper predicts,

It’s not all good news for store-based retailers because shoppers are expected to increase their digital shopping by 25 percent. They have also indicated they plan to shop at fewer physical stores as they concentrate their digital shopping to fewer web sites.

Barr’s revelation of the growing popularity of online retail are indicators of threats on the path to seasonal success. Businesses run exclusively via web and mobile platforms should expect an influx of competitors, from big brands to boutiques. And brick-and-mortar locations that have slowly adopted the digital space must either beat their competitors, or join them. Barr goes on to state that,


The clear winners will likely be the major dot com destinations, including select store and leading brand web sites. The challenge for store-based retailers will likely be to leverage their distinctive advantages to stay relevant. Small, independent retailers and local artisans are expected to compete for consumers by offering personal service as well as unique and hand-made gifts. And, the larger format retailers are expected to provide the services and value that matter most to shoppers – including knowledgeable store associates, speedy check-out options, well stocked stores and great prices.

The statement above serves as a barometer for the state of digital marketing during the holiday season.  And we’ve determined from this data that no business can solely exist as a brick-and-mortar location.  Without an online presence, you’re confining your business to a local area and excluding a clientele base who are in need of your product/service. Duly, online spaces cannot solely take the place of a physical location.  Even for boutique services and products, hosting pop-up shops and attending festivals is a great way of getting in front of people.


That’s why at TalenAlexander, we’re gifting business owners — brick-and-mortar and online retail — 5 Tips to successfully market the holidays.

1. Timing is everything

“Marketers have to strike a balance between supporting their business objectives and not causing any kind of consumer backlash. The right time is after Halloween. It lets marketers maximize the four weeks of November before Black Friday and Cyber Monday, and give them all of December for their holiday messaging.” – Susan Cantor, President at Red Peak Group

As mentioned earlier, the influx of seasonal marketing kicks off with Halloween and continues through New Year’s. Attempting to reinvent the wheel and jump the gun on marketing will prime your audience too early. The preceding month of September features Labor Day – often leveraged as a retail holiday – and precedes August, where Tax-free weekend and Back-to-School shopping piggyback one another. Making a seasonal push so close to other retail holidays can be off-putting for customers, and weaken your seasonal marketing campaigns.

2. Your brand messaging matters

Our perspective of the world is solely from our own viewpoint, and holidays and their respective traditions become staples of our life. So much so, that we can forget the entire world does not celebrate the same holidays OR celebrate holidays in the same manner. This issue is ever present in school systems and government, where specific language like ‘Merry Christmas’ can offend others. Instead, you may often hear phrases like ‘Happy Holidays’ and ‘Season’s Greetings’ to express the holiday season.


Elisabeth Dick Oak, Director of Verbal Identity at Interbrand states that,

 “If you’re talking about a gift guide or something that’s specific to the actual day, there’s no reason why you can’t use ‘Merry Christmas.”

Not knowing and understanding your customer base in this situation can be just as detrimental as not understanding your target audience.  Whether you’re marketing to new customers or loyal clientele, make sure you choose the correct language.

3. Be authentic

“The holidays aren’t a time for transactional language.” – Sarah Schaffer, Editorial Director at HZDG

Just as important as your messaging is the intent behind it.  While seasonal shopping is responsible for disproportionate amounts of annual retail revenue,  you must remember — it is only seasonal.  Your business provides a service/product that people need year-round, and pitting their emotions against them is bad business.  Loyal customers will shop with you before the holiday season, and long after.  Treat them with respect and as a member of your family/brand.

Duly noted, don’t force a seasonal marketing campaign if holiday themes aren’t central to your brand.  You want to keep your marketing efforts consistent and on-brand, but that doesn’t mean you can’t extend ‘Warm Wishes’ and ‘Seasons Greetings!’  Check out this example of seasonal marketing/branding by REI.

4. Hit key emotions with your campaign

In keeping your messaging authentic, it’s perfectly fine to celebrate the quality of your work for seasonal promotions. While REI is an outdoor goods company, maybe you’re business is craft jewelry, finance, or real estate. These fields/industries can easily be be tied to holiday themes. For instance, ‘Craft jewelry is a unique, handmade, one-of-a-kind gift for that special someone.’ Or if you own a financial services company you could say, ‘Give your family the gift of financial security with blank-blank Partners.”

Customer service in hardware store

These businesses are connected to holidays by their association with intangible concepts like love, happiness, and goodwill. These themes are common to everyday life, but are magnified during the holiday season. Instead of focusing on marketing technical aspects, it’s best to highlight your services as commonly shared experiences, but magnified.

5. Plan a personalized campaign

Lastly, we must refer to our previous comments about online and brick-and-mortar retailers each needing both a physical AND digital presence. In-store retailers ideally think that putting up seasonal decorations and playing holiday-themed music will illicit a natural response in customers. An online retailer that is better suited for online sales will place no emphasis on meeting customers face-to-face. Either way, each owner is grossly overestimating their powers of persuasion.

Just because we put content out there doesn’t mean it will produce a naturally desired response from people.  You must lead people through each step of the experience, and hope that when they reach the end they will then produce our desired response.  Studies performed by InsightSquared and Capterra show that B2B and B2C sales funnels have a conversion rate between 10-30 percent.

Your sole motivation for the season should not purely be increasing sales, but instead creating a memorable experience. Not only does it challenge you as a business owner to entertain your customer base, but to have fun yourself. And if you’re having fun developing a marketing plan that isn’t a standalone experience, chances are your customers will enjoy it as well.

“Instead of hoping your customers will be seen with your products and spread the word, why not take the next step and let them physically insert themselves into your ad?  The more innovative and fun the experience is, the more likely they are to share it on social media and beyond.”

Woman with shopping bags