How to Build Year-Round Holiday Marketing Strategies

Holiday season used to be associated with a briskness in the air. It was a signal that shopping bonanzas like Black Friday and the winter holidays were around the corner. Today, “holiday” season has grown beyond Black Friday or Cyber Monday or even Cyber Week. It’s a year-round affair, and holiday marketing strategies are shifting to adapt. 

It’s no secret that the pandemic accelerated a new era of digital-first business. Customer expectations have also changed – 88% of customers say the experience a company provides is as important as its products and services. They want brands to know who they are, what their unique preferences are, and the types of personalized experiences they desire.

This means marketers need to help customers prepare for key dates throughout the year – think Memorial Day, back-to-school, or Valentine’s Day. Businesses can pull valuable insights about customer behaviors from these year-long efforts to deliver more personalized, targeted messaging during the winter holiday season.

I met with Ashley Fortman, marketing strategy director, and Rachel Meyers, director of industry focused product marketing, both at Salesforce, to discuss how to build brand loyalty through year-round holiday marketing that creates the kinds of personalized messaging experiences customers crave. 

It’s all about building the three Cs of personalization into your strategy: content, channels, and compassion. 

Deliver data-powered holiday messaging

The first C is all about personalizing content for your customers based on their preferences. You can pinpoint these preferences using information collected directly from customers. Companies have two types of data at their disposal for content personalization: implicit and explicit data.

Implicit data comes from inputs like browsing histories and digital channel engagements. A data science team or artificial intelligence (AI) tool can pull insights from this data and deliver powerful one-to-one content in a scalable way. Businesses wanting to enhance existing data and grow their customer profiles can collect explicit data, or zero-party data, from customers through surveys, click behavior, or preference centers.

Ask your customers and prospects what they’ll be shopping for or what content they’ll be interested in to inform the holiday content they receive in messages. “Hearing directly from customers in the Connected Shoppers Report in 2021, 74% of customers agree communicating honestly and transparently is more important now than before the pandemic.” Fortman said.

Once you know your customers’ main interests, consider follow up questions to create a more complete view of their needs and expectations, and think beyond holiday. Meyers reminds us to ask, “How can you use the holiday to collect data that can be used to improve the experience throughout the year?”

Make your holiday strategy cross-channel

The second C is personalizing based on individual channel preferences – and choosing the right place to deliver the right holiday message. Preference center data or AI tools can help businesses identify (or infer) channel preference. 

Also, given that mobile devices accounted for 60% of order share in Q4 2021 and comprised 72.9% of total ecommerce spend, businesses need a strong mobile strategy to support their channels. 

“Duplicating your messages across web and mobile, especially if they’re not personalized, is a surefire recipe to annoy your customers,” Fortman said. “Great access to customers comes with great responsibility to personalize.” 

What does a solid cross-channel strategy look like? It should weigh the specific strengths of each channel, and consider the end-to-end user experience from message to conversion. Use email, for example, for messages that require storytelling with visuals and copy, and send push messages to drive engagement with apps that deliver interactive experiences that will resonate with your customers. 

Consider adding messaging apps like WhatsApp or WeChat to your channel  mix to stay ahead of customer trends. These apps are becoming all-in-one destinations for communication, engagement, and even shopping.

“The immediacy of mobile is critical during the holiday as shoppers eagerly await restock notices, special promotions, and delivery confirmations. So mobile can’t be missed,” said Meyers. “The most important part is to think critically about how it adds to the customer experience in a meaningful way and how it can be an engagement channel that endures long after the main holiday season.”

Bring compassion to your holiday strategy

Now we’re on to the third C, compassion. What if your message provided assistance or made it easier for a customer to plan their holiday gifting? Imagine a moment where you’re able to build a deeper connection beyond the ‘buy button’ when a shopper speaks of your brand fondly at the dinner table. 

Compassion starts with showing kindness – to your customers and to the environment – and extends into creating more convenience. When crafting your holiday strategy , think about how you can go the extra mile to create deeper connections and innovate to save your customers time and effort. Consider, for example, diversifying your payment, delivery, or shipping options, as many retailers did in 2021.

“Seventy-eight percent of customers say environmental practices influence their decision to buy from a company, so extend your compassion to the planet by creating more sustainable experiences for your customers.” Fortman said. 

“Appeal to sustainability-minded consumers by highlighting sustainable products or creating a gift guide for the eco-conscious. Consider offering eco-friendly packaging, delivery and return options and, most important, be transparent about your brand’s sustainability practices.” 

Compassion can also mean placing your customers at the center of your efforts. What can you do to surprise and delight? Can you provide early access or exclusive deals for your most loyal customers? They’ve been with you year after year, and those little moments of added ease make a difference.

Meyers emphasized the importance of listening to customers and creating a human-to-human experience. “There’s a person on the other side of that screen or buy button. Think through what challenges they might be experiencing this season and how you can make it easier for them. It can be through different buying options or personalized offers, or even donating to their favorite charity.”

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