How to Avoid Cliché Holiday Marketing

From fiscal reports and seasonal trends to the chain of back-to-back holidays, a welter of elements contributes to the fourth-quarter craze for businesses. The holidays, in particular, tend to heavily influence marketing campaigns this time of year. And as a result, originality so often gets lost in the festive shuffle; but this doesn’t have to be the case.

“Try to tie the holidays back into something that matters for your business,” says Ricky Ribeiro, director of social journalism at digital agency McMURRY/TMG. “Don’t just wish me an empty holiday message because you think that’s what’s going to make me feel good about your brand. What’s going to make me feel good about your brand is you providing value to me. Whether that’s entertaining me, informing me, or educating me.”

Relevant, value-oriented messaging has become paramount in today’s digitally fragmented environment. Marketers who personalize content and tell compelling, relatable stories tend to flourish during the holidays. But there’s always a temptation to fall back on the cliché marketing message this time of year. That simple Happy Halloween post is much easier than crafting original—and often time-consuming—messages. 

There is, however, a middle ground.

“One of the things I like to do in general is really tie into pop culture and current events,” Ribeiro says. “Obviously, brands should be careful, and consider whether there’s an appropriate fit for their brand.  For example, for Halloween a brand could play with ‘What’s scarier than entering an elevator with Solange [Knowles]?’”

Ribeiro stresses that brands should try to associate their content with what their customers are talking about. “When you’re marketing on social, guess what? Your marketing is going to be right next to that story about Solange and Jay Z on the elevator,” he says.

There are examples of this marketing method at work—everywhere. Oreo set a new standard for social and cultural relevance with its famed campaign during last year’s Super Bowl. More recent examples exist in IHOP‘s current co-opting of slang and urban vernacular on its Twitter account, or even more notably, the ACLS’s seizing of the Ice Bucket Challenge.

The holidays, however, are unlike the typical viral sensation. That’s because there’s a measure of certainty that people will care about widely celebrated holiday events such as Thanksgiving or Christmas. “Holidays are a naturally social event. Tying into pop culture works, even during this period—probably even more so [than usual],” Ribeiro says.

While marketers can’t predict pop culture, keeping an ear to the ground and getting an early start on holiday-centric marketing could pay some serious dividends. Ribeiro encourages marketers to start the ideation process early to create unique, effective marketing that will resonate during the holiday season.

Ribeiro does give marketers a warning about their holiday planning: “One of the mistakes I see is [holiday marketing] too close to the holiday. You have to work a few weeks ahead, but you don’t want to start too soon either.

As always with social marketing, the chief concern should be maintaining brand voice and, of course, delivering valuable content to customers. “Put your touch on what you’re creating, and make sure it fits into your larger brand vision,” Ribeiro says. “Whether it’s the holidays or not, messaging should flow and fit in with the messaging of your brand.”

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