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Holiday marketing may be more ubiquitous than ever, given the ease of publishing content on social media, and yet doing it well has not gotten easier. Social media and digital marketing have increased expectations that brands will do something for any given holiday: after all, everyone else is. Yet the prevalence of these holiday promotions, and the visual and verbal clichés surrounding them (pumpkins, turkeys, red and green) can make it tough to stand out.

Smart brands need to approach holiday marketing by thinking strategically and creatively. Above all, resist the urge to do something just because you feel you should: make sure that whatever investment you make meets your goals and serves your audience. Jesse Stanchak, a community manager with Microsoft, said this well: “Forget about what you think the season the holidays are about. Ask what your customers are focused on.” By starting with your customers’ needs, you can launch holiday campaigns that gain attention and grow your brand. Here are three essential questions to ask yourself before launching any holiday marketing campaign.

1. How critical is my brand to the holiday?

Although it’s often fair game to acknowledge a holiday briefly on social media, your investment in any larger holiday marketing effort should be determined by the relevance of your products and brand to that particular holiday. Retailers and other brands who depend on holiday shopping invest heavily in end-of-year promotion, as they should. But if your connection to the holiday season is not as obvious – if you are a B2B brand or don’t offer products that are commonly given as gifts – the best path may not be so obvious. Simply offering a promotion because of the holiday, if your brand does not have much relevance, can come off as desperate or even offensive. You may be better served to promote yourself more heavily around a less hectic holiday, or to put that investment toward a different initiative altogether. An ideal situation might be to focus on a holiday that receives less attention from other brands, trying to own attention during that period and link it to your brand. However, any of these strategies must be determined by your product strategy and the particular needs of your company.

2. What do my customers need at this time of year?

Microsoft’s Stanchak makes the excellent point that many consumers are busy and stressed out during the holidays. What they need from brands they follow, often, is not so much another hyper-cheerful holiday message, but something that benefits their lives. Offer your customers something worth their time: a meaningful gift or discount, help with a real problem, or an opportunity to do good. Your holiday promotions will only stick if they serve the real needs of your customers.

3. How can my campaign avoid cliché?

Consumers and brands alike love tradition around holidays, but that can easily mean a lapse into cliché if you’re not careful. Around big holidays where numerous holiday campaigns are ongoing, an overly traditional or generic campaign will get ignored at best. A genuine, creative use of traditional holiday imagery and language, however, is always welcome. If you are focused on the needs of your customers rather than just pushing something out for the holiday, these creative campaigns become achievable. Great examples include MailChimp’s holiday microsite, helping their customers prepare for their own holiday marketing, or American Express’s creation of Small Business Saturday. Each of these campaigns draws on holiday traditions and imagery, but not in a tired way, because they keep customer needs in mind. Make sure your holiday campaigns do the same.

Have these questions sparked an idea or clarified a challenge? MarketPlace helps our clients think thround brand strategy questions like these all the time, and we would love the opportunity to do the same for you—let’s chat.

Matt Miller staff photo
Matt Miller writes, teaches, and practices biodynamic gardening near Reeds Spring, Missouri. A MarketPlace alum with a background in academic research, he’s fascinated with how culture, media, and business interact—and equally with the best methods of cultivating healthy fruit trees.