When’s the right time to start talking about Christmas?

7 min read by Charles Craik 28 Oct 2022

It’s the magic we look forward to every year. And with this year being a little tougher on your customers, now is the time to spark the conversation around Christmas, whatever line you take. 

Last week, with 70 days to go until the big day, online retail giant Very launched their Christmas ads. They may be an acclaimed front runner in the quest for the best seasonal campaign, but the question is: was it too soon? And when exactly is the right time to start capturing the imagination of your customers? 

With this year already dubbed a ‘frugal festive period’ by adland, what approaches should we take to help guide people through the purchase process when the purse strings are tight?

Understanding the purchase process

How well during ‘normal times’ do you understand the purchase cycle and purchase intent of your current customers, and how might it differ this Christmas? Experts predict 44% of Christmas purchases will be made before Black Friday, with 48% of consumers claiming that none of their Christmas budget will be spent during the sales. This implies that purchase decisions are likely to be planned and considered, not necessarily hinging on price, but value. In which case, perhaps Very were right to get moving on their advertising early, with this report indicating early shopping could prevail over impulse and Christmas Eve mad dashes. 

But that’s not to say customers won’t continue to purchase into the depths of December, making timing of communications, flash sales and other initiatives a necessary mainstay in your marketing efforts.

Addressing values and needs

Brands likely to do well this Christmas – and in their onward journey – are those that demonstrate a strong commitment to a cause or mission, and appeal to values their customers can relate to. Brands that deliver their Christmas campaigns with a clear sense of purpose will do well, particularly if they also work in a smart, agile way to capitalise on shorter term sales opportunities through personalisation and productisation.

Authenticity is key, as is nurturing the ‘tribe’ of people that identify and align with your brand. But what practical actions can you take to do this? 

Shelve promotion fatigue 

The best way to avoid promotion fatigue is to have a clear promotion strategy; understanding your key sales periods will help you determine when you need to schedule in your best promotional discounts.

Segmentation is also key to promotion fatigue. Not everyone needs a discount and not everyone needs the same level of discount. Segment your audience and use predictive customer lifetime value (CLV) analytics to determine if someone is close to making their next purchase. 

For example you may want to segment your base as follows:

  • VIP customers – need little or no discount – they are regular purchasers and are bought into your brand values.
  • Active customers – have placed 2+ orders in the last year – may need a small discount.
  • Defecting – are becoming inactive – their last purchase was some time ago and therefore a discount around BFCM can help bring them back to the active segment.
  • Inactive – these customers are not engaged, so it’s unlikely that they will come back in normal times. However, this is a prime opportunity to tap into the last time they bought BFCM.
  • First time buyers – may need a small discount, but be careful not to train them into expecting discounts. 

It’s important to segment and keep the momentum up through until the end of the year, segmentation can help you target the right customers at the right time. 

Where are you communicating your festive message?

You also need to consider what platforms you deliver your messaging on:

Email is great for promotional offerings, Christmas gamification and transactional messaging like last purchase dates – however remember that not everyone opens emails and the inbox can become crowded particularly around Black Friday and Cyber Monday.

SMS is a great channel around Black Friday and Cyber Monday as a more intrusive method which can help you drive additional revenue in key promotional periods.

Direct Mail could be great for all of your segments as direct mail gives people something physical to hold onto – a rarity these days. A brilliant way to stand out from the crowd and beat the inbox crowds. 

Retargeting will help you target those inactive and defecting customers who have stopped opening your emails – try paid channels like Google and Facebook for best return.

Push notifications – are great for frequent communications without being too intrusive. Planning to do 12 days of Christmas? A great way to deliver this is through push notifications.

Loyalty should top the tree

Rewarding customer loyalty this Christmas could deliver the strongest ROI on all marketing investment, with current customers five times more likely to make a purchase than new ones. Which could prove even more poignant when people are looking for purchases from brands they can trust with their more limited resources. Loyalty schemes that also create a dialogue through gamification can inject some fun and light heartedness amidst a continually dismal backdrop, lifting spirits and encouraging purchases at once. 

Heart strings not purse strings

If Monty the Penguin and his festive counterparts have taught us anything, it’s that during the festive season, emotion plays an enormous role in building brands people want to be a part of, and advocacy for years to come. This year, we can fully expect a ‘we’re in this together’ approach, as the nation hunkers down to endure one of the most financially tough winters in memory. Sales of products that deliver sentiment or practicality are predicted to reign, with early indications on sales of blankets and candles hitting record highs ahead of the winter months. Christmas is about the human condition, and the story telling this year will centre on just that. 

A Very well informed approach

Last year, Very did the same thing, they released their Christmas ad even earlier, and despite a mixed response in sentiment from audiences on social listening platforms, this year, they have bucked the trend once again, launching in October, ahead of their competitors. Which can only really mean one thing, last year’s early launch date brought success. It enabled their target market with very predetermined buying initiatives and journeys to make their purchases with Very before anyone else. But the right time to start talking about Christmas will vary according to each brand’s target market(s) and the channels on which they are communicated with. 

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