Marketers Reveal Their ONE Secret to How Brands Can Win Over This Year’s Festive Shoppers

By R. Larsson, Advertising Week

With today marking 100 days until Christmas, many retailers are preparing for the busiest sales period of the year. But with this festive excitement, also comes anticipation.

As we approach the sprint towards Christmas during the final leg of the year, marketers will be mulling over how best they can get this year’s seasonal shoppers on side. While customers worry about picking out the perfect present, brands need to focus on how to draw the crowds and stand out above all the festive noise.

We spoke to several leaders in adland about their methods for winning over festive shoppers and conquering the busiest time of the year.

Neil Cunningham, Co-Owner and CEO, Cream

To win over festive shoppers this Christmas, humanity needs to once again be at the heart of advertising strategies.

Aside from the emotionally hard-hitting ads of supermarkets and large retailers, Christmas often becomes a time that un-strategic consumerist messaging reigns supreme – with brands focusing on how to put as many products in front of their target audiences as possible.

But that won’t cut it for any brand this year. People want (and need) to buy more mindfully, and we are seeing an increase in those who want to find a balance between managing the implications of the cost-of-living-crisis while striving to be more sustainably conscious. In fact, according to a survey of 2,000 UK consumers, two thirds think about the environmental impact of the goods they buy when shopping.

So, for brands to really strike a chord with consumers this Christmas, they need to get to grips with what the human need is e.g., low costs and sustainability. They need to discover what it is that their customers are actually looking for from the brands they interact with. This doesn’t mean scrimping on the glitz and sparkle of the season in favour of brutal realism, but it does mean reconsidering what actually makes Christmas magical to real people, and understanding how they can help fulfil that.

Alex Beazley-Long, Senior Strategist, Imagination

With the pandemic now mostly a distant memory, the 2023 Holiday season will be all about experience as festive shoppers return to the high street. Whilst actual festive purchases have for a long time now happened online, festive shopping is a tradition that goes beyond simple transactions.

Whether it is window displays at Macy’s, the tree at Rockefeller Centre or the façade at Saks Fifth Avenue, some aspects of the Festive period simply need to be experienced in person. These installations create long lasting memories for people, becoming part of the cultural fabric.

For retailers, especially newer entrants, these are a huge opportunity for brand building. They can create these experiential moments that will stay with customers, become traditions,  and have them desperate to return year after year.

Prateek Gupta, Managing Director, OMG Transact

“The one secret to winning over festive shoppers is to make their holiday shopping easier.  Brands can do this by providing seamless discovery-to-shopping experiences across all the core channels, which are empowered by retail media data and harness the potential of retailer audiences across the full-funnel marketing strategy. Businesses should consider:

  • That each channel is unique; product channelisation is crucial: A shopper interacts differently across different commerce channels. Using retailer-specific shopper data & retail media insights can help brands calibrate their products, bundles, festive gift packs and promotional strategies relevant to the shoppers of that channel. A one-size-fits-all approach won’t help brands meet shoppers’ expectations this season.
  • To embed Retail Media in overall Q4 media strategy: Digital media formats like connected TV, paid social and digital out-of-home are now increasingly offering direct connection to retailer audiences, presenting brands with the chance to seamlessly incorporate retail media data into their overall marketing strategy. This will help brands reach highly qualified audiences on above-the-line campaigns, and by bringing the traffic back to the retailer, they will effectively reduce digital dead-ends, offering a seamless discovery-to-shopping experience.”

Kirsty Hathaway, Executive Creative Director, JOAN London

If there’s one piece of advice, and I’m not sure how secret it really is – or at least it probably shouldn’t be – is not to try and reflect what a brand’s interpretation of the country’s mood is back at everybody.

Brands aren’t people, they don’t have feelings. They don’t feel suffering, they don’t feel stress, they just don’t feel. So to try and faux understanding of the cost-of-living crisis back at people just won’t fly.

The real secret, and let’s face it, challenge, is to perfectly balance empathy and positivity. Christmas may not, in reality, feel the same this year. Consumerism will be considered. Overindulgence a challenge. Creating that ‘perfect Christmas’ will potentially be an impossibility. Let’s not pressurise people (or shoppers) into feeling they need it all and more.

Telling a story that considers all of this is the real secret. Be real, but make it positive. Entertaining even.

Maren Seitz, Senior Director, Analytic Partners

It’s time to get serious about omnichannel. This year, it’s more critical than ever for advertisers to take time to reevaluate their activities’ impact across sales channels to make the most of their crisis-struck budget. Let’s take ecommerce as an example, where following the hype has come at a high cost for many. Yes, COVID brought a massive boost to ecommerce – but sales have now returned to the previously predicted trend line. According to eMarketer, 8 out of 10 consumers are still buying offline. Truly understanding consumers’ omnichannel behaviour, optimising the media mix accordingly, and combining it with focused experiments will be key for brands to stand out this festive season.

Oli Stogdale, Strategist, Joint

With so much at stake at Christmas, it’s tempting to think you’ve got to be in it to win it, putting pressure on all involved to pull off a masterpiece in distinctive advertising at the same time as every other business in the market. It’s the obvious ploy – the marketing equivalent of trench warfare, sending thousands of unusually hip people over the top to an uncertain yet lightly-frosted fate. And for some, admittedly, it is an unfortunate reality. Sucks to be you.

But for others, it might pay to take the path of least festive resistance. Like Game did, a few years back, with ‘Christmas Shopping Simulator’; uncovering their audience’s passion for deliberately awful games and bending it to fit the occasion. Whether through smart cultural insight or media choice (or, as in Game’s case, both), there are still original takes on Xmas to be had. Find them and avoid the bloodshed.

Dave Sullivan, Creative Director, Tribal Worldwide

The obvious thing to say would be to maximise value and reward loyalty. Which I’m all for. It goes without saying, so I won’t say it. What I will say, is that Christmas shopping feels like a chore. What if we could make it more of an adventure? I’m drawn to brands that create enjoyable journeys, particularly ‘Phygital’ experiences that blend the real and digital worlds. This kind of tech, when used well, can surprise can delight customers. Allowing people to virtually place those posh plates on the Christmas Day table or try on that sparkly number is a win-win. You’re not only creating desire but giving permission. It’s also proven to lower costly returns for the brand. The one thing I discourage is ‘Spin-to-Win a free shop.’ It’s a desperate way to conjure footfall, offering false hope in a difficult time. Just lower your prices across the board. You know who you are.

Sam Ashken, Senior Strategy Director, Interbrand

Winning at Christmas starts with getting a measure on how consumers are feeling. While economic data is a bit better, consumer sentiment in the UK and the US is still at historic lows. So brands need to tread a line between not looking out of touch while bringing some of the missing feel good factor.

Brands bring the feel good factor when they bring a fresh angle to the festive season. The success of the Barbie movie this year shows people are looking for escapism, and that’s especially true during the festive period. Coca-Cola have been the masters of this in the past. Equally, when high ticket outlays are out of reach, consumers are more willing to go super premium in low cost categories – little luxuries work. Finally, brands can win by showing that the festive period is about caring, not just consuming. John Lewis’ foster care ad from last year is a great recent example.

Isabella Treacy, Senior Campaign Manager, Buttermilk

Brands need to prioritise genuine brand endorsement across their social platforms to help capture festive shoppers this year. Without a doubt, the uncertain economic landscape will create cautious shopping behaviours and, as a result, consumers will be seeking brands that add value through trustworthy voices.

Through a community-first approach and leveraging creators on social media, brands can establish authentic partnerships and reinforce brand awareness during one of the busiest sales periods of the year. But trust is key. By sourcing trusted creators, brands not only produce compelling content that can then be used as part of their wider marketing efforts, but they can also build meaningful relationships with their customers that last beyond the festive period.