Love it or Leave it? Lessons in Marketing for Real (and Retail) Holidays like Valentine’s Day
With Valentine’s Day right around the corner, many businesses are slashing their prices and sweetening up their deals to gear up for another unofficial retail holiday.
In 2019, the National Retail Federation reported that Valentine’s Day sales totaled an all-time high of $20.7 billion. Although department stores slightly edged internet sites, 27 percent of consumers bought their loved ones gifts online. With a treasure trove of online sales luring consumers in for unofficial retail “holidays” like Spring Break and Back-to-School, businesses must be equipped to market themselves and plan for the onslaught that comes with a real (and retail) holiday.
Whether your business is all in on taking advantage of the holiday calendar for marketing campaigns or thinking about testing it out, here are the five "Ws" — who, why, what, where, and when — to consider for any holiday-themed campaign:
B-to-C companies are the most natural fit for marketing around retail holidays like Valentine’s Day. Consumers love a deal and have been trained to expect them at certain times of the year. And now we’re seeing B-to-B companies also leveraging promotions for the same reasons. Businesses are increasingly demanding the same experiences that consumers are offered. Retail holiday-themed marketing is no exception.
The main reason retailers engage in holiday marketing is to create a sales bump. People are primed to purchase during these times of the year and often pick up more than just the sale item they came in-store or logged on to buy.
But more than just a sales promotion, “holidays” like Valentine’s Day have become part of the zeitgeist. Last-minute deals, flashy savings and cutesy love puns are all part of the excitement. Companies have the power to create sales mania, and consumers feel the thrill of getting a good deal. Everyone wins.
To ignore these moments in time means your business is missing out on opportunities to help build brand awareness and affinity, not to mention risking losing ground to aggressive competition. If your company abstains from retail holidays, it can easily get left behind. Even if you don’t see a huge increase in immediate sales, a great Valentine’s Day or other cleverly timed marketing campaign can help drive greater brand awareness over time.
There are a few best practices when marketing around a holiday or calendar event, including targeting the right audiences, at the right times, in the right places, in the right ways:
- Customer segmentation RULES: Build customized promotions for your customers. A good example of this is back-to-school marketing that retailers do in stages with two distinct segments. Students are looking for deals on school supplies in August and September, so it makes sense to run sales promotions for those customers. They're extremely price sensitive and react very positively to sales and promotions. However, educational institutions are looking for similar items in the spring when their budgets are released. They’re less concerned about sales and more about acquiring things that are the right fit for their education objectives. One promotion is about discounts, the other is about options and fit. Marketing is tailored to address the desires of each segment at the appropriate time of year.
- Dial it up and see what happens: There’s nothing wrong with dipping your toes into retail holiday marketing simply by increasing your typical activities around the holiday or calendar event. Promote organic posts on social media, invest in paid advertising across channels, bump up email marketing, and look into performance marketing with paid digital/display advertising.
- Surprise and delight with uniqueness and empathy: Sometimes a great retail holiday marketing campaign doesn’t involve a sales promotion. A clever marketing activation that empathizes with consumers can build brand loyalty and affinity just as much. A good example is Chase Bank’s pop-up lounge rolled out in malls in the thick of the Christmas holiday shopping season. Cardholders have the exclusive benefit of escaping the madness with a place to sit, relax and enjoy a cup of coffee. It demonstrates empathy by acknowledging the conditions their customers are operating in and provides a delightful surprise they appreciate.
The nuts and bolts of a great holiday-themed or moment-in-time marketing campaign are as unique as the business that’s offering it. However, it pays to start with the financials to understand what’s possible. Discounts are king, but it’s important to work with your analytics team to run scenarios that will help decide what level of promotion the business can bear — and if it’s worth it, especially for something like Valentine’s Day that comes and goes quickly. There needs to be enough of an uptick in business to compensate for the promotions and that takes data, math, guesswork and a good gut instinct.
If the numbers simply aren’t there to offer a doorbuster, be creative about how you can participate. Create an interesting narrative on social, through an existing email newsletter, or on your website that ties in with the holiday. While it’s true that consumers are trained to look for deals, they’re also often overwhelmed and fatigued by the mania and can appreciate a good joke or some well-placed empathy.
How far out you start planning a retail holiday-themed marketing campaign will depend on the size and scope of the activities. Many larger companies begin four months to five months (or more) in advance with brainstorming and doing the math on what promotions are possible. Hear that Black Friday planners? The holiday shopping season for them is just around the corner.
The earlier you start, the more likely you are to come up with ideas that are different from the competition, and have the potential to break through the marketing noise of the season.
In large organizations, marketing and sales departments are the biggest drivers of these campaigns, but they'll need to consult with other teams. The effort is also supported by a wide range of cross-functional teams, from finance to operations to sales and beyond. At Zendesk, when we tackle a campaign like a holiday promotion, we begin by sharing the concept of the promotion and the messaging, then ask each area to present ways they could activate and promote the campaign across their particular marketing channel. Everyone likes to be creative in their own discipline, and we've found that this approach helps our marketing be more creative vs. forcing every marketing team to promote the campaign in a one-size-fits-all way.
Like most marketing efforts, success cannot be defined by immediate sales alone. It’s sometimes hard to quantify the upside that a campaign like this contributes to brand awareness, affinity and loyalty. A good holiday-themed campaign can tick all three boxes in the long term. A leading indicator of this is engagement, within and outside your marketable universe.
At the end of the day, even if you decide to sit on the sidelines, pay attention to the promotions, activations and conversations brands in your industry and beyond are running — for Valentine’s Day and more. With millions of consumers and businesses (and billions of dollars) ready to spend, you may just find that there's a piece of the pie for you when the next holiday or calendar event rolls around.
Scott Morris is vice president of integrated marketing at Zendesk, a customer support ticket system and sales CRM software company.