Scrolling Through a Winter Wonderland: Creating Meaningful Digital Holiday Experiences
As retailers enter the final stages of their 2016 holiday marketing campaigns, the stakes have never been higher. For the first time, this year’s holiday spending is projected to surpass $1 trillion, with online sales expected to increase by $14 billion over the same period last year.
In fact, this holiday season will demonstrate just how dominant digital’s influence is becoming. Although in-store sales remain much larger than e-commerce, Deloitte estimates that digital interactions will influence as much as 67 percent of all holiday purchasing. That means over two-thirds of holiday purchases will have been motivated and guided by consumer activity such as online research and social media engagement.
The overwhelming influence digital will have on holiday shopping represents a massive opportunity for retailers. And yet, rising to the occasion will be easier said than done for many brands, especially legacy brands that have emphasized in-store experiences. While engaging customers in-store will always be important, it has now become essential to deliver high-quality, holiday-themed experiences online in order to generate strong engagement early in the customer journey.
Many retailers already know how to create meaningful in-store holiday experiences built on emotion: just look at the long-standing success Macy’s has had with holiday display windows, which have become fully integrated into seasonal traditions in New York City. Now, however, rising above the noise of a competitive holiday season means translating emotional and physical experiences for the digital realm.
In a world where consumers employ ad blockers and increasingly distrust traditional forms of marketing, creating emotional experiences is a challenge. To avoid coming across as intrusive or phony, marketers must place customers at the center through earned content. Launching an earned content program is a powerful way to expand on existing social marketing by strategically tapping into customers’ existing passion — and the high-quality content that their passion motivates them to share with others.
L.L.Bean, for instance, has a proud tradition of hosting holiday events for customers, which helps build relationships with shoppers and creates a sense of loyalty to the brand. From tree-lighting ceremonies, a holiday open house, and an arts and crafts workshop for children, L.L.Bean makes it easy for consumers to form emotional connections to its brand based on positive real-world experiences.
Seeing as it has already invested in directly bringing consumers into the seasonal experience, L.L.Bean is well-positioned to take advantage of earned content. The company should look to encourage additional social sharing through tactics like branded hashtags, social media contests and “selfie stations” strategically located next to high-value visual elements. By capturing photos of customers attending these events while wearing L.L.Bean apparel, the company can also generate a powerful arsenal of content that could be used beyond social — e.g., replacing the staged photo shoots of models in its product catalogs with genuine snapshots of customers showing off their latest purchases. By using real content from real people in its catalogs, L.L.Bean can make its holiday offerings more relatable to everyday consumers.
It’s important to note that putting the customer into the experience doesn't simply mean “being good at social.” In today’s world, social should never be thought of as a one-way, brand-to-consumer channel. While Crate and Barrel has been recognized for establishing a great Instagram presence, its efforts show how easy it can be to miss the forest for the Christmas trees. Despite having a terrific seasonal product line, Crate and Barrel tends to market itself with staged photos that show products in an ideal but formal setting. The holidays are emotional and personal for consumers across America; themed content should reflect that.
Lego provides a good example of how to effectively bridge the customer experience across the digital and physical gap. Of course, the Lego product is well-positioned for this. Modern consumers love to create and share, and the time-honored tradition of proudly capturing a well-built and time-consuming Lego statue has helped make the company a leader in earning user-generated content. While Lego encourages this behavior, a full earned-content program would help the company more consistently generate strategic, campaign-themed results to drive purchases of seasonal gifts like its Winter Holiday Train set.
The holiday season is an exciting time for consumers and retailers alike. Families have taken trips to shopping malls and department stores to see Santa for years, and these traditions will remain a constant for shoppers for many years to come. However, the world is changing, and the holiday shopping experience has expanded far beyond the doors of even the most popular stores. As consumers overwhelmingly prioritize digital media, brands must better emphasize the customer experience and communicate the same joy and emotion online that they have been able to produce in-store.
Bill Connolly is the head of content for Olapic, a visual earned content company.