Small businesses may lack the marketing budget of big brands, but can use festive imagination to reach new customers
John Lewis used an effective Snapchat campaign to promote its Buster the Boxer Christmas advert. Photograph: John Lewis Christmas marketing campaigns by the major retail brands have become more elaborate by the year, with social media now playing an integral part. The latest John Lewis ad, featuring Buster the Boxer and a host of wild animals trampolining, has been named the world’s biggest Christmas TV ad on YouTube. It used Snapchat to drive the campaign and is currently one of the most shared ads on social media. Snapchat users are given the opportunity to add a lens to a photo of themselves that transforms them into Buster the Boxer.
As a small business owner it’s easy to feel disheartened; with limited marketing budgets, they cannot compete with the big brands. However, as Ben Storey, founder of Digital Storey points out, rather than trying to emulate them, they should learn from them, and then build their own successful seasonal social media campaigns.
“You just need to examine the values on which these campaigns are built,” he says. “Those that stand out tend to be emotive and warming, and often get behind a cause or a charity. Follow in these footsteps, make your small business stand for something, and make your social media campaign thought-provoking.”
Marks & Spencer’s festive campaign featuring Mrs Claus reflects how far people will go to make Christmas special. Launched with the social media tag #LoveMrsClaus, it also set out to reinforce the retailer’s emotional connection with consumers.
Gavin Hammar, founder of social media management platform Sendible, says: “People’s emotions are heightening in the run up to the festive season, and social media campaigns should tap into those emotions to drive action. The key ingredient is sharing a human moment that anyone can relate to. Since people are in the spirit of giving, they are more likely to hand over their cash, if they feel a sense of connection with your brand.”
It’s also important to adjust campaigns for individual platforms. Twitter followers, for example, might want to post content, while Facebook followers might want to ask questions. Meanwhile, an Instagram community may want to see behind the scenes.
“Instagram campaigns allow brands to engage with customers in ways other marketing channels, or even the less visual-centric social platforms, don’t allow,” says Romain Ouzeau, CEO of Iconosquare an analytics platform for Instagram marketing. “Christmas is all about sharing, and in Instagram terms, this means sharing posts, images and videos in order to engage customers.”
For example, he explains, travel and tourism brands could ask their Instagram followers to share pictures of how they spend Christmas in their country, reflecting the company’s international brand strength, or encouraging customers to dress up and share their top festive outfits on Instagram, useful for fashion brands. Companies from all sectors could simply create a wish list by asking customers to post a photo or video explaining what they want for Christmas.
Engaging new customers during the peak festive season is important, but an effective social media marketing campaign should also aim to retain those Christmas customers long after the holidays are over.
“There are lots of simple things you can do, such as using festive-themed profile graphics, and running competitions and polls using festive hashtags to really engage your followers,” says Sara Robinson, managing director of marketing agency Brighter Comms. “Scheduling messages for over the Christmas period, even if you’re away from the office, will show your followers that you care. But don’t rely on automated postings. Make sure your social media channels are being managed by a human being to ensure you can monitor mentions and engage with followers. Once Christmas is over, use the momentum you’ve created during the festive period and build on it by keeping conversations going and posting regularly.”
Shaherazad Umbreen, founder of Shoes by Shaherazad, launched online earlier this year, runs festive social media and marketing campaigns across Facebook, Twitter and social commerce website Polyvore, with the aim of boosting seasonal sales and building long-term customer loyalty.
For example, she has used a “Mistletoe Kisses Guaranteed” social media hashtag strapline targeted at people who have then bought the shoes as a surprise for their wives, girlfriends or partners. Her alternative strapline, “I would love these heels for Christmas, #husbanddidyouhear” – plays on the idea of gift-hinting.
Umbreen includes free gifts in the box all year round, but at Christmas makes them more seasonal, for example, a sparkly piece of jewellery. “I include free gifts in parcels for loyal customers as a surprise when they open their shoe box, and I only discount for loyal and repeat customers. This works really well as a huge amount of my sales come from women who have enjoyed a pair of my heels and who then treat themselves to another colour.”
Top tips for a last-minute festive marketing campaign
It’s still not too late for small firms to make the most of the festive season, with some practical social media and marketing tips from Shaz Memon, creative director at web design agency Digimax.
Create time-sensitive voucher codes. Whether you sell a product or a service, a time-limited voucher urges people to take action. Go a step further by applying this code to a product or service that may not normally be discounted but is in demand or is seasonal.
Showcase your offerings. Use Instagram Stories, Instagram Videos, Facebook Videos, and Facebook Live Feeds to demonstrate your product or the benefits of what your product can do. Make it seasonal and relevant to this festive period and bolt on the time-sensitive offer or giveaway.
Run a social media poll. Make it fun and interesting and get people thinking. If your poll is memorable, they will associate this to your brand or product.
Use Hashtags. Social commerce is increasing all the time, and users are making buying decisions based on what they see on social media. Use hashtags to appeal to your target audience. If you sell hats, hashtag #xmashats #festivehats #buyhats #hatslondon etc., and boost interest further by linking a really good picture to the product or service you are promoting.