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As consumers, the holidays are fast approaching. As retailers, we know that planning has already been happening for several months. The holiday season represents the most stressful period for retailers, but also a lucrative opportunity to close out the year with huge earnings.

This year, retailers are seeing mixed expectations regarding growth in holiday spending over the Christmas period. In the United States, holiday retail sales climbed 4 percent last year to $685 billion and are expected to hit new highs in 2017 according to the National Retail Federation. Equally in the United Kingdom, and despite a weaker start at the beginning of the season, in 2016, the sales quickly picked up through last minute Christmas shopping. This year, however, the UK has seen a fall in consumer spending over the summer months, according to Visa’s consumer spending index, representing the longest-running slump since February 2013, which is bringing some uncertainty for brands on how the holiday sales will turn out.

In both markets, mounting political and trade instability make it difficult for brands to predict overall growth. Add to this uncertainty the overwhelming amount of marketing that consumers experience during the festive season, and brands will need to execute a cohesive, thoughtful, and visual strategy in order to attract audiences and convince them to purchase products and services this period. This can be quite a challenge for brands hoping to break through the noise. Fortunately, at Olapic, we work with hundreds of the world’s top brands to help them execute visual content strategies throughout the entire year, and have put together a set of considerations for your team as you prepare for the holiday rush.

An enormous opportunity for brands during the holiday season is to tap into the emotion and excitement of their consumer audiences, and to turn them into powerful content contributors. Picking a strong, direct theme for your campaigns, then connecting that theme to your consumer-base, and allowing them to participate in content creation are primary ways to spread your holiday message and gather content that can be used beyond the season. To get everyone on the same page, particularly on social channels, you should craft a hashtag strategy and educate your community on how to share visual content they are creating on behalf of the brand. Among other requirements, a successful holiday hashtag should be unique to your brand, easily memorable, and one that can inspire digital audiences to use and share on it.

Your crafted holiday hashtag can help inspire your digital community to create high-quality user-generated, or “earned,” content that can be utilised (provided you secure permission) across all elements of your campaign. The more content that is shared, the more related users will participate, which will expand the overall effectiveness of the campaign. Consider Lululemon’s #GivePresence which has garnered over 13,000 unique pieces of consumer-contributed content on Instagram, or Anthropologie’s #DearAnthro, which generated 5,000 assets. Remember that your audience has the best understanding of how your products fit into their lifestyles, including during the holidays, so rely on them to help promote your campaign. Include your hashtag at all touchpoints, including on holiday packaging, in emails, and on in-store displays to educate your consumer on how you’d like for them to share. Earned content effectiveness goes beyond engagement and can lead to increased purchase behavior. In fact, according to Facebook IQ, holiday shoppers who make purchases on mobile devices are 1.81x more likely to say they use Facebook to research gift ideas and 1.85x more likely to use Instagram for gift inspiration.

Still not getting the content that you’re looking for? Brands should also consider executing an influencer strategy to help seed holiday content and broaden reach during the season. There is a seemingly endless supply of influencers available, depending on the style and audience you are targeting. Many of whom may also happen to be your customers, or potential customers, who have cultivated large followings that fit your target profiles. By tapping this community to create high-quality visual content, you can better connect your product to the aesthetic your audience wants, especially during the holiday season. This is particularly useful if you are just getting started on a holiday campaign, and don’t already have an enormous volume of earned content to ignite your existing base.

Influencers will dramatically increase your holiday campaign’s reach, and quickly. By incorporating them in the run-up to the holidays, you’ll catch consumers with teasers while they’re still in research mode. According to the National Retail Federation, more than one-half of all holiday shopping research occurs in October or earlier.

Brands must create content that is optimised for the appropriate channel. This has become increasingly challenging as new channels have emerged, particularly ephemeral channels such as Instagram Stories and Snapchat. At the same time, consumer preferences have shifted. One primary example of this shift involves video. Almost 50% of internet users look for videos related to a product or service before visiting a store. Traditionally, brands shot horizontal, longer-form video, and as digital channels emerged many simply chose to place the same creative on digital properties, without regard to the end-user experience. However, today, most users view video on mobile devices, and have come to favor short-form, vertical video on social and other digital channels. In fact, according to eMarketer, 83% of respondents were confident in Facebook videos for driving purchases, while 67% were similarly assured in videos placed on Instagram.

During the holiday season, many brands struggle to commit budget, time, and resources to creating short-form video. But engaging with consumers, especially younger ones, requires a modern approach. According to a survey by Brightcove, 46 percent of respondents reported making a purchase as a result of video.

It’s important to engage across all channels where you would normally connect with your audiences. Maintain consistency and stay top-of-mind by including content on all digital and social channels, but also in print and traditional media, direct mail, and more. Of course, you will need to develop a wealth of content in order to facilitate this type of roll-out, but if you execute the steps outlined previously, and tap your consumer audiences, influencers, and new forms of media, you will be well prepared to distribute content effectively.

Holiday marketing success really comes down to message consistency. By tapping into a single overarching theme powered by emotions and stunning visuals, you’ll build recognition across channels and take more than your share of the holiday marketing pie.

This is an excerpt from our recent guide, “10 Steps to Prepare for Holiday Marketing Success.” To download a copy of the full guide, click here.

1. Reynolds, Treacy. “Holiday Retail Sales Increased 4 Percent in 2016.” National Retail Federation. 1.13.17.
2. Allen, Katie. “Last-minute Christmas rush lifts UK retail sales.” The Guardian.
3. Wood, Zoe. “UK consumers cut spending on clothes, cars and foreign travel.” The Guardian. 8.6.17
4. “Facebook’s Festive Conversations.” Facebook IQ.
5, “2017 Retail Holiday Planning Playbook.” National Retail Federation. 2017.
6. “Three Key Shopping Micro-Moments for a Mobile World. Google Think.
7. “More Spending on Social Video Ads Is Planned.” eMarketer. 6/23/17.
8. The Science of Social Video.” Brightcove. 2017.

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