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Holiday 2016: Why Earned Content Is the Best Gift for Brands

For consumers, talking about the holiday season may seem a bit premature. But for those of us serving in marketing and e-commerce roles, of course, planning for this pinnacle timeframe in the shopping calendar began months ago. This year, brands are excited about positive customer sentiment, and the potential for a spike in consumer spending throughout the holiday shopping season. In fact, according to PwC’s 2016 Holiday Outlook, consumers’ holiday spending is expected to rise 10% over 2015 figures, reaching its highest point since the Great Recession. Here are some other notable trends from the report brands need to pay attention to:

  • Digital sales and mobile shopping are both expected to rise 25% over last year
  • Consumers expect a frictionless shopping experience, and a consistent brand message across channels
  • While Millennials value travel and experiences over all else, the 86 million members of Gen-Z prefer material possessions. They are influenced by social media and are less engaged by advertising.
  • Brands matter to 80% of consumers: whether through history, location, or brand identity, shoppers want to align themselves with brands that capture their personalities.

With such a crowded marketplace, and an overabundance of messaging and deals available, brands need to be intelligent about how they engage their audiences. Given the competitive landscape, retail brands have rushed to be first-to-wallet with customers by targeting Black Friday, which in the United States, represents the unofficial (official) kickoff to the holiday shopping season. Interestingly, despite the lack of Thanksgiving, Black Friday has grown in popularity outside of the United States as well. For the first time ever, global e-commerce consultancy Salmon is projecting £5 billion in online sales from Thursday, the 24th of November through to Cyber Monday on the 28th.

Each year, “doorbuster” sales have been creeping earlier and earlier, making Thanksgiving Day itself a popular shopping day. This has led to backlash from many consumers that want a separation of church and state, both for their own families and the families of retail workers made to skip the holiday in favor of opening up store locations. Last year, REI and others famously decided to stay closed on Thanksgiving Day. This year, the outdoor apparel and equipment retailer is doubling down, closing on Black Friday as well in order to pay its employees “to do what we love most – be outside.” Other brands closing on Thanksgiving Day to “reclaim family time” include GameStop, Home Depot, and Sur La Table among others.

Instead of a rush to be first-to-wallet, these brands are targeting a deeper level of engagement, and recognizing the importance of building more meaningful long-term relationships with their audiences. At Olapic, we have also noted this trend with our clients, who have turned to their customers’ content on Instagram to create better marketing experiences, using holiday campaigns as a catapult to year-long, ongoing touch points. Here are a couple of our favorite campaigns:

Alex + Ani #PositivelyGifted

Alex + Ani ran a contest last year during the month of December, asking consumers to share photos on Twitter and Instagram demonstrating what made them feel #PositivelyGifted. With one grand prize (a $250 e-gift card) and 5 runner-up prizes (a $100 e-gift card), the brand solicited content not just for holiday promotions but that could be used across all channels throughout the year. We loved it because the hashtag was simple and on-brand while being broad enough to drive content beyond the holiday season.

Anthropologie #DearAnthro

Playing off of the “Dear Santa” standard holiday letter salutation, Anthropologie has asked customers to submit photos using this distinct hashtag with items from their personal wishlists. Some are then randomly selected to receive the items. To date, there are over 5,300 posts on Instagram alone using the hashtag. We loved it because the hashtag played with the holiday spirit while not excluding content relevant throughout the rest of the year.

giggle #shareagiggle

The holidays are a very popular time for people to exercise their philanthropic tendencies, giving back to those less fortunate and to their communities. giggle, a retailer specializing in baby apparel and furniture, decided to tap its customers’ desire for meaning and purpose by asking them to share photos using #shareagiggle. For every baby photo posted to the hashtag, the brand donated $1 to the Worldwide Orphans Foundation to help more babies find families. We loved it because the hashtag included the brand’s name, and the cause was consistent with the brand’s mission and its customers’ passion.

So, how can your brand create a holiday hashtag campaign that will generate content, drive meaningful engagement, and help increase revenue during the holidays and beyond? Here are a few tips to get you started:

  1. Keep it specific: Certainly, it’s tempting to try and do everything with a holiday hashtag campaign, but you need to be pointed in your effort or it won’t resonate with your audience. Carefully choosing hashtags that are distinct and match to the purpose of both the campaign and the brand is key to success.
  2. Pick something that can be replicated: Perhaps you won’t want to stick to the same campaign each year, but many retailers see results by crafting holiday hashtags that they can revamp and reuse each holiday season. This will become an expected campaign for your loyal customers and should drive increased engagement and participation each time it is activated. Of course, you’ll want to update it each year, but make it memorable for your customer-base.
  3. Inspire an action: As you can see from the examples above, brands typically do well when they can lead their customers to a desired action. Asking customers to share photos to enter a contest or to drive a philanthropic donation by the brand are good ways to achieve this goal. Additionally, don’t be afraid to tell your customers what kinds of photos you’re looking for, and what creative structure you’d like to see.
  4. Build your campaign around an emotion: Emotion drives behavior, sentiment, and everything else about your relationship with your consumer audience. The more you can plug into a specific emotion, the more you’ll be able to create deep, long-lasting connections. Still, make sure you are true to your brand promise. Don’t choose a powerful emotion if your brand message and tone doesn’t typically communicate that way. Stay consistent and your audience will follow suit.

These are just a few tips to get you started. Holiday 2016 is rapidly approaching, and you’ve likely already got a ton of programs and initiatives planned. Remember the different priorities of various audiences, and consider adopting a system to gather authentic visual content from your loyal customers that can be utilized throughout the year. If you’d like to discuss your holiday hashtag strategy with us, click here.

Wishing you lots of success this season and beyond! Happy holidays!