I recently contributed to a Luxury Daily special report, “Holiday marketing,” where one of the main premises is that luxury brands need to strategize for the shopping and gifting season earlier each year. The author asked if it’s ever too early to launch holiday campaigns, and my response was that indeed, sometimes it can be too early to launch holiday campaigns because consumers can potentially become numb to the brand or messaging. Additionally, shoppers may get frustrated when looking for school supplies or outdoor products only to see designated display areas replaced by Halloween, for example. True story.

However, I also read recent articles in Apparel Magazine, that stated nearly half (45%) of consumers will begin holiday shopping before November and in NRF’s Holiday Planning Playbook, which similarly stated that more than half of holiday shoppers starting to research and plan their gifts in October or earlier — before they start committing to actual purchases.

So where is the line in the calendar drawn? Or is it not necessarily a “holiday” message, but a holistic branding strategy that subtly permeates consumers’ mindshare – these days truly a Herculean effort: keeping the appropriately targeted messaging and desire to purchase at the forefront, yet not intruding on every day shopping, work, life, family, etc. necessities. Recent acquisitions and rebranding by the likes of Coach, Inc. (to Tapestry), as well as Michael Kors’ acquisition of Jimmy Choo may further muddy the branding and messaging waters.

From a luxury brand perspective, this type of strategy may be even more important because the disposable income of those who frequently purchase higher priced items often makes finding the “perfect gift” even more of a challenge. For the family member or friend “who has everything” (or the means to easily acquire whatever they want or need), brands must craft and target messaging that’s not only highly relevant and timely, but more importantly memorable. A familiar example of this being executed is at local festivals and holiday bazaars. As you walk around perusing the artisan and handmade items, a pattern emerges and you typically can begin to group the types of vendors—art, decor, paper crafts, accessories, jewelry, clothing and food—all competing for the same consumers. Think about what draws you from one booth over another; it could run the gamut from the visual display or other sensory cues to a simple “hello.” Though with these niche merchants you often pay a premium, you do so because you made a connection beyond the item. I will submit that this strategy also should be adopted by non-luxury brands in order to rise above the noise (and yes, chaos) of the holiday season overall in addition to their many other competitors.

What does this take? Obviously, an acute understanding of your target market, which can really only be attained through solid and clean data, advanced analytics, appropriate consumer touch-points, as well as proper training and the correct skill sets to optimally leverage the information and execute brand messaging. At this point, all marketers should intimately know their holiday product assortments, which have been determined long in advance.

The Apparel Magazine article goes on to say that consumers will be spending more this year on holiday shopping than last year – on average $482. Specifically:

• $330 for children
• $196 for significant others *
• $164 on food
• $105 for parents
• $90 for siblings
• $57 on best friends

* I did inform my spouse that he is more than welcome to adjust that number upward.

This upward trend represents opportunities for brands of all price points. Often people shop for gifts that will surprise or delight the recipient – items they would not normally purchase themselves. Value retailers can capitalize on the fact that 52% of consumers plan to use a deal or offer when purchasing a gift for someone else, while 48% will shop in a store based on the deals they find (according to Apparel Magazine). While luxury brands tend to shy away from promotions and sales in fear of brand degradation, the holiday season is an excellent time to have special limited-time-only promotions and messaging. One way to embrace this is to have a unique holiday assortment and/or packaging. For all brands, online and print is an ideal way of targeting shoppers now – before launching in-store, as consumers typically research much earlier than when they actually purchase.

Lastly, retailers absolutely cannot ignore the in-store experience. With the anticipated influx of shoppers to stores in the coming months, retailers are already beefing up their temporary staffing for the holiday season. We’ve written articles and blogged about the importance of store associate training in the past, and the rapid nature of the holiday hiring and staffing makes this even more paramount. As Bob Phibbs, CEO of retail consultancy the Retail Doctor tells Luxury Daily, “The most expensive thing you can do is not train your staff.” We wholeheartedly agree. As the hectic nature of the holiday season intensifies, shopper anxiety and frustration does as well. Especially during that last weekend before Christmas, it is the employees on the front lines of your stores, representing your brand, who can make or break your customers’ shopping experiences. Exceptional customer experiences can only be realized through exceptional associate training.

To read the full Luxury Daily article, please visit: https://www.luxurydaily.com/holiday-marketing-luxury-memo-special-report/ (subscription required)

To read the Apparel Magazine article, please visit: https://apparelmag.com/forty-five-percent-consumers-will-begin-holiday-shopping-november

To read NRF’s 2017 Holiday Planning Playbook, please visit: https://nrf.com/resources/retail-library/2017-retail-holiday-planning-playbook

Courtney