“Sign, sign, everywhere a sign, blockin’ out the scenery, breakin’ my mind, do this, don’t do that, can’t you read the sign(s)?” – “Signs,” Five Man Electrical Band, 1971
All the signs are there. In August, the National Retail Federation increased its forecast for 2018 sales growth to at least 4.5 percent. A month later, data from the U.S. Commerce Department noted a 12.1-percent year-over-year increase in U.S. e-commerce sales, to $58.5 billion for October. And it’s impossible to be anything but awed by the sales performance on the most recent Alibaba’s Singles Day (Nov. 11), which generated $30.8 billion – the equivalent of what Amazon does in three months.
For the current holiday season, these signs point to this as one of the best ever for retailers. And if marketers do things in an intelligent and well-planned way, this banner season can turn into a brilliantly bright future inhabited by devoted, loyal, paying customers.
Those numbers and trends bode well for Black Friday (Nov. 23), Cyber Monday (Nov. 26) and throughout the December holiday season.
Focus on the present with an eye to the future
More to the point, brands can set themselves up to break sales records every year if they focus on delivering the right experience to their priority customer segments over the next several weeks. It’s all about developing brand loyalty by delivering exceptional experiences now.
And while it’s really easy to have a narrow focus on making and exceeding numbers through 2018, how well marketing departments perform in these three areas will make an impact on their business long after they’ve put away their holiday decorations for another year:
- Continuing to define your best and most responsive audiences and the relevant places to engage with them.
- Tailoring messages to each audience segment leveraging category, product, creative, imagery, and phrasing.
- Fostering exceptional customer experiences via right-time messaging.
Here are three ways brands can increase loyalty as they drive sales this holiday season:
1. Leverage data to craft the right message and offers for the appropriate audience.
Despite the persistent talk of the need to deliver personalized experiences, many retailers aren’t varying or adapting their message and customer-facing creative to particular segments – even something so basic as by life stage or household composition. Retailers still promote similar approaches to distinct audiences, even though, for example, what I may be receptive to is completely different from my spouse.
Several segmenting concepts are already ingrained: Baby boomers are more likely to be in-store shoppers, and Generation Z-ers and millennials are more likely to buy online (with more using their smartphones). Today, every contemporary marketer armed with innovative technologies and best practices should be able to identify customers not only by those basic demographics – they should also be able to target specific, personalized offers to them based on their shopping preferences and transactional histories. Anything that resonates with them on any level – from practical to emotional – creates more of a connection to that brand.
Also, keep in mind that half of all holiday purchases are unplanned, according to Deloitte. This provides retailers with an excellent opportunity to attract consumers with special offers such as flash sales, instant offers, unexpected in-store experiences, eye-catching window displays, and free shipping. From a strategic perspective, focus on connecting the customer data silos in your organization to build a more complete picture of your consumers so that you can better reach and engage them across digital and offline channels.
2. Use creative, unconventional thinking to build long-term relationships with new customers.
Many brands will gain new customers this holiday season. While it’s true that first impressions make the strongest impressions, it’s equally important to continuously accentuate those impressions throughout the year to build and strengthen customer loyalty.
What Macy’s did this year well ahead of the holiday season – revamping its loyalty program – is a good example of that. The department store continued to re-energize its enterprise-wide turnaround program a month later by extending “Star Rewards” beyond just its store cardholders. These initiatives enabled Macy’s to add 2 million new bronze loyalty members while simultaneously enhancing the emotional connections it’s making by offering one-of-a-kind perks, such as tickets to its legendary Thanksgiving Day parade.
3. Keep ethics at the heart of all you do with data.
Brands and marketers hardly need to be reminded that, when it comes to consumer data and privacy issues, the eyes of the public and lawmakers are on us. In the industry we’re serving and the age we’re living in, we have to ensure ethical data use at every turn for us to survive – not just succeed.
In June, when California Governor Jerry Brown signed the California Consumer Privacy Act – data privacy legislation that gives consumers more control over their personal information – it signaled what we believe will be a bigger legislative push to regulate the data-collection habits marketers and retailers are employing today.
But data is really the only way marketers can recognize, organize, understand, and engage customers at scale. Consumers need to trust the brands with whom they conduct transactions to do the right thing with their data, so it is the marketers’ responsibility to live up to that trust. Transparency is paramount.
Considering that consumer spend on mobile devices is expected to increase 15 percent over last year – with mobile contributing 33 percent of all online sales – it’s more important than ever to expertly manage identity across devices. Remember that mobile is both a research and shopping tool; more than two-thirds of online shoppers rely on their mobile phones.
The final word(s) on building customer loyalty
There are two messages here:
- The holiday season is always a hectic, chaotic time, and the current one looks exceptionally promising for retailers. To ensure future success, though, it’s vital to set a solid foundation of delivering exceptional customer experiences by leveraging the right data to deliver meaningful, personalized messages at just the right time.
- Never lose sight of the need to make sure your data use is legal, fair and just, as this bolsters your foundation by fostering stronger consumer loyalty and trust.
By doing those things, there’s a good chance you’ll enjoy holiday cheer all year long.