Down Under, as you probably first heard years ago on the playground, seasons are the reverse of America’s. For example, in Australia, December falls in summer. Therefore, some Aussies celebrate two Christmases a year—one according to the calendar (i.e., on Dec. 25) and the other in July. It’s not about swag—it’s about snow. In other words, the tradition started for people who prefer their Christmases cold if not white.
These days in the Northern Hemisphere, “Christmas in July” has another connotation: early shopping. And just how early has been the butt of jokes for years. First, seeing Christmas merchandise before Thanksgiving seemed too early. Then before Halloween seemed way too early. And now we sometimes encounter jingle bells before school bells, with “BTS” meaning “back to selling” as much as “back to school.” Soon it may be standard to see wreaths and fireworks on sale side-by-side.
Now looking at today’s Millennial generation, social is the primary channel to drive sales, and this new evolution in how we’re seeing holidays arrive earlier and earlier, this opens a completely new challenge for social.
Courtesy of Twitter, let’s look at some reactions (collected in August 2013) to Costco’s early jump on the biggest sales season of the year:
Just saw Christmas stuff at Costco. I wish I was joking.
Wow, Costco already has Christmas stuff and summer isn't even over!!!
Nativity scenes a week ago. Now, full Christmas display at Costco. Only 4 shopping months left!
It's August 21, and Costco has its Christmas stuff out for sale NOW! Are you freakin' kidding me??? #tooearly
There are hundreds more on the topic, most of which are negative, some not fit for reprint here. What’s more surprising than seeing a nativity scene in the dog days of summer is that Costco does not have an active Twitter handle. A company that prides itself on customer service, let alone a brand as big as Costco, cannot sensibly be without a Twitter presence. It used to be that retailers would have to wait for their customers to come to them. Now retailers can (and should) go to their customers, and their customers are, of course, online. With this many critical tweets on a Costco topic in circulation, the brand should be publicly trying to diffuse consumer grumbling.
So what should Costco and other brands be doing? Here are three steps that can better position a brand to address online agitation and mitigate the cacophony of noise stemming from Millennials who are quick to point out what’s wrong and right in today’s rapid reaction world:
1. Internal alignment. The best social media folks are excellent at connecting with consumers online, but do they have the same communication rigor internally? I have met many marketers who work only inside their box. To be effective, marketers need to coordinate with folks within the organization who have the most impact on revenue, such as the sales team, product managers, promotional marketers and support.
2. Know your target. I am no longer surprised when I ask a modern marketer on who a particular campaign is intended for and he says, “all of our customers.” Similarly, when I ask if personas were created, debated, and refined, I get a 50/50 response. But more than half of the people in my informal polling should know that building personas will help you fine-tune the tone in which you should speak to your customers and prospects. Some brands that I feel are doing a good job of humanizing their approach include @DeltaAssist, @SpotifyCares, @fitbitsupport. The irony is that social media can make it easier, not more intimidating, to better target and talk to your customer base.
3. Take the time to create and market good content. Crafting content can be hard, while crafting good content is even harder. It’s not enough to have good content; you must have good content marketed well. They are separate skills. Going back to Costco, I would have prepared for a potential backlash to Christmas in July with a number of options: humor, bonus promotions, or even a simple apology that somehow also acknowledges the absurdity of it. Any response to consumer complaints is risk-laden, but necessary to alleviate frustration and build loyalty. What about dumping some manmade snow in the parking lot on a hot summer day and holding a snowman-making contest? Or cross-promoting Costco Travel by offering a discount on a Christmas vacation getaway if they register in-store…and in a Santa hat? Both of those goodwill stunts can generate fantastic online content in the form of photos and short videos. Suddenly Christmas in July seems less grating and more acceptable..
In this ultra-competitive economy, Christmas creep is likely a trend that is here to stay. You better not pout, you better not cry. It may feel too early for Christmas, but no matter what time of year it is when you’re reading this, it is never too early to plan for Christmas. Social media can be the gift that keeps on giving especially when confronting today’s Millennials.