A Wishbone, A Backbone, A Funny Bone

It’s that time of year again, when the kids are back in school, college students are getting acclimated to their new surroundings and parents are trying to figure out how to be creative with their time.

Also top of mind, holidays are starting sooner than you think, some even as early as August/September. According to the National Retail Federation, 40% of  consumers will start their shopping before Halloween. That’s just over 70 days from now, which means you probably have your marketer hat on and have already begun thinking about, and likely planning, your holiday messaging and promotional strategies.

I love the holidays from a professional side. It’s a really diverse series of shopping events, from Halloween — the biggest “photo”-sharing event of the year — to the race to Black Friday/Cyber Monday and then the 12 days of Christmas.  

It’s fun because consumers are changing so drastically each year: webrooming, showrooming, cross-device behaviors when shopping. Consumer trends are reshaping how we predict traffic, shopping patterns and how we own that point of intermediation, where value/convenience are at its highest point in the consumer/brand value exchange continuum. This is an adaptive exercise, not a plan in August and run full steam for the next four months.

What I think is most disappointing for the email marketing world is, rarely do the email teams get to drive the messaging and promotional strategies from the top down. Most are relegated to the overarching company plan and general advertising themes, some with more/less latitude to deviate.

What gets lost is the interpretation based on the medium. With email, we already have some brand connection, the channel is designed to aid in information sharing, facilitation of convenience, and to provide opportunities to experiment with the timing and diversity in our audiences. Unlike any other advertising channel, you can build a very sticky relationship, if you are creative, consistent and adaptive.

The best way to illustrate this is to look at a few holiday programs that are what I’d call creative, and that are using the channel, brand and socially sensitive approaches that were executed very well.

REI Opt Outside. What email marketer doesn’t like this approach to a metaphor? #optoutside. What a company risk! A risk that paid off, as the company closed all retail outlets on Black Friday and invited all customers to join employees in taking Black Friday off and getting outdoors.

This was a mass media campaign that was proliferated through email, social, advertising, and mobile and fed over through the remainder of the holidays.

Magic happens when you can tie your brand to something meaningful, something cause-related and hat has creative outlets to convey the message.

This type of approach reminds me of years ago when we were brainstorming on birthday programs and most were using old playbooks with creative candles and promotions, versus thinking about what actually goes into a birthday.: People plan for it, then there’s the event, there’s social interaction and then there are the memories of the experience. All can be used to drive meaningful messaging around one single day event that is highly personal.  

I’m a big fan of HotelTonight, which has virtually changed how I travel these days. With that said, humor is an important element of its campaign, and it has called attention to some unspoken areas within our culture related to holidays, travel and families. A favorite part of this campaign is that it's multifaceted, across social first, then print, radio and digital.

It takes a single idea -- that we aren't crazy about some of our relatives or staying with them during the holidays -- and hilariously executes the message across a variety of formats.

Have some fun this holiday season. Don’t limit yourself to the canvas and send button. Email done with the proper creativity, timing and execution will have long-tail impacts on your success, past Dec. 24. This takes a bit of guts, a little risk and the ability to align capability with sustainability.

Reminds me of this quote from singer Reba McEntire: “To succeed in life you need three things, a wishbone, a backbone and a funny bone.”

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