’Tis The Holiday Season

Originally printed in the January 2019 issue of Produce Business.

The 2019 holiday season is upon us – for marketers, anyway. Although that may seem like an odd statement directly following the 2018 holiday season, it’s never too early to start planning for the holidays. Here are four keys to making it successful:

1. Begin Planning In January

Food shopping is the subject of far more consideration during the holidays than the rest of the year. And understandably so – our SHS FoodThink data shows that 50 percent of people enjoy hosting family for the holidays, and 80 percent say the food is often one of their favorite parts of any particular holiday.1

Large groups of guests also lead to more food preferences, and dietary needs to be addressed. More than a quarter of people (27.6 percent) say they follow a specialty diet.1 As a result, it’s not unusual to see increased sales of specialty dietary items during the holiday season. As an example, Nielsen reported that in the three weeks leading up to Thanksgiving 2016, conventional sweet potato sales declined by two percent while sales of the organic variety increased by 12 percent.2

Further, according to a 2017 report by RetailMeNot and Kenton Global, 60 percent of shoppers planned to start shopping for the 2017 holiday season before Nov. 1, and 12 percent had begun holiday shopping that summer.3

In no way does this mean brands should bombard consumers with holiday messaging during the summer. But by planning early, you can start marketing tactfully with recipes and other content that is relevant. While no one wants to see a pumpkin in August, they’re not disappointed by a pumpkin bar recipe.

2. Create Brand Loyalty, Don’t Steal It

The power of tradition is strong. Consumers want to enjoy and serve their families trusted foods during the holidays, often choosing brands and products they know.

For that reason, the holidays aren’t the ideal time to go head-to-head with established, traditional brands. They have the luxury of celebrating consumer loyalty and emotional connection in their marketing. Rather, smaller brands may do better to focus on alternative events and new traditions such as Friendsgiving. As of November 2018, the #friendsgiving hashtag has yielded more than one million Instagram posts. It provides an opportunity for newer or smaller brands to engage consumers and build communities of their own.

3. Segment And Segment Some More

Competition is strong during the holidays as more brands fight for attention. Brands should resist the urge to shout louder at more people. Instead, communicate more strategically.

During the holidays, consumers are looking for inspiration, help and the best deals. To successfully engage them, holiday communications have to resonate more quickly and deeply than at other times of year. This justifies segmenting your audience to create a truly personalized conversation.

Not everyone in your audience is planning, shopping for and cooking the holiday meal. Many will be engaging with food in ways that are independent of the main course and sides.

Consider what else these audiences might need to know. Think about college students who is home for the holidays, returning to his or her dorm with leftovers; the neighbor who’s been tasked with bringing the wine; or the gluten-free cousin who prefers to make his or her own dessert.

Although it can be time-consuming, the more relevant and timely information you provide your audiences by segmenting them and personalizing your messages, the better the return.

4. Look After Your Community Managers

It’s easy to assume that once the big day hits, your holiday marketing is done. But social media is the first place people will visit on those days when they have something they want you to know quickly (not least because they bank on your quick response out of fear of a bad review going viral).

Increasing your internal resources for one-on-one discussions with consumers during the holidays will help appease the angry and engage the happy.

Giving community managers the autonomy to engage in real-time community, management also presents an opportunity to engage and reward positive community members by delighting those who are leaving good reviews with things such as secret discount codes and surprise product giveaways.

Perhaps most importantly, give your community managers the credit they deserve. Respect that they are working over the holidays, likely sacrificing their own traditions for the sake of your community. Make sure they know they are appreciated.

It’s easy to get caught up in the current of the holidays, talking to everyone as loudly as possible and losing your voice trying to be everything to all consumers. Don’t do it. Planning early, being purposeful and specific in your messaging and taking care of your team will leave you as happy as a child during the holidays.

1 SHS FoodThink. 2018.
2 Nielsen 52 weeks sales ending 9/30/2017. November 2017.
3 RetailMeNot. October 2017.

Mark Crouser is the associate public relations director at Sullivan Higdon & Sink. Sullivan Higdon & Sink is a full-service advertising and marketing agency focused on building brands across the food value chain. With offices in Wichita, KS, and Kansas City, MO, SHS specializes in development of creative, digital, social media content, public relations, influencer engagement, experiential and email marketing.