When Brands Should Join the Conversation and When They Should Create Their Own

With just over a month until Christmas, consumers and brands alike are looking at the holiday season with excitement and dare I say, a bit of anxiety. While we all look forward to the much-anticipated adverts from the leading fashion high-street stores and the decorated window displays that marvel our inner Scrooge, there is one element of the holiday season that causes me to groan slightly: the influx of half-hearted Christmas-related online campaigns from brands. There is, in theory, nothing wrong with creating a holiday campaign, but I think it is important for brands to really think about how and why they want to tap into this highly competitive and crowded online space. 

Seasonality can often be tricky to master; it requires a clear and natural link to the cause, holiday or consumer trend. This unfortunately is not always the case for some online campaigns and as a result, your brand could end up on the ‘worst’ campaign list. Here are my tips on how to decide whether your brand should join the conversation and when to create your own: 

Ask yourself the following: do I need it, want it and can I afford it?

I mostly use this mantra when I’m in Selfridges but it can also be applied for seasonal campaigns as well. Whilst I can appreciate that not every brand can plan three, six or even 12 months in advance, it is fairly easy to anticipate when popular conversations occur online and whether their brand is a natural fit to join. There are of course the big contenders for the Christmas campaign like John Lewis and Sainsbury’s who really own that space and as Christmas falls on the same day every year, brands should keep in mind that even if they are not rolling out a massive campaign, proper planning should still occur. However, as mentioned above, Christmas is a very busy time so research what’s worked well within your industry previously and how your target sites like to report on Christmas.

One of the great elements about Christmas and the holiday season is that most brands are relevant to consumers and businesses, but the question is does your brand need to push out a campaign at this time? Sometimes a smaller call to action like email marketing and online deals can be just as effective as bigger campaigns especially if you cater to a niche audience. Think about what your competitors will be doing and open up to the possibility of thinking outside the box. This eliminates the possibility of your brand promoting a ‘cookie cutter’ campaign during Christmas.

Also, do you really want a campaign to organise and execute at the end of Q4? Journalists and editors go pretty quiet around mid-December and as a result, their inboxes are swamped from early November. It is best to decide exactly what you want to achieve and assess whether you are running a Christmas campaign just for the sake of it. It’s also important to figure out whether your brand can even afford it. Although simple tactics can be cost-efficient, there is the risk of trying to overdo a campaign to gain traction and additional traffic, especially during Christmas.

Ask yourself the following: is there a viable opportunity for my brand to create our own conversation?

There is nothing more exciting for me than a new PR plan for the following year. It is the chance to start fresh, identify unique and innovative talking points and to settle into a new way of working. This is also the time to think about any conversations that your brand can join such as New Year, but one option that some brands never consider, much to my disappointment, is starting their own conversation. This doesn’t necessarily have to happen or be planned around popular seasons or events throughout the year nor does it have to involve a big fancy campaign. Think about what’s coming up for your brand in terms of milestones, anniversaries and of course, how your brand’s USP will be relevant to your target audience in 2016. Can you involve influencers, collaborate with popular online communities and publications and can you leverage internal data/research to predict consumer trends? When in doubt, nostalgic campaigns usually work well (just look at #ThrowbackThursday) because audiences love to reminisce about past eras.

Additionally, think beyond the standard press release and create a ‘story’ by using a wide range of formats such as video, visual assets, interviews, and live Twitter Q&A to create a conversation. Audiences and communities respond to these formats and journalists work better when they have a selection of content to choose from.

Hopefully this helps steer you toward the right campaign this holiday season and if your brand decides to opt out, there’s always 2016.