Interviews, insight & analysis on digital media & marketing

Christmas ads: The golden model for customer engagement?

By Jil Maassen, Lead Strategy Consultant at Optimizely

There are many things synonymous with Christmas. Carol singers, delicious food, Christmas lights, festive tree decorations, shopping for gifts, and watching who wins the Christmas advert war. However, the last two on this list have more in common than you might think. When it comes to engaging Christmas shoppers, there is a lot that can be learnt from how brands play out their advertising campaigns. From the classic CocaCola truck signalling the return of Santa Claus to the first airing of the John Lewis advert heralding the start of the festive season (even if it is shown in November!). Every year brands try to outdo each other with their festive adverts, however, the one thing that ties all of them together is the way they tap into human emotion. Whether it is the theme of sharing love that runs through the John Lewis advert, or the different family values and Christmas traditions depicted in the series of Sainsbury adverts, they all have relatable elements that connect with the consumers they are targeting.

Another thing to note is that the themes of the adverts aren’t just kept to the screen. Brands run omnichannel campaigns featuring the same characters and storylines in their adverts, instore, online, and across social media. The reason? They know that customer engagement relies on tapping into the emotions, thoughts, and feelings of customers but then, very importantly, using those themes to connect with the customer at each stage in their buying journey. This is a powerful marketing tool and one that should be replicated by all those looking to encourage similar levels of customer engagement – even after the Christmas period is over. With 81 percent of consumers making purchasing decisions based on how much they trust the brand, it is clear that there is a strong link between customer engagement and the emotional perception of a brand.

Keeping consumers keen at Christmas when competition is fierce

With most people moving online to do their Christmas shopping this year, the fight for survival is even more pronounced for brands looking for sales this season. If a brand’s online presence falls short, consumers can transfer their affections to competitors at the click of a button, meaning every touch point needs to be considered in order to reduce the risk of churn. For instance, a website requiring customers to re-enter their information multiple times, marketing irrelevant products, or simply being non-intuitive, can mean a customer goes elsewhere to find their Christmas gifts. Luckily for brands, this surge to online has also brought with it one of the best tools for helping increase engagement – a wealth of real-time data!

Next best to actually sitting down and talking to every customer to ask them what they want in their ecommerce experience is having their data do the talking for them. Brands that experiment and optimise their offering through customer insights will be the ones that stay ahead of the game. Brands can use data from all customer touchpoints to better understand behaviours and preferences, right from the first interaction through to the point of sale. This allows them to find patterns and trends in their shopping journeys and start to tailor the experience to their specific needs.

Experimenting your way to the perfect Christmas offering 

This is where experimentation can help. Brands can do small scale testing on different variants of the digital customer experience in order to build personalised experiences into the customer journey, increasing engagement and making them feel special. Experimentation enables brands to test personalised experiences to an audience on a small scale first, before scaling personalisation in a larger rollout. For instance, a brand could test whether a quick click to buy button, or an online queueing system works better for retention rates at the point of sale during busy periods. By experimenting with these frontend feature changes on a small scale with a select amount of users, it would allow them to see, in real-time, whether or not customers react positively or negatively to these changes or additions. Then they can make the decision whether to bake it into the backend function on a large scale, based on statistical evidence, rather than on gut instinct or hypothesis. This not only helps to improve the customer experience if the experiment is a success, but it also helps to improve the overall functionality of the website by reducing disruption to customers if the results are negative.

Experimentation beyond Christmas

Hopefully, Christmas 2021 will bring more fun adverts, Christmas traditions and, we hope, a more stable end to a less tumultuous year. Yet, if 2020 has taught brands anything, it’s that knowing your customer is critical to winning their hearts and minds. In an age of online retail, experimentation, therefore, is critical to customer engagement and an essential tool as brands look to personalise experiences and remain in their customer’s good books this Christmas and beyond.