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The weeks and months leading up to December 25th can be a magical or disheartening time for any business depending on how well you’re converting customers’ festive feelings into actual sales. With the quiet summer period following hot on the heels of the Christmas break, it can be tempting to pull out all the stops before everyone disappears in January. However, it’s important not to sacrifice the long term reputation of your business for a quick (and potentially unsustainable) seasonal hit.

From the unexpected global backlash against the plain red holiday cupsat Starbucks, to the slightly odd and controversialsausage roll Jesus adverts in the UK, festive marketing can quickly turn into a bit of a minefield. Even large corporate brands face tough decisions about how to tastefully – and inoffensively – mark the occasion, so it’s understandable that small business owners can be wary when it comes holiday branding.

But with the general public in a buying mood, there are some simple ways to ensure your business becomes a natural and charming part of the festivities. Here are some helpful dos and don’ts to help you navigate the holiday season.

Keep it real and authentic

Whatever approach you decide to take with your seasonal marketing, veering away from your core brand personality and mission is a big mistake. If your business typically maintains a serious corporate tone in its communications throughout the year, now is not the time to start tweeting out cracker jokes: sticking to sincere sentiments and gentler messaging will ensure your customers feel like you really mean it.

On the other hand, if your social media stream and brand voice takes a more lighthearted or irreverent tone, being too heartfelt or serious can also strike an inauthentic note with your customers. Humour can help cut through the noise at this time of year but it can also be polarising, so make sure any holiday messaging matches your usual style to ensure your seasons greetings sound genuine.

Make the most of the whole season

As a small business, maximising ROI when it comes to physical holiday products and branding is key. While eye-catching Christmas packaging can help attract new customers shopping for gifts, it does have a limited shelf life. Why not take a leaf out of Bonds’ book and consider a wider summer-long campaign for longevity? Given that not everyone celebrates Christmas, it also makes sense to ensure your products appeal to as big a group of customers as possible. Investing in beautiful seasonal packaging rather than focusing on a specific holiday is a great way to create a sense of exclusivity around a limited edition, but also ensures that any stock not sold in December is still relevant in January and February.

Give back

‘Tis the season for giving: to your team, your customers and your community as a whole. Charitable donations or volunteering is an easy way to give back, and is a great way to engage staff and make everyone feel good about working for a company that supports philanthropy.

It is important that there is no overt advertising or sales pitch in your giving efforts – it’s tacky and people can see straight through it. Instead, find ways to link your charity work firmly with your business mission and values. If you’re a web design company, why not offer your services to local organisations or groups doing great work in your area? By asking your employees for suggestions and input in company-wide activities, you might also create lasting connections and discover personal relationships that are truly authentic and complement your brand perfectly.

Similarly, why not tap into the tradition for gift giving and be sure to offer real value to your customers as part of your holiday marketing? An effective tactic is to team up with like-minded brands targeting similar audiences and build up shared brand awareness through giveaways, contests or reciprocal discounts.

Don’t go over the top 

It’s understandable that many people feel overwhelmed by a barrage of consumerism in the lead up to December, and holiday burnout is real! Bombarding customers and over-communicating will ultimately devalue your offering, potentially annoy customers, and could well result in unfollows or mass unsubscribing. Of course, you’re likely to be sending more emails and posting more frequently at this time of year – but, don’t overdo it. You’ve worked hard to grow your audience and mailing list, so remember to handle those relationships with care and respect.

And don’t wait too long!’

How soon is too soon? It’s really never too early to start planning your holiday branding and marketing strategies, and by September things should definitely be in motion – especially if your industry relies heavily on holiday sales to reach revenue goals. Whether it’s a case of getting custom greetings cards designedor creating holiday packaging or ads, the more organised you are now, the easier it will be to keep up with the holiday rush.

Pamela Webber is Chief Operating Officer at 99designs, the global creative platform that makes it easy for designers and clients to work together to create designs they love. Earlier in her career, she served in various corporate strategy and marketing positions with eBay and its subsidiary, PayPal, Inc., True&Co, and other fast growing companies in the consumer Internet space. A resident of San Francisco, Pam received her BA from the University of Pennsylvania and a MBA from Harvard Business School.

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Pamela Webber

Pamela Webber

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