With the UK ready for record online sales this Christmas, retailers should be prepared to execute marketing strategies that will earn them a nice portion of this forecasted revenue opportunity and help them to outperform competitors.

In order to achieve this, marketers need to recognise that over the past 12 months there has been a shift in the way digital marketing is used to engage with customers and build brand loyalty, and how this is transforming the way brands are engaging with consumers this Christmas, and for years to come.

In this article I wanted to look back at some of the key digital marketing campaigns of Christmas 2012 and provide insight into how marketers are, or should be, making the most of these new approaches for their campaigns this year and in 2014.

Looking back to last year

With the buzz around Christmas seeming to start earlier every year, by mid-November 2012 most Christmas-related campaigns had begun. Email was very much the marketing medium of the season with our own research suggesting that many companies threw the frequency rule book out of the window, opting for daily emails to customers and inundating them with seasonal offers and promotions.

The good news is that we saw some companies doing this really well.  The best were very astute about the actual content of emails.  For example, to ensure their emails weren’t instantly despatched by the delete button, toy retailer Toys R Us used a daily ‘advent calendar’ approach that invited recipients to ‘like’ its Facebook page in exchange for a chance to win that day’s gift. 

Other retailers used a ‘twelve days of Christmas’ theme to justify daily offers and frequent contact.  Both of these approaches led to the emails being expected, even awaited by their recipients, which helped to make them feel less invasive.

Visual content also grew in importance – moving across mediums and digital channels from television to online sharing and social media and in a very short space of time, often generating substantial media coverage.

For example, the department store John Lewis has in recent years established a reputation for innovative festive campaigns, and maintained this standard in 2012 with a ‘snowman’ advert that quickly went viral, amassing 3.7 million online views (and counting) and 66,800 mentions on social media

It is worth noting that its new 2013 advertisement called ‘The Bear and The Hare’ resulted in 86,300 online mentions during its launch weekend alone.

What’s different this year?

If 2012 was mainly about emails and lots of them, Christmas 2013 is all about making those emails count – complementing them with mobile, social media, web and other channels including offline activity to generate not just sales, but nurture brand loyalty. To achieve this – personalisation is key.

It is more important than ever for marketers to know and understand their customers and to provide them with meaningful communications with the right message at the right time and on the right channel.  Looking at our own experience, and the campaigns currently being run across the UK retail sector, here are a few golden rules for marketing teams looking to run a successful Christmas campaign:

1. Make the message count

With most people now expecting a surge of promotional Christmas communications from November onwards, marketers need to take a much more sophisticated approach to their content and message in order to ensure their emails are opened, let alone read.

The best communications are much more than a ‘one-off’ message and do not rely solely on discounts and vouchers. They take the potential negative of daily contact and turn it into positive, giving marketers a chance to build brand relationships and loyalty. These messages engage and entertain, focusing on a story (as much as they promote sales) and invite readers to join in.  Increasingly, retailers are opting for integrated campaigns that share content through multiple channels – online and offline.

2. A personal touch

With personalisation technology, retailers have the ability to observe and understand which products their customers prefer, what colours and sizes they purchase, and which devices they use to browse their website. By understanding what they want, when they leave, and how they browse – retailers can extend and replicate the personal touch that their customers get in-store, to their online shopping experience, helping to nurture and grow brand loyalty.

Linking stock levels to marketing campaigns is a clever trick here – remind your customers of an item they had previously looked at online and alert them to the limited number left. It is also possible to provide a more valuable exchange with customers, by responding to their needs in real-time, based on and triggered by an action or behaviour.

3. Optimise your campaign for all devices: computer, tablet and smartphone

Mobile devices now account for over half of all online retail time, so the quality of the mobile experience must be at the top of every marketer’s agenda. Digital marketing campaigns must therefore embrace mobile or are in danger of falling behind their competitors and missing out on a significant number of potential sales.

To generate high levels of engagement across these mediums, marketers must however steer clear of a “one size fits all” approach, with Forrester warning that they risk missing out on opportunities by treating the tablet and smartphone experience under the same umbrella.

For many people, the run-up to Christmas is both joyful and immensely stressful.  Choosing and buying gifts is often as frustrating as it is fun.  Retail marketers need to tap into these very human emotions and behaviours and deliver personalised digital marketing campaigns that drive revenue, loyalty and satisfaction, making the most of the channels and devices people want to use to make the seasonal buying journey entertaining, engaging and easy.  Get this right, and the sales will come.