What you can learn about great marketing from Christmas


Every year millions of people, if not billions, invest a stunning amount of time, effort and money to celebrate Christmas. Christmas is so big that nearly all work stops for it, except essential services.

I put it to you that Christmas is one of the greatest examples of marketing ever to be conceived. Yes, Apple are g, Amazon want to take over the world and we can all point to brands like Red Bull who have built a brand that far exceeds the physical product: "Coke anyone?".

When you look at these marketing successes, of all of them pale into insignificance when compared to Christmas.

You could write a book on the marketing lessons you could learn from Christmas, and someday I might, in the meantime here are 5 marketing lessons to take from the wonder that is Christmas.


1. Know who your tribe* is


A tribe is a group of like-minded individuals with common beliefs, values, ways of dressing etc. One of the things that makes Christmas so successful is its ability to unify people who would normally be different tribes, into one tribe to celebrate Christmas. We all partake of common practices and activities and we all have a common meal. These are the rituals that surround Christmas and they unify the tribe.

Learning: What you need to take away from this is to be really clear who your tribe are, understand that you tribe are built from a set of common beliefs, actions, perceptions, values etc. not purely their role or demographic.


2. Build a compelling story and own the language around it


Whether it is the baby Jesus being born in Bethlehem, or a rather large man with a white beard who lives at the North Pole, Christmas is surrounded by stories and a unique language associated with those stories. These are stories that emotionally involve people and speak to their values and beliefs. These are the stories that bind the tribe together. They are stories that they can tell to each other to support their place in the tribe and recruit others.

Learning: Define your story and make sure it is an emotional experience not just a journey of logic and reasoning.


3. Clear rituals and symbols


Visual recognition is a core element of any great brand, and in the case of Christmas the multiple visual representations mean that even a small square of red and green will make people think of Christmas. Christmas has a clear visual theme and even in countries or regions that hardly see snow, you will see snowy landscapes abound at Christmas. These visual themes allow "the tribe" to clearly identify when to engage in behaviors that surround Christmas and these are the rituals that "the tribe" take part in to support their place as part of the tribe. In the case of Christmas there are so many rituals: the sending and receiving of cards, the giving of presents, all the food rituals, religious rituals, putting up decorations and the Christmas tree to name just a few.

Learning: When you build a brand think about all the visual cues you want your tribe to be able to recognize and the rituals that will surround your brand which your tribe will take part in. If you own an Apple device you will know that they are fantastic at this. There is the unboxing ritual, the registration ritual and then all the rituals that are common every time you use the device.


4.  Make it social


A key element of Christmas is the social elements in the run up to the event and during the event itself from wishing people a "Merry Christmas" or "Happy Holidays" through sending cards and getting together to celebrate. The social aspect is critical because there is no point in being part of a tribe that do not socialize; imagine a version of Twitter of Facebook where you could only see your own posts.

Learning: Define clear ways for your tribe to be social in support of your brand and their part in it. Knowing the places where you tribe socialize and understanding those is key to a great brand, the more you can define those places the stronger your brand will be. These do not have to be events created by you; they can be events that your tribe usually takes part in anyway. It is about associating those events with your brand. The classic example beyond Christmas is Coca Cola; they have made it their goal to be associated with any event where people get together (examples include the Olympics and Football World Cup); which is why they have spent a fortune over the last 80 years to be associated with Christmas (#holidaysarecoming – are you now also singing the song in your head?).


5. Implement, Implement, Implement


Christmas happens every year without fail. You can depend on it, you can plan for it, you can build your life around it. In terms of predictability it is up there with death and taxes and a lot more fun. For Christmas to be so all-encompassing it has had to be implemented for thousands of years.

Learning: If you want to build a truly strong brand you need to implement like your life depended on it. That means consistently using the same images, messages, language and rituals so that your tribe can learn, associate and adopt them. Often within businesses you hear people say things like "Our representatives need something new to tell customers", or "we need to refresh the brand". The majority of the time what people actual need is new ways to say the same messages.

What you always need to keep in mind is that for 99.9% of your customer's day, they are more than likely not engaging with your brand. When "your tribe" does engage with your brand, they need to have a consistent experience in as many ways as possible. Christmas has had common messages for thousands of years and people are still using them.

Don't believe me about consistency? Take a minute and write down 10 brands that you know well, now list things that they do consistently around the customer experience. Let us know how many you can come up with.

With that it only leaves me to wish you an enjoyable Christmas holiday season and all the very best for 2014.


By Michael White


*Tribe: I will openly admit that I have stolen this term from Seth Godin and his book "Tribes: We need you to lead us", which is a thought provoking read.