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How to win the Christmas ad war

Asda and Lidl started this year’s festive campaigns with #BecauseItsChristmas and the #LidlSchoolofChristmas. Airing their festive adverts 54 days before Christmas day, both supermarket giants have been rewarded with huge numbers of views and shares, topped with soaring brand awareness levels during the busiest time of the year.

We’ve since been introduced to John Lewis’ #ManOnTheMoon, Coca Cola’s Christmas truck tour dates, Sainsbury’s’ #ChristmasIsForSharing and M&S’ #TheArtOfChristmas. The titans of Christmas advertising have revealed their hands, and from the huge budgets (the John Lewis advert alone cost £1m, with a further £6m set aside for further advertising), it’s clear that hitting the right note when it comes to Christmas advertising is crucial. From using digital to your advantage, to understanding customer mindsets and behaviour, we discover how it is possible for small businesses to compete when it comes to Christmas advertising.

Benefits of advertising over Christmas

You don’t need to be an extra from the cast of Mad Men to know that Christmas is one of the most lucrative times of the year for any business. “It’s simply the busiest time of the year and because of this, advertising is a must”, says founder and managing director of his eponymous bakery Paul Rhodes. Additional footfall in shops, higher spending and a general shift towards a more-than indulgent attitude from customers can all reap rewards for your business, so long as you use the right marketing.

The numbers back it up, too. Adobe recently revealed that during this year’s Christmas period, UK consumers will spend an incredible £17bn between them. Broken down to an individual level – according to data gathered by flash sale site SecretSales.com – this comes to a total of £475 for the average shopper, including a personal gift fund of £87 shoppers are expected to spend treating themselves. Alongside Adobe and SecretSales.com, Visa have weighed in with a prediction of highs in the hospitality sector, with a 10% spending increase in hotels, bars and restaurants.

How soon is too soon?

Selfridges’ buying manager Geraldine James has been thinking about Christmas for a long time. In a recent interview with The Guardian she said: “We’ve been working on this year’s Christmas shop since Christmas last year.” Geraldine oversaw the opening of Selfridges’ 2015 Christmas shop on August 6, 143 days before December 25.

This is of course an extreme and very eager case, but timing your Christmas marketing kick-off is crucial. Too early (ahem, Selfridges) and you run the risk of causing customer Christmas fatigue and potentially receiving some backlash. Too late, and you’re in danger of missing out on sales and customers. Paul agrees that the correct prep is crucial: “My advice to any business looking to maximise sales and activity over Christmas is to start preparing for it as early as possible,” he says. “We started planning our activity in August. Following that, we’ve developed a Christmas range, booked a food photographer to shoot the new products and written a newsletter to send out to all our customers.”

Get to know your customers

45% of people said product reviews are one of the top influences when they consider a major purchase. Make smart choices with your stock, do your research and above all, listen to what your customers are saying both in store, and online. As well as listening to your customers through using digital, you need to understand their behaviour.

Once you understand the way they behave, you can advertise and market your products accordingly. Paul used sales figures from last year to anticipate increases in certain activity and plans his marketing around that. But even if you don’t have robust figures to delve into, there are plenty of pointers available to help you decide when to spend your advertising budget. For example, data from Give As You Live suggests that the most popular shopping days over the festive season (in general) are Monday evenings (at 5pm if you want to be really precise). Speaking to Talk Business, Give As You Live managing director Greg Hallet explains: “Shoppers are most productive with their online festive purchases straight after the weekend.” Monday afternoon could therefore be the perfect time to sponsor a post on Facebook.

Think digital

Technology is key to winning with advertising over the next six weeks. As a recent report from Accenture says, “marketing is so inextricably linked to technology that, by 2017, chief marketing officers are projected to spend more on information technology and analytics than chief information officers”. Even in terms of how people shop, tech is leading the pack this year more than ever before. Almost a quarter of UK Christmas shopping will be done on a mobile or tablet, and 26% of people are predicting that they will spend less time shopping than they did last year down to the speed and ease of online shopping.

One of the best (and most cost effective) ways to maximise the visibility of your business over Christmas is therefore to use digital tools to your advantage. “We use search engine optimisation, AdWords and other digital tools to make sure people searching for London bakeries find us,” says Paul. Whether it’s updating your website with the correct Christmas opening times, making sure you download the most up-to-date releases of social media apps to your phone, or updating your servers so that they can deal with increased traffic and transactions, there’s plenty of scope for quick-wins over the next two months.

It’s now 38 days until Christmas and it’s officially time to start ramping up your own Christmas marketing machine.

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