Yep, that’s right. We just wished you a happy holiday. Because in the marketing world, it’s never too early to get into the holiday spirit
Or is it?
Lots of people grumble at the early signs of the holiday season—especially when they occur before the first autumn leaves have even dropped. But for marketers, it’s a whole other story. For most companies, getting an early jump on their holiday marketing makes good business sense. Those willing to put up with a few eye rolls and the occasional angry social media comment (“How dare you put a Christmas tree in your store before I’m ready to see it!”) can gain an edge when it comes to capturing sales, staying top-of-mind, and serving customers who are ready to shop.
But how early is too early? Do holiday wreaths in September make you excited to open presents, bake cookies, and belt out a few bars of “Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer,” or do they feel like an example of exploitation and capitalist greed?
Let’s climb down the chimney and explore the issue. (Because it’s never too early for a holiday metaphor!)
Those who dislike the early start to the holidays sometimes comment that it’s all simply another opportunity for brands to lure us in and coax us to spend more money. Which isn’t entirely untrue. (There are specific reasons for this, however, which we’ll get into later.) They also say starting early leads to holiday burnout. Hardcore holiday fanatics aside, there’s only so many times your average American can listen to “Let it Snow” before they want to hurl a heavy object at the stereo. Of course, nobody wants to reach that point too early. Ideally, we’d like to pace ourselves and crest at just the right time so that when the actual holiday rolls around, we can still enjoy it with some enthusiasm.
But that’s hard to do. There’s no textbook rule that dictates when it’s an appropriate time to be marketed to. We all have different preferences, schedules, and tolerances for eggnog flavored coffee drinks. You can’t please everybody. So how soon is too soon? It depends on the person.
Perhaps a better way to figure out how early is too early is by measuring consumer shopping behavior and then deciding when to market the holidays for maximum effectiveness.
Which brings us to the business side of things.
For retailers, the winter holidays are the prime time of year—the World Series of shopping. It’s the number one shopping season, and this year, the National Retail Federation expects holiday sales to increase 4%, to $682 billion.
With all that money being spent, the competition among retailers is fierce. Each one wants an edge over the others—and starting early is one way to do it. So as soon as back-to-school season winds down, there’s typically a rush to engage shoppers with holiday promotions before the competition does.
While many retailers consider the day after Halloween the unofficial start of the holiday shopping season, most have begun promoting the holidays much earlier. And for good reason. Depending on the study you read, somewhere between 40-50% of consumers start their holiday shopping before Halloween, with nearly 20% starting even before October.
Which means that regardless of what might seem appropriate, retailers miss out on a huge opportunity by waiting too long. And, with another 35% beginning their shopping in November, the number of shoppers who are actually waiting until Black Friday or later to kick off their holiday shopping activities is relatively small.
Basically, for every person ready to sign a petition boycotting the big box retailers for trampling on their pre-holiday peace, there are lots more who genuinely embrace the opportunity to start early. So can you blame marketers for trying to reach them?
On the other hand, earlier isn’t always better. Balance is key. But timing one’s holiday push depends on the nature of your business and the market you serve. A company needs to know its audience and its industry in order to make the most of the holiday season. Marketing too early can be a problem. So can too late. Getting the timing right is critical.
For example, if your customers aren’t ready to holiday shop, you may be wasting marketing dollars, or shelf space, or social media posts, or other resources that just end up being ignored. Or even worse, by pushing your customers too hard too soon, you run the risk of annoying them—potentially causing them to reject your brand and spend their dollars elsewhere. The trick is to capture your audience at just the right time. Again, it comes down to studying your customers and your industry, and knowing what the conventions and expectations are among both.
So how do you feel about all this? Do you get a rush of childlike excitement at the first September Christmas display? Or do pre-Halloween holiday promotions cause you to shake your head in disgust? When do you think is the best time to kick off the holiday shopping season? Leave us a comment and tell us what you think!
Born of curiosity and enthusiasm, we’re a scrappy group of smart, passionate marketers who work hard and play hard. We show up every day and fight for our clients who are making the world a better place. We listen with curiosity, explore deeply, ask hard questions, and sometimes put forth ideas that might make you squirm. Because we believe the status quo is good for growing mold but not much else.
The way we see it, change is the way forward and the magic happens when curiosity, math, science, instinct, and talent intersect.