3 ways retail brands are using digital content to achieve Christmas cut-through

Christmas in the UK: a time of celebration, good cheer… and, for retailers, opportunity. With Black Friday, Cyber Monday and Singles’ Day now extending the holiday season well into November, retailers across all categories are competing in an increasingly complex and saturated festive market. So how are the biggest and best achieving Christmas cut-through?

Traditionally, companies have turned to big ticket TV ads and hero campaigns to shine a spotlight on their festive offering. This year is no different, from Elton John for John Lewis to a 60 children-strong spot from Sainsbury’s. However, with consumers increasingly turning to online platforms for their Christmas shopping (online holiday sales are predicted to rise by 16% in 2018), many brands are employing a digital-first strategy to reach their target customers.

We explore three progressive, content-centric campaign tactics that major brands are using to stand out from the crowd online this winter.

M&S: targeting the family-age consumer with a multichannel approach

Over the next four years, M&S is poised to close 100 high street stores and transfer much of its business online. In this period of change and transformation, it’s perhaps no surprise that the department store is also shaking up its approach to holiday promotion.

Whereas previous M&S campaigns have focused on blockbuster, narrative-driven TV spots, the department store has decided to take a product-driven approach for 2018. The result is a more down-to-earth campaign focusing on ‘must-have’ M&S products and the value they offer the customer. The ad features celebrities including Holly Willoughby and David Gandy, as well as 15x the number of products when compared to last year’s VFX-heavy Paddington campaign.

Another key point of difference is how the chain is distributing this content. According to reports, M&S will use data gathered over past holiday seasons to examine festive consumer behaviour and shopping journeys, placing an emphasis on meeting the customer ‘where they are’. The result, says M&S CMO Nathan Ansell, will be a full-funnel ad campaign that encompasses not only TV but “Instagram shopping, Google shopping and programmatic display”.

The mobile-friendly, multichannel campaign is part of a wider digital-centric effort to attract a ‘young family shopper’, i.e. millennials, who now typically shop via numerous physical and digital touchpoints. As the company’s Managing Director for Clothing, Home & Beauty, Jill MacDonald, commented earlier this year: “We have one loyal older customer, but we have a growing share of customers with young families. We want to appeal in a stylish and contemporary way, still offering seasonal newness.”

Macy’s: leveraging social media and real-time data to boost relevance

This Christmas, US department chain Macy’s is embracing social. As part of a multi-pronged festive campaign, it will target sections of Instagram’s one-billion-strong user base with highly visual, personalised ‘Guide Carousels’. A press release from Macy’s explains:

“Finding the perfect holiday gift can seem overwhelming, but by answering simple questions about things like interests and price range, Instant Gift Guide Carousels allow customers to swipe and follow lines of ribbons leading them to find the perfect gift from Macy’s. Starting on Nov. 28, each carousel post will focus on a different friend or family member people might be shopping for, as well as showcase a new collection of gifts. The final frame will be shoppable, allowing people to purchase the perfect gift.”

This year’s introduction of buy buttons to Instagram Stories reflected a growing global enthusiasm for social commerce. According to research from Curalate, 76% of US consumers have now bought a product they first saw in a post on social media, while Yes Marketing suggests that 80% of millennials and 74% of Gen Z-ers are influenced by social in their shopping decisions. Macy’s will seek to further capitalise on this market via Pinterest, with an inspiring ‘360 Globe’ experience that allows users to discover gifts via an interactive 360° video.

The campaign, which launches on November 28th, also embraces another key content trend: real-time personalisation. Real-time data collected via Instagram will allow Macy’s to personalise content to an impressive degree, identifying likely ‘giftees’ (friends and family) in the consumer’s network and compiling product suggestions relevant to those contacts.

eBay: reaching target demographics with personalised dynamic content

Macy’s isn’t the only brand seeing the potential in real-time data this Christmas. eBay has partnered with News UK to launch a ‘commercial content partnership’ of reactive ads (relevant content placed in highly visible locations, designed to subliminally familiarise audiences with the brand identity). The ads, which will appear on the Times’ and Sun’s online news platforms, will target three main consumer groups: men aged 25-44, women aged 35-54 and families with children under 18 years old.

To maximise relevance and value, the ad content will be dynamic, altering to suit its audience. This process will be informed by a mixture of eBay’s user data and insights from social media intelligence platform Storyful. Such real-time personalisation tactics can boost sales by as much as 20%, according to research from McKinsey.

Rosie Hanley, eBay’s Head of Brand Marketing, comments: “Christmas is the most important date in our marketing calendar, so it is vital that we make the most of our advertising spend to build relevance and trust in our brand this festive season. News UK has helped us to access our target audience in an engaging way and cut through with relevant, engaging content.”

As proven by the buzz around this year’s offerings from Iceland and John Lewis, cinematic holiday TV campaigns aren’t going anywhere fast. However, as high street footfall wanes, brands are increasingly recognising the power of new digital content formats and online engagement. In the end, the brands that see the best Christmas cut-through will be those offering the most relevant, engaging campaigns across a broad range of digital channels – both this holiday season and beyond.

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