Consumers are about to begin participating in one of the time-honored traditions of the holiday season. Some people love it. Some people are less than enthusiastic about it. It is the holiday shopping season.
Shoppers seek to find the ideal gift for family members and others who hold a special meaning in their lives. Stores and online retailers ensure they have plenty of inventory. The fourth quarter of the calendar year is when many sellers see a significant bottom-line profit in their business, thus being able to overcome losses realized in previous quarters.
This is also the time of the year that we are overwhelmed with holiday marketing messages. In fact, for many they began arriving weeks ago. They arrive in our mailbox. They arrive in our email inbox. They arrive on our smartphones. They arrive digitally on our laptops and tablets. They arrive on our social media platforms. They arrive on our televisions and radios. They are ubiquitous. A recent article in Forbes magazine stated that the average American is exposed to between 4,000 and 10,000 ads each day. Most of this is “noise” to us. We quickly experience marketing and advertising fatigue and boredom.
Marketing messages should be clear, concise, consistent, compelling and relevant. A lot of the “noise” comes from the fact an overwhelming number of holiday marketing messages are none of these.
According to a recent Statista survey, 51 percent of us are bothered by marketing messages that are not relevant. We do not just ignore the marketing message. We are bothered by them. Some make us angry. We recall such messages and the products they are selling in a very negative way. We may go as far as to have little or no trust in the product or service.
With the above in mind, let us take a few moments to think about the positive aspects: why the holiday marketing messages we receive in the form of advertising, direct mail, email, personal sales, digital and direct marketing and so forth provide many advantages to consumers. It is not all about marketing message fatigue, irrelevant messages and a sense of incredulousness.
The caveats regarding the positives of holiday marketing and marketing messages are that the positives will not occur in every message, with every product, every time. Marketing strategies and tactics and associated marketing messaging are not a perfect science. They are often an art that continually needs to be researched, analyzed, consumer tested and refined. And then, repeat as required.
What are some of the benefits of all the marketing and marketing messaging that are targeted to consumers that shop (and buy!) during the holiday season?
On a base level, marketing is useful in terms of educating us about a product or service. We simply do not have the time and energy to know the ins-and-outs of the countless items we will be considering for purchase. We need to understand what a product does and how it operates. Is it easy to use, not too complex and an item with which the recipient has some level of familiarity? Or will a return to school and an advanced engineering degree be necessary? If the recipient is physically disabled in some manner, will they be able to use and enjoy your purchase? Marketing done well makes the complicated understandable.
Marketing is a way of communicating the value the product provides to us. Not value in terms of dollars and cents. Of course, the cost of purchasing a gift is important and often a deciding factor on which item you select. Marketing connects value in terms of what the features and benefits of the product are and how the product benefits will make one’s life easier, more productive and above all more enjoyable. A gift that makes the recipient’s life more enjoyable is the gift that is remembered for countless years. Marketing enhances the quality of life for consumers.
Modern marketing has made our ability to shop and compare products and prices much less expensive. Prices and our ability to compare prices have never been more transparent. Marketing excellence is communicating the value of the product with the price, balancing the two and messaging the price point in a direct and simple manner without endless qualifiers.
Marketing today saves us time. It is no longer required that we drive to the various brick-and-mortar stores or malls to compare products, compare prices and purchase gifts. Many, many consumers still enjoy going out and completing their holiday shopping in the stores. They enjoy the sights, the sounds, the smells, the tastes of the holidays. They want to feel the sweater they are thinking about buying. They enjoy seeing friends and neighbors in the stores. They relish the in-person experience.
But driving downtown or to other locations in town is no longer required. We have options when it comes to our purchasing journey. Options are what most consumers want.
There are an untold number of websites and social media platforms we can scour multiple times in a short period of time to ensure we purchase the right color, the precise quality and correct size at the lowest price. Selection and price comparisons can be accomplished with less time involved. And, of course, shopping can occur 24/7/365.
Marketing software and technology have created consumer alternatives that were once unthinkable. We need to remember that we are entering the era of marketing tools such as artificial intelligence, virtual reality and augmented reality that will further educate the consumer and further reduce the expense, time and frustration associated with the consumer shopping experience.
Today’s marketing is not a one-way endeavor. Consumers have never been more involved in marketing and marketing messaging activity by providing product and shopping experience input that is read by hundreds of thousands of consumers. Marketers must commit their companies to creating first-class relationships with consumers. Customer feedback must be secured to address problematic issues that arise, thus allowing the company to address them in a prompt and timely manner.
Marketers now request and often focus on consumer online ratings to bolster their products’ image. Thus, they need to create and develop or utilize existing platforms that allow consumers to communicate with the company in a simple and easy manner. Marketers must listen diligently to their customers.
Marketing is also important to us as it keeps us aware of what is going on in the business world and in the arena of socio-political affairs. Marketing lets consumers know which products are truly eco-friendly, sustainable and equate with the consumers’ desire to purchase products and gifts that were produced with minimal or no impact to the environment. Marketing advises consumers as to a company that is using nefarious business practices that are illegal and harm individuals and society.
Marketing drives economic growth. Companies are forced to develop and manufacture products that consumers want, which provide value to the consumer and exceed the consumer’s expectations. The marketing sphere does not allow for unnecessary products that have no value to consumers. Customers and regulators will not tolerate products that are unhealthy or unsafe. Marketing and marketing messaging that are deceitful or false will quickly be addressed by consumers, regulators and, in some instances, the legal system.
Effective marketing and marketing messaging allow small businesses to successfully compete with much larger retailers and for consumers to “Shop Local” and “Spend Local” without paying premium prices or having to make compromises in product selection and quality.
We as consumers must keep in mind that marketing creates new products. Products arrive in the store with new features, a new design making it more functional and easier to use, new safety features, extended warranties, enhanced battery life and the like. The idea for the new product may in large part have originated from consumer feedback.
As we head into the holiday season, I paraphrase a quote from Grace Kriley: One good thing about holiday shopping is it toughens you for the January sales.
Keep calm and shop on.
Robert Hohenstein is an adjunct instructor at the Robert W. Plaster School of Business at Columbia College and teaches on the college’s main campus in Columbia. He has a lifetime of marketing experience, from serving as a vice president of marketing with Six Flags Entertainment Corporation and Paramount Parks, Inc., to president and chief executive officer of Miami-Dade County Fair & Exposition, Inc. His experience includes creation and development of marketing strategies and tactics targeting the general and Hispanic markets.