Nobody wants a bleak holiday season

Here comes the holiday season, like a Category 5 hurricane about to make landfall.

Here comes the holiday season, like a Category 5 hurricane about to make landfall. Or so we keep hearing. We have all been watching the weather maps of unemployment numbers, foreclosures and sales projections, bracing for the worst. All too often when looking at tough economic forecasts, we go into panic mode, reducing everything to us versus them. “How are we going to get them to buy more?” We forget nobody wants to have a bleak holiday season. Not retailers, not companies, and certainly not families.

As marketers, one of the biggest mistakes we can make is to lose focus on consumers. When we do, we risk veering from crisis to crisis, looking to boost short-terms gains at the expense of long-lasting connection. Price-slashing holiday sales and extended hours can be useful and effective motivators, but they can also weld lasting associations of fear and desperation to companies and brands.

We now have an incredible, though challenging, opportunity to forge deeper relationships with consumers. It is time for brands to play a different role in consumers' lives, as more than an outlet for spending. Brands should seek to connect, to build relationships that will last beyond the next mega sale or deep discount. In fact, brands should build relationships that don't hinge on sales at all. Take branding outside the realm of cost—high prices or low prices, trading up or trading down, the constant reminders of recession. Move away from the traditional mindset and help consumers connect with the less materialistic joys of the holiday season. In the long run, it will help you drive far more sales than a midnight price slash.

There is no better time for brands to change the nature of their relationships with consumers than these next few months. Not despite the economic downturn, but because of it. Brands that help consumers connect with all that is good about the holidays will forge loyalty that will strengthen them for years. Brands that treat consumers like stubborn levers that need to be yanked and pulled to meet sales goals, might never recover.

Lisa Rosenberg is a partner, MD, and head of Porter Novelli's brand marketing practice.

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