This holiday season will be even more social

Retailers and many other businesses that leverage holiday shopping have a lot of tools at their disposal, including research and technology.

Each year, it seems a lot of us are surprised when we stumble upon the first in-store Christmas Tree, when Valentine's Day cards show up on the shelves, or when a special on Halloween candy arrives in a mailed circular.

While it's easy to discount those methods (or their timing), it should be acknowledged that there's a reason those tactics are in play – they must be working, at least on some level or with a fair portion of their intended audiences.

Retailers and many other businesses that leverage holiday shopping have a lot of tools at their disposal, including research and technology. From peak shopping times to most effective marketing techniques to what should be in the front window, these tools play a major role. Using a bit of research and technology of my own, I was able to make a few assessments on what businesses are telegraphing this year as part of their complement of marketing techniques.

Awareness. It continues to be a major part of brands' activities. Just as effective frequency has been a mainstay of advertising discussions for years, brands of all types are leveraging platforms such as Instagram to stay relevant (and hopefully, entertaining) and top-of-mind. Seeing the latest Free People dress or Michael Kors watch while browsing your friends' photos is a more focused activity than you might have thought, isn't it?

•Location, location, location. It's not just for real estate, you know. From Foursquare specials to everyone from Starbucks to Target leveraging location technologies such as iOS' Passbook to stay in front of you (or at least your mobile phone) as you walk down the street, that nifty GPS in mobile phones continues to be worth looking into.

Access. Last year, we saw activities such as Sears offering early looks – and early access, for a lucky few – to “Black Friday” deals. There's no reason this should change moving forward. Whether this happens via a Facebook contest, boards on Pinterest, or a hashtag thread on Twitter isn't important. It's all about reaching your core audience, wherever they might be.

•Experiments with social driving shelf-stocking. Remember when you bought Cabbage Patch Kids or Tickle Me Elmo? Was it because the market demanded those products or because for some reason it was the hot toy those years? Nowadays, a product is announced at CES in January, or ads for a toy or product come out over the summer, and brands can actually see what the buzz is surrounding those items and retailers can – at least partially – get a sense of what people are interested in, what brands are being talked about on Twitter, whose pins are being shared on Pinterest, and more.

Brands, retailers, restaurants, and individuals are all approaching – and using – social in varied ways, but its ubiquitous nature continues to turn digital channels into integral tools to market products, services, charitable organizations, and everything in between.

These types of unique and smart social executions – and a host of others – are something worth celebrating as the holidays approach and 2012 comes to a close.

Tom Biro is VP at the Seattle office of Allison+Partners. His column focuses on how digital media affects and shifts PR. He can be reached at tom@allisonpr.com or on Twitter @tombiro.

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