As another holiday season appears in the rearview mirror and companies begin thinking about their marketing, messaging and branding strategies for 2022, I'm hopeful that a visit to 34th Street inspired a few people. The original 1947 film is always on my watch list during the season, but there are three important lessons brands can remember throughout the year.
Lesson 1: Customer Loyalty Was Earned Without a Sale
When kids shared what they wanted for Christmas, Santa was supposed to tell the parents how they could buy specific toys at Macy's. When Santa meets Peter, he tells Santa he wants a fire engine for Christmas, not just any toy fire engine - A fire truck like the big ones only smaller, with a real hose that squirts real water.
His mother tries to tell Santa it's impossible to get because nobody has them. So, when Peter is told he'll get one for Christmas, she's not too happy about it. When Santa tells her she can find those fire engines at Schoenfeld's on Lexington, that all changes.
The head of the toy department hears Santa tell her and others where they can buy toys - outside of Macy's.
Did they hire a Bad Santa?
Did they lose a chunk of revenue as Santa helped parents find the right store and price?
Indeed this madness had to stop, right?
That is until Peter's mom said putting the spirit of Christmas ahead of the commercial was wonderful, and she would now be a regular Macy's customer.
That was an even bigger shock to the manager, but should it have been?
If you took this quote and replaced "kids" with "customer," would you say that's your brand's philosophy? If so, what Santa did was completely logical.
The toy manager thought the only way for Santa to earn revenue and loyalty was to tell them what to buy. It's instant gratification - like knowing what's in a wrapped package before opening it.
Macy's didn't get an instant buy that day, but the purchases Peter's Mom will make as a loyal customer will more than make up for it.
Much of today's marketing and advertising continues to be rooted in a desperate attempt to get that instant gratification despite research that shows consumers don't want sales pitches and don't want to be told to buy on social media.
Lesson 2: The Customer Did Not Expect the Brand to Care
Peter's mom assumed (and rightfully so) that any employee or representative of Macy's would care about their own interests (in this case - sales) over the customer's needs. Remember, for Mr. Kringle to be a "good Santa," he was instructed to suggest overstocked toys to kids.
There is plenty of skepticism about the motivations of brands today. The difference is that in 2021, customers are in a much better position to demand companies act more like Santa and less like the toy manager.
What will you do in 2022 to communicate to customers that you have their best interests at heart?
Lesson 3: The Competition Took Notice
In his book, They Ask, You Answer, Marcus Sheridan talks about how CarMax shook up the car buying industry by saying they would differentiate themselves by addressing the typical customer's complaints about going to the dealership.
The car dealers didn't take them seriously. They knew they were the big dogs that had been around for years.
When people want a car - they go to them.
In their minds, nobody was going to change that - until they did. They changed the rules, and car dealers had to adjust.
Macy's nor Gimbel's would have come up with a holiday shopper strategy without Santa's customer-focused heart because they would assume it would hurt them (a company-focused mindset). However, once Macy's did something new, Gimbel's took notice and had to change their thinking (or hearts).
However, if you're a consumer, how does that look to you?
You have two brands with a lot in common in their industry - including their business, marketing and public relations strategy.
One brand does something TOTALLY DIFFERENT and blows the minds of customers. Suddenly, everyone's talking about it, and it's a game-changer for their company.
Then the other brand suddenly makes a significant effort to say, "Hey! US TOO! We believe in that too!"
Would you still be attached (maybe even more loyal) to the company that did it first?
It's not uncommon for competing brands to watch each other and do what the other one does - especially in marketing, branding and public relations.
The only differentiator is each brand is trying to tell customers that:
What good does that do?
As digital marketing consultant Mark Schaefer will tell you - If you're #2 in your industry, you can't be doing things the way #1 does things.
How will you differentiate yourself from your competition?
Bonus Lesson: Santa is Real
So be good to your prospects and customers.
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Anytime a brand can get a solid celebrity endorsement, it can give its promotions and messages a boost. However, it is still important to utilize the opportunity to carefully consider how the celebrity and the message will be used.
Rob Gronkowski is a big NFL star with a big personality. USAA offers military veterans competitive rates on financial services like banking, investment and insurance. The two have come together to produce some TV ads to promote their special offers to veterans.
Football Star vs. Military Vet
The word "hero" is pretty prevalent in our culture, and occasionally I will see good reminders on social media about its use. For example, there's a difference between a "sports hero" who plays a game and a "military hero" who risks his or her life to protect the nation or others.
During an election season, it's not uncommon for candidates to talk about new ways to better care for our veterans - especially after they come home from the battlefield. We can do a lot more because they're generally not making NFL salaries like Gronk.
So, the optics in this commercial has an NFL veteran and millionaire trying to get an army veteran who is working at a little shop to get him the same benefit as he gets from USAA.
Why would Gronk need this discount?
Why would Gronk try to convince a veteran to get USAA to make an exception and give him the special military rate? "You love me, right?"
They have another ad where he's trying to trick a customer service rep into giving him the membership and rates.
It just doesn't look good in that context.
Alternative: Do Something for the Vets
I thought of a better scenario that puts Gronk in a better light while showcasing USAA's special offer to veterans.
What if the commercial showed Gronk trying to use his fame, influence and personality to do more for the veterans? He knows he can never really do enough to thank Frank for his service, but he will try!
Next thing you know, he's trying to sell pastries, wait tables, clean floors, fix machines and more (and may not be good at all of it). He doesn't think he has done enough, saying, "Frank! What if I made some calls and got you some great rates on some financial services?"
Frank tells him, don't worry - he already gets that from USAA, and it's part of their special membership/offers to military veterans and their families.
Then have some fun with what Gronk tries to do next to "help" Frank.
What do you think of the message? Do you have another idea for the ad campaign?
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What makes a good relationship between marketer and their target audience has changed. This has been true for several years, but many marketers have been unable to adapt.
Two ways marketers can ruin a relationship with their target audience are:
1. They approach conversations with a "sell first" attitude
2. They cling to outdated marketing strategies
As Judy Ungar Franks, author and clinical assistant professor in the Integrated Marketing Communications program at Northwestern University, says - when you apply old-school media thinking to a new media world...nothing happens!
What changed in the relationship?
In simplest terms, the catalyst of change in the relationship between marketer and audience is the internet. Trends in social media posts, influencer blogs, customer reviews and instant communications gave the consumer more control in the relationship. Marketers had a lot more power when the relationship was more linear. Back then, they made sales pitches to captive audiences through TV, newspaper or radio.
Then, the world of media and communication began to change.
Suddenly, people could skip commercials and turn to the internet for entertainment. So, marketers followed them and tried to communicate the same way they would on traditional broadcast media.
They found out the results were not the same:
As Dr. Franks points out in her book, Media: From Chaos to Clarity: Five Global Truths That Make Sense of a Messy Media World:
Old school marketing was about four Ps: Product, place, price and promotion
There was certainty in every medium, limited selection and media was product
Now it's about the four Cs of social: Content, connecting, community and curating
Media are strikingly similar (it's all on screen)
Today, people flock to all kinds of media for a comprehensive, engaging experience, and consumers are the distributors and accelerants of the marketer's content.
What Do Consumers Want in a Realtionship?
If the "sell" or "pitch" is the end goal, you can't spend all your time focused on that part of the conversation.
Recognizing the change in the relationship is only half the problem. The second half deals with a crowded room of people trying to woo the same consumer. If everyone is talking the same way, it's harder for brands to make their case.
One of the best ways to optimize communication in a personal relationship is remembering to put yourself in the other person's shoes. This relationship is no different. You have to think like a marketer and a consumer.
When marketers are not thinking like marketers, they can find similarities in how both parties respond to online content.
Think about that. When you're not at work (or wherever you spend time on marketing strategy), how do you answer those questions?
Remembering your consumer habits can help you develop better marketer habits. At that point, your focus goes deeper than just selling to the other person and puts the relationship on a better path.