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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