The Cranberry Sauce Conundrum: Lessons for Marketers Ahead of the 2017 Christmas Season

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For a lot of brands, Christmas is a high point in their sales calendars. The 2017 festive season promises a lot for retailers after last year’s holiday sales beat expectations in the UK and US. Despite the huge opportunity, too many marketers approach the season with limited insight into their customers’ habits, behaviours and preferences, hampering their chances of capturing their share of seasonal spend.

Consumer surveys and focus groups have historically been the main source of insights for brands working out which lines to stock ahead of the Christmas rush. But, in an age where consumer preferences are shaped at lightspeed by social media, these traditional methods of understanding customers are increasingly obsolete. Consumers are complicated and have more diverse attitudes than can be distilled into a focus group. Without taking advantage of newly available insights into the entire consumer journey – updated in real-time – brands are potentially handing revenue to competitors who are.

For me, the food is one of the highlights of the holidays. For a lot of Brits, turkey, roasties, cranberry sauce, and the humble brussel sprout can make or break Christmas. Quantcast’s data tells us that, while roast potatoes are a weekly favourite at Sunday lunch throughout the year, interest really spikes in the few days before Christmas (in 2016 it was December 20th, to be precise). Perhaps because it only comes out at Christmas time, searches for cranberry sauce start much earlier in the month (around December 4th last year). Picking the right one is a serious business, after all.

What’s surprising is that it’s only slightly skewed towards women, suggesting that men could be playing an increasing role in preparing for the festive season.

We also know from the data that the typical early festive planner – let’s call her “Christmas Carol’ – starts prepping way ahead in July. They meet a relatively predictable stereotype: likely to be female, aged 25-44, with a household income of over £50k, and interested in when to start making the Christmas pudding and pre-Christmas detoxes. What’s surprising is that it’s only slightly skewed towards women, suggesting that men could be playing an increasing role in preparing for the festive season.

This granularity of insight might seem absurd, but it serves to make a point. It’s now easier than ever to really understand your customer’s attitudes and preferences, even to the point of knowing when picking the right cranberry sauce becomes their reason for being. This applies to brands in all sectors, whatever the equivalent of cranberry sauce might be for your industry. Ignore these insights at your peril.

Up until now, brands have been mostly shooting blind, looking at a sliver of consumer behaviour or data from one moment in time. Making use of granular insights and ensuring campaigns are adapted according to shifting audience preferences could turn an average festive period into one that ends the year with a bang. After all, great campaign planning isn’t just for Christmas.

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