Holiday 2021 Marketing Guide: How to Plan a Profitable Campaign that Doesn’t Kill Your Brand

Last year, holiday retail sales accounted for more than a trillion dollars of spending across U.S. households with more than 60% of U.S. households purchasing their gifts online  (Fortunly, 2021). The opportunity is huge, and most brands look to Q4 as the time to scoop up most of their revenue. The question is: how do we approach it in a way that maximizes our financial opportunity and feels good in our customer relationships? 

Your holiday marketing will go one of two ways: add to the noise and drown in the echo chamber, or slice through the chaos to land in your customer’s heart.

Lucky for us, marketing isn’t rocket science, and a recipe that combines planning, empathy, action, and optimization will work every single time. After more than a decade of working on holiday campaigns for brands, the following seven steps are fully vetted to help you show up thoughtfully and tactfully with a campaign that will help your customers feel calm, grounded, and ready to follow your lead. 

Get your mind right

I consult with hundreds of small brands and many that are led by founders/owners who are worried about “bothering” their customers with marketing (for example, too many emails). This is specifically a mindset problem. If you have a great product, care for your customers, are family/locally owned, and operate with integrity, you are the organization that your customers want to hear from because supporting you is one of the things that brings them joy. 

Approach your holiday marketing planning with a mindset of service to your customers: Help them find great gifts for their loved ones in less time and within their budget, and make it easy for them to feel good about supporting your brand along the way. 

Do your research

Take time to review your competitive landscape and how brands activated around holiday last year: What promotions did they run and how did they position themselves within the holiday season? If you’re a small organization, make sure to take cues from your industry’s leaders that you know are making well-informed, data-backed decisions. This will help you understand the best time frame to start your holiday marketing, how many promotions to run, and the nature of those promotions (for example, a 20% discount versus a gift with purchase).

Get cozy with your customer

What is happening for your target market this year: Where is their mind at and how are their spirits? What are they carrying from this year into their holiday season mindset? How have their spending habits changed and what does that mean for your place in their world?

The biggest mistake that brands make during the holiday season is skipping straight to the sell-through part, hitting their customers over the head with a loudspeaker and discount details.  

Consider how to bridge the gap between your customer’s psychology and the positioning of your product this is where the magic happens.

Position accordingly

In 2011, Target’s holiday campaign featured “The Christmas Champ.” Centering a mom figure that was slightly too excited about the holiday season, they poked gentle fun at enthusiastic shoppers with a clear message that these were the true heroes of the season. The campaign celebrated those that go the extra mile to get everyone on their list the best gift, with positioning that indicated these holiday heroes shopped at Target. This positioning made a lot of sense according to buying behavior in 2011 and it’s the perfect example of a brand campaign that bridges the gap between what your target market is going through during this time of year and the unique value your brand brings to support them at this time. 

Architect the storytelling arch

When you plan ahead, it gives you the chance to carve out space in the hearts and minds of your community members at the soul level before selling through. If you wait until Black Friday to get into it, you’re too late. You’ll notice that the example given above is not about selling any single product, but more about aligning the brand and customer at the psychological level for the season. More than 60% of customers buy their gifts one week before Christmas. We want to prime our customers to think of us and look our way when the chaos turns up. 

Prep your content

Once you have your positioning articulated you can develop a messaging brief that brings your storytelling to life. Think about timing which conversations will you have during which weeks, spanning from mid-October to the end of the yearand which platforms you will be on? Our Holiday Sales Success Kit offers the exact process we use to outline our campaigns with a checklist to ensure you don’t miss any of your formats! 


The best part about going into the season well-planned and prepared is that you’ll have the bandwidth to observe how things are going and think strategically about tweaks or last-minute decisions you want to make to drive as much revenue as possible. Make sure that you’re setting aside time weekly to compare performance to your goals and identify ways to optimize your campaign performance. 

If you’d like to swipe our masterclass that goes deeper into this process and sets you up with exactly what you need to have your most successful holiday season to date, check out our Holiday Sales Success Kit.

In your corner,


KW Content is a global content and social media marketing agency that develops and launches content and social media programs for purpose-driven brands. Strong Brand Social is our favorite place to hang out! That’s where we provide the absolute best (and most accessible) social media marketing education that empowers small brands to develop their own high-performing marketing programs that are guaranteed to drive growth. Teaching from our proven agency methodologies, we simplify the process and demystify the art of social media marketing to offer focus, efficiency, and measurable results to small business owners, brand directors, and social media marketers. [Learn more.]

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