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Top tips for businesses on how to prepare for the holiday season

According to Salesforce, global online revenue will increase by 7% this year. In other words, between November and December, online buyers are expected to spend $1.2trn worldwide. While this is encouraging news for brands and businesses, consumers will pay a higher price.
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This means that businesses must compete for the attention of their customers. Consumers are reevaluating their relationships with brands and making more informed decisions about where to spend their money. This is a challenge for brands, but an exciting one that, when viewed through the lens of expenditure forecasts, has the potential to result in massive gains.

Industry experts offer tips on how businesses should prepare for the upcoming holiday season

1. Enhance your loyalty programme


Today's shoppers are reevaluating their brand ties, so customer loyalty is up for grabs. A recent report shows that 78% of consumers prefer to buy from a brand that offers a loyalty programme, and 90% say customer service encourages repeat purchases.

With this in mind, brands must go beyond discounts and points to provide shoppers with experiences that feel meaningful and special. "Loyalty initiatives should include early access to new products and sales, exclusive events, and improved shipping," says Robbie Kearns, senior regional vice president at Salesforce.
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When it comes to brand promotions, customers will always prioritise getting the right item at the right price. However, Kearns cautions against repeatedly offering discounts to the point where they no longer bring value. "Rather than that, leverage Artificial Intelligence (AI) to present the most relevant product sets based on buyer preferences and purchasing behaviours," Kearns advises.

2. Over deliver on value


The notion of customer value has evolved over the years, and we now know that value is about offering solutions that speak directly to the needs, desires and aspirations of the customer.

“Gimmicks, gadgets and disruptive technologies aside, the way to stand out is to ensure your brand is constantly over-delivering on relevant customer value, as part of an integrated approach to marketing, rather than a once-off festive season burst,” says Jonathan Hurvitz, Teljoy CEO.

While the bells and whistles add a nice touch – and certainly have their place – it’s by creating true customer value that we gain loyalty and build brand equity. “That will stand you in good stead far beyond just the festive season,” says Hurvitz.

Tim Cordon, senior area vice president: Middle East & Africa for Radisson Hotel Group concurs. “With the return of travel and tourism, it has been crucial to add value to existing offerings. Customers are now looking for incentives like discounts on guest rooms, free upgrades, added value, and booking flexibility that allows free cancellation. We can also see a lot of re-imagined loyalty programmes with increased offerings in an attempt to stimulate demand through an existing customer base.”

3. Drive authentic messaging


Privacy is an increasingly important topic as more and more measures are put in place to "protect" users' information online. “Just a few weeks ago, I, like many others, found myself thinking ‘not another PoPIA email’ as all our favourite brands pushed to become PoPIA compliant with changes and updates to their privacy policies,” says Dean Hopf, head of Marketing at SweepSouth.

With the festive season approaching the number of new limitations put in place will limit what marketers can or can't do with personal information. “For SweepSouth, we will seek to focus on the positives, look to add value to users and their networks by driving authentic messaging that they need through the value they can trust.”
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“The rules are the same for everyone, it will be interesting to see how brands are able to adapt and show authenticity with their campaigns and messaging this season," says Hopf.

Local travellers especially have been marketed to like never before. This was because the nationwide lockdown closed off a huge part of the tourism industry, and it has since focused on domestic travel to keep the doors open.

“Because of this, it's important to understand what matters to your consumer - what do South African travellers value most? By speaking to locals authentically, brands stand a better chance at landing guests,” says Jerry Mbena, chairman of the newly invigorated Jurni South Africa, a platform for tourism SMMEs and travellers alike.

“We are seeing a pent-up demand for local travel experiences and trips,” notes Mabena. “And we want to meet the market where it’s at. I truly believe that South Africa has wonderous adventures to offer and we are eager to show these.”

4. Recognise the value of narrative


It's no longer enough to simply grab the attention of a wide audience with a great piece of creative marketing. That same creative energy has to be applied to speaking to customers and potential customers as individuals, with companies showing that they understand their wants and needs. “The strategic, relevant and creative application of data, combined with media tech capabilities, underpinned by a strong narrative, is the most effective way to reach customers today,” says Reagan Kok, Hoorah Digital CEO.

The narrative element is especially important because even the best data and tech is meaningless if it is not interpreted and presented in an appealing way. The magic of data storytelling lies in the way it combines data (the science) with creativity (the art) to offer customers something meaningful.
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“The magic happens when the data and the narrative come together, often in a highly visual way, to create a story that connects, resonates, and speaks to people. That’s the power of storytelling, and increasingly the way to capture the attention of your customers is through dynamic storytelling,” explains Kok. “Brands that understand this, and work to realise it, will reap the rewards this festive season.”

5. Rethink your customer experiences


According to Cheapflights.co.za, flight searches have seen an increase, with recent data indicating the excitement for travel. Flight prices had climbed by 35% on average in the week leading up to Heritage Day, compared to the previous week. South Africa also announced the transition to level 1 lockdown on this day. Local searches accounted for more than two-thirds of all searches.

“South Africa has a lot to offer in terms of destinations with attractive nature and landmarks,“ says Laure Bornet, BM KAYAK EMEA, “Moreover, our data shows that prices for domestic flights this year are down by almost one-fourth when compared to pre-COVID times of 2019. Now is the perfect time for exploring closer to home.”
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With this data in mind, and a projected increase in the number of travellers throughout the holiday season, it is critical that businesses, particularly those in the hospitality industry, consider ways to provide unique experiences to their customers. Excellent service, skilled information exchange, and, of course, personalisation are all examples of experiences that can set you apart from the competition.

6. Place an emphasis on health and safety


The Covid-19 pandemic placed health and safety in the spotlight and consumers will continue to expect messaging and services that align with these new key values. While many establishments will be looking to increase their face-to-face events as vaccination numbers rise across the country, Radisson’s Cordon says that health and safety should remain a top priority.

“Our priority is to always pay attention to implementing the highest safety and hygiene protocols across all our hotels, with the Radisson Hotels Safety Protocols in collaboration with SGS. This will definitely help reassure our guests as they resume their travel plans while also, of course, alleviating the risk of any further spread of Covid-19.

“Reassuring our future guests that it’s safe to return to us has been, and will continue to be, a big part of getting back to business.”

7. Belong. Believe. Behave


At this time of year, people are bombarded with marketing messages that are competing in the minds of consumers with endless to-do lists and Christmas carols on repeat in the shops.

“Black Friday and the holidays may seem like a time when people are driven by extrinsic rewards like discounts and freebies, but now more than ever, people still want to feel connected, even to the brands they support,” says Glenn Gillis, MD at Sea Monster Entertainment.

Bands who want to move from that awareness phase, to the all important consideration phase in the customer journey, need to do more than just offer the best deals or loyalty points.

Brands that do this best are the ones that can engage potential customers in ways that allow them to connect with the brand, find out more, or form some sort of intrinsic or emotional connection.

“In our work with serious games and gamification, we've seen how creating a sense of participation, achievement and creating voluntary engagement is at the heart of getting customers to feel like they belong to something, and believe in a brand. Behaviour, like consideration or acquisition, comes after you've got the belong and the believe parts of the equation in place,” says Gillis.

Finally, rethink pre-pandemic strategies


To prevent missing out on important opportunities to interact with engaged consumers, businesses must remain on top of consumer trends. Most importantly, businesses must not make the mistake of assuming that their pre-pandemic strategies will still work, as this will only lead to disappointment.

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