The holiday season is once again upon us. According to Forrester and eMarketer, this year promises to see a healthy increase in online sales over last year ($224 billion worldwide and $68 billion in the U.S. respectively). For most retail and consumer brands, a successful holiday season means a successful year. It’s a great opportunity to improve relations with your existing customer base and cultivate new ones – but just like any other time of the year, marketers must think about their customers’ needs first, create content experiences that make life more enjoyable, and motivate audiences to keep coming back after the ornaments and icicle lights are safely packed away.

To do this successfully, brands must develop a content strategy that inspires, builds credibility, and helps customers solve holiday-specific pain points. Marketers who go beyond Black Friday sales, Cyber Monday deals and free shipping offers, will not only maximize the season’s revenue, but also round up a new army of long-term customers.

Top brands continue to use online content to enhance their customer relationships during the holiday season – and here are just a few examples:

  1. Tis the season for trust: Even the most desperate, last-minute shopper is hesitant to turn to a company he doesn’t know versus the tried and true. This is why creating content that showcases the company’s expertise and builds upon brand credibility is crucial. To do this, BirchBox, an online subscription-based supplier of beauty and lifestyle products and samples created a monthly online magazine to show visitors how to make the most out of their purchases.  The authors provide holiday gift ideas for everyone on the shopping list (categorized by price level) and expert home décor and holiday party planning advice from top designers. By unveiling creativity first, showcasing product expertise, and demonstrating how each offering can enhance the season, brands will earn the customer’s respect and position themselves as a go-to hub for holiday enjoyment.
  2. One day at a time: Although eCommerce sites often see traffic and sales spikes on Black Friday and Cyber Monday, it’s important for marketers not to put all of their energy into those two days. After all, not all of us have our shopping hats on that early. To keep shoppers engaged all month, Mod Cloth, an apparel and accessory online boutique for women, casts out daily wish lists and deals from Winston, their Pug mascot. The promotions are customized by interest and gift category. On the day of writing, the boutique highlighted its best gifts for nerds—including a bookworm necklace and a scrabble magnet set. By showcasing different gift ideas everyday your customers are bound to stumble upon a treasure that they would not have noticed otherwise.
  3. Push away the holiday blues: It’s no secret that the holidays come with a whole new series of struggles; from finding the right sweater for the dad who has everything, to keeping track of the four gift swaps you’ve committed to. Marketers need to make a point to not add to the demands of the season, but alleviate stress through content that empowers consumers to enjoy what the holiday is all about. To that end, Whole Foods used its online recipe offerings to help party planners navigate the needs of vegan, Gluten-free and vegetarian guests. Brands who aim to help their customers first and sell second, will attract new visitors and give them reasons to return.Whole Foods

Bottom line, throughout the holiday season, marketers must develop and deliver branded content that takes full advantage of current online shopping trends, and today’s reliance on search.

How are you leveraging branded content this holiday season? How does this year’s strategy differ from last year’s? Share your thoughts below, or by connecting with us on Twitter and LinkedIn.