Brand Strategy

NAVIGATING SEASONAL STRATEGIES 

Dyfed “Fred” Richards

CMO & Partner

October 23, 2019

To assume that a seasonal strategy is the same as any other limited brand offering would be a huge mistake. Consumers are savvy and understand when they—or, rather, their kids—are being marketed to and can avoid the bland and indistinguishable with ease. By simply placing a pumpkin on your brand package in a graveyard scene with the obligatory bats in the sky and cobwebs on the iron gates means you have elected to play “follow the leader” and drown in a sea of sameness that is already flooded with pumpkins and such imagery.

Conversely, a true seasonal brand strategy is profoundly different. An effective seasonal strategy must determine which season to participate in while also navigating the flavors, colors, themes, trademark issues and seasonal character adoption. Moreover, it requires a specific discipline that spans several seasons year on year. All too often, brands embark on this initiative without understanding the pitfall of the category language and the importance of longevity for a seasonal strategy.

Any seasonal strategy requires negotiating within your brand and to consumers. For example, if you are lucky enough to break through the visual clutter and provide that much needed spike in sales, what did it cost the brand for the entire fiscal year? Was there any cannibalization of the master brand? Were core consumers left confused or delighted? How much was the artwork change worth the spike in sales for that 4-week period? It is important to consider these trade-offs within the context of the season and the brand overall while attempting to connect your brand with new consumers without alienating your core.

Seasonal themes continue to drive growth

Seasonal chocolate confectionery sales have risen 25% between 2012 and 2017- growth far too strong to be explained by trick-or-treating alone, especially as the percentage of households with children younger than 18 continues to decline. Instead, the rise appears to be driven by the increasing prevalence of holiday-themed retail merchandising, packaging, and limited-edition product variations.

Mintel, Chocolate Confectionery- US, April 2018

 To add even more complexity, retailers have become increasingly adept at marketing to the consumer each season and of course earlier and earlier each year. Most larger retail chains have buyers that are specific to the season outside the normal purchase cycles. To obtain valuable shelf space during these specific seasonal buying cycles is a difficult task, especially if the brand is new to the season and other brands in a similar category are well established and have proven sales year on year. A brand has to think beyond the novelty of the opportunity that may seem so obvious and convince consumers that this is a bright idea. Many consumers subconsciously define a budget for the season to decorate and gift. However, like all good plans, consumer spending year on year is up as more and more opportunities to decorate and delight are available. With the correct seasonal strategy, brands can add that elusive lift at retail and gain even stronger connections with the consumer at the store and also online.

But when it comes to the seasonal strategy itself, one of the key factors is to understand the season and the ceremonies associated with it because consumer behavior changes. For instance, the difference between Christmas, Valentines, Easter and Halloween could not be more profound when it comes to how the season is celebrated and how any brand can participate. Furthermore, some brands may play to the gifting component of the season with a heavy seasonal twist, whereas others elect a more direct route to celebrating the ceremonies and trade dress in existing packaging formats.

Top gifting occasions

People don’t necessarily need a reason or recipient to buy gifts. 71% of adults occasionally treat themselves to a gift “just because.” Meanwhile, non-traditional gifting occasions have a growing audience among younger consumers. Expect for retailers and brands to capitalize on these occasions with more sales and promotions with these events in mind.

Mintel, Gifting- US, June 2019

OREO cookies, Tombstone Pizza, M&M’s and Reese’s are masters of the season they elect to participate in. As brand mentors, they have paved the way over the past few years with their seasonal strategies and have successfully avoided the pitfalls of the season and cannibalizing their brands. In other words, they manage the brand’s assets with excellence to celebrate the season. Overall, their seasonal strategies create delight with a superb sense of humor but also spark eager anticipation year after year for consumer and retail demand.

Doing something once is easy. Doing it again and again at a specific standard is something else altogether. That is why a true seasonal strategy is critical. Planning out each year at least 3-5 years in advance is the key. Understanding which season to establish the strategy is key. How much is the brand going to give up its recognizable trade dress to adopt the seasonal language?

In some cases, this can be a balancing act when trademark issues can come in to play. Kaleidoscope advice is to always be sure that any design is passed through the internal legal team before going to print. Should the brand elect to adopt a specific seasonal flavor is also a critical decision. Does it make sense? Are consumers looking for such things or simply the novelty of a new shape, flavor or form to celebrate the season?

At Kaleidoscope, our methodology allows us to develop answers to these questions, so that we can best elevate any brand that elects to participate in any season from Halloween to Ramadan and everything in between. To better understand the specific season, we constantly evaluate the brands and how they articulate themselves in multiple retailers year on year. This has enabled the Kaleidoscope seasonal team to have an unprecedented perspective on the subject backed with data and examples. To better understand our perspective, please reach out to arrange a first-hand presentation on the subject.   

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