The Holiday Gift Nobody Else is Giving

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  • by Justin Masterson

I had the good fortune this week of participating in a research project focused on holiday purchasing, and one overwhelming theme keeps sticking with me:  the sheer force of guilt that overwhelms most people during the holidays.

It is a really unfortunate contradiction with a heart-breaking outcome:  people give more focus, time and money to giving to others during the holidays than the rest of the year, and yet most of us are left feeling like we haven’t done well enough.  As we budget and save to give gifts, scramble to host meals and events, and pour ourselves into creating holiday spirit, we are also overwhelmed with a feeling that somehow we aren’t doing enough.  We are left with bills and full calendars, while  often feeling exhausted and empty.

And the marketplace isn’t helping.  For months leading up to the holidays we are barraged with messages telling us to FINALLY GIVE THE GIFT THEY REALLY WANT, MAKE THE HOLIDAYS MAGICAL, SHARE THE LOVE WITH [insert product here] THIS YEAR… nail your list, delight your guests, cover your house in the warmth of the season, it goes on and on.  The message is always the same:  you have an obligation to meet a standard, and unless you use our brand, you’re going to fall short.

I get it.  Our job as brands and marketers is to speak to tension, and then solve it with our brand.  But let me suggest a gift your brand can give your customers this year that they may need more than any other:  the gift of you are already doing enough.

I realize this leaves a gaping question:  but how will we sell our thing if we tell people they don’t need anything more?  Let me suggest that this is a short-sighted view, and that your long-game has far more to do with building brand affinity by speaking to a fundamental human tension that spikes every holiday season:  the belief that my most earnest efforts aren’t adequate because somehow I am inadequate.  Your customers are bombarded all season by this message in one form or another, and the weight of it can feel crippling, even as they whip out that credit card over and over again to try to ease it.

Brands are characters that solve problems, and for all of the functional features and new-gadget stories we might tell, brand affinity is built by how you make your customers feel.  When they are engaging with your brand, they are asking to feel better, and your brand gets an opportunity to either help them do that or to make them feel worse.  Sure, another message of “YOU NEED THIS IN ORDER TO NAIL THE HOLIDAYS” may move some product or garner another subscription for now, but it is a short-lived victory in a sea of very similar messages of guilt and obligation.  The long-term win is in speaking to their hearts, reinforcing their substantial efforts to serve and delight others, and giving them a moment away from the guilt and obligation to celebrate their remarkable contribution to those they love.

So, this year and next, tell your customers they are already enough.  Tell them they are loving, thoughtful, generous and effective.  Celebrate their thoughtfulness, reinforce their success in carrying on their traditions, remind them that they don’t need another New Year’s resolution or one more gift to be lovable or up to par.  Sure, you might not catch that last-minute guilt buy or impulse item to try to measure up to the holidays, but you will be solving for a fundamental tension that pervades the season, and chances are good you are likely to be the only character in their life solving that problem. Do this, and see what emotional affinity can look and feel like.