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How to Build Relationships With Customers You See Only Once a Year

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Holiday sales have traditionally been viewed as transactions with the customers buying gifts rather than as interactions with the people receiving the gifts. As a result, few brands put effort into winning customers' loyalty to retain them for the long term.

That's a lost opportunity: Holiday shoppers tend to be more receptive to new brands during this time of the year; to win them over, brands should make an effort to directly engage consumers.

Of course, engaging new customers isn't necessarily second nature to brands when up to 40% of their annual sales occur between November and December, according to the National Retail Federation. Rather, brands traditionally focus on efforts that drive holiday sales rather than prompting future business.

To develop loyalty with new customers, however, successful brands understand the importance of developing an ongoing marketing strategy that goes beyond the short holiday selling window.

This year, consider the following strategies to implement a more holistic approach that will allow you to capitalize on the busy season and build long-term relationships with these once-a-year customers.


1. Assume that holiday shoppers are in discovery mode

Since many holiday-season consumers don't necessarily know what they're going to buy, they're more open to suggestion than other times of the year. Their mindset opens the door for interaction—and developing loyalty.

For customers coming into contact with a new brand or product for the first time, education is the perfect form of engagement, especially if it helps them get what they want. Most shoppers have their mobile devices at the ready—something brands can use to their advantage in store

North Face, for example, added a scan feature to its mobile app, which allows users to scan the tag on its clothing at all stores that carry its products. After they scan, consumers gain access to product information, user reviews, videos, and wearing tips.

Once you've helped shoppers, you'll have gained data about their interests that you can use to re-engage them to shop with you in the future.

2. Give shoppers incentives to come back again

Chances are that if customers love your product or store and have a good buying experience, they're going to shop with you again. But that isn't something you want to leave to chance.

To entice customers to sign up for loyalty accounts and set them up to become repeat purchasers, offer them a discount on their purchase now if they sign up for the loyalty program, and reward them with loyalty points they can apply to a future purchase.

A discount will increase the chances that shoppers register for a loyalty program and buy now. Loyalty points they can use later increase the chance that they'll return. If you have an existing points-based loyalty program, it's important to consider the dollar amount of the discount you'd be willing to offer, and convert that into points.

Brands, however, don't necessarily have to tie a discount to a loyalty program to win a consumer's affection. The Children's Place, for example, emails a discount (usually 25% off) for a future purchase after shoppers make their first purchase with the brand. It offers the incentive to return, while giving customers the added benefit of a discount.

3. Use insights from past and present shoppers to appeal to new ones

The past is definitely prologue in the case of shopping trends and habits. There's a lot you can learn from customers' previous behaviors—whether during specific shopping seasons, regarding a particular product, or through different channels. Information collected during all of those transactions can work to inform your current efforts.

Lookalike modeling allows marketers to profile shoppers according to data they have about other customers who have similar behaviors and characteristics. When using that data, brands can make conclusions such as "a customer buying this jacket is likely to buy these gloves, too."

Amazon and others have been doing it for years. It's a great way to not only offer upsells and cross-sells but also help customers navigate their holiday shopping experience in a way that leaves them with positive feelings about your brand.

This strategy also informs in-store display strategies, the content that appears in future marketing materials, and incentives to drive sign-ups for loyalty programs on the spot.

4. Make new holiday customers aware of the benefits of being regular customers

A recent COLLOQUY survey found that most younger holiday shoppers look to loyalty programs to get better or free deals throughout the buying season. That is, shoppers eagerly get involved with loyalty programs in the season when they have time to earn discounts and access deals.

Accordingly, assume that consumers will be searching for brands that offer existing loyalty program members great benefits, such as early access to special sales, double points for engagement, or even first dibs on new products.

Imagine, for instance, a toy store that gives loyalty program members special access to the hot gift of the year. (Remember Tickle Me Elmo?)

5. Don't forget to appeal to the gift recipient

Chances are that it's not only the gift buyers who will be new to your brand; some gift recipients will also encounter your brand for the first time. Considering that they'll be interacting directly with your product, there's high potential to engage this audience.

Many brands recognize these consumers by including incentives to browse, shop, and engage within their packaging and with their policies. Some include mini catalogs to showcase more of their product line and prompt future purchases. Others include high-value coupons to entice gift recipients to visit their site or stores to make a purchase themselves. And still others rely on free shipping for returns and convenient exchange policies to make contact with at least some of their new audience.

Once you've made direct contact with gift recipients, remember to engage them further using any of the tactics in this article on the path to building a relationship with them and gaining their loyalty.

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These five tips will set you up for successful marketing in the New Year and ensure that the next holiday season has fewer strangers and a lot more loyal customers.


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Geoff Smith is SVP of marketing at CrowdTwist, a provider of multichannel loyalty and analytics solutions that drive customer engagement and incremental spend. He is a seasoned marketing technology marketer with 16+ years of experience in marketing email, loyalty, and CRM solutions.

LinkedIn: Geoff Smith

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