Hallmark Knows Holiday Branding!

The snow starts to fall.

The camera zooms in . . . as the couple begins a long-delayed (at least two hours) passionate kiss.

The movie ends – HAPPILY, of course – with the pair united just in time for the Christmas holiday but clearly destined to live happily ever after.

For millions of people, December (which now starts on November 1st) means decorations, presents, Santa Claus, reindeer, AND Hallmark!!  The company has become (through years of careful brand building effort) inextricably associated with the warmth, cheerfulness, and good feelings of Christmas – not a bad set of qualities to have linked with your name and your brand.  In fact, so many people have found so much comfort from Hallmark Christmas movies, the company tried to ease the burden of the 2020 pandemic by providing around-the-clock Christmas fare outside the season during a period of heightened restrictions on normal, daily activities.

Clearly, Hallmark is a company that has learned an important truth – linking your brand to a holiday and feelings associated with that time can be a useful tool in your branding arsenal.

Other successful examples?

  • Do you happen to know someone who is a Dunkin’ spiced pumpkin latte fanatic?  (While not exactly tied to a specific holiday, the annual reintroduction of this special is invariably associated with the feelings of fall . . . and Halloween . . . and Thanksgiving.)
  • The Cadbury Candy company makes special Easter eggs, taking advantage of the natural and favorite tie-ins between Easter, the bunny, and candy.
  • Hershey (and the company’s signature kisses) are a Valentine’s Day tradition.

Other examples abound.  (If interested, read “How 5 Leading Brands Embraced The Holiday Season” OR perhaps about “Five Food Brands That Own Christmas”.)  Frankly, the list could go on and on, and I’m sure you can easily find a dozen examples of your own.

So . . . How Do You Make a Holiday Brand Happen?

To some degree, you have to rely upon luck – recognizing an early connection to a holiday that you see has potential and can build upon.  However, some basic steps can be taken.

Most holidays have some familiar sentiments and iconography associated with them.  Try making a list of those attributes and a list of the attributes and iconography already associated with your brand.  A sufficient number of matches between the two lists suggests you may have a likely candidate for brand building.  Starting with some basis for the connection (which is the point of this exercise) should increase your likelihood of success and reduce the amount of time required.  Once you have a candidate, some of the activities that can be used to build the connection between your brand and the holiday are:

  • Become involved with the community during that time of the year.  Linking yourself to charitable causes helps build goodwill and links your product or service to an activity associated with the season.
  • Plan to conduct your periods of heightened sales and marketing activities in conjunction with the holiday, including advertising and special promotions (budget permitting).
  • Do slight variations of your visual branding that encompass those of the holiday without sacrificing the continuity of your basic elements.

By consistently promoting the ties between you and your chosen holiday over time, you can gradually build a brand identity that assumes some of the characteristics of that celebration.  (Even Hallmark’s special relationship with Christmas did not happen overnight!!)

Looking for more suggestions, see “5 Branding Tips for the Holidays” by Debbie Laskey for the Digital Branding Institute.

Don’t Overlook Opportunities Presented by Lesser-Known Holidays

While you were certainly aware that Christmas and Hannukah were linked to December, were you also aware that these additional special observances existed?

  • National Tie Month
  • National Write a Business Plan Month
  • Bingo Month
  • Write a Friend Month

Above and beyond those monthly celebrations, you have special days (examples cited below are from 2020):

  • Giving Tuesday, December 1
  • International Day of Persons with Disabilities, December 3
  • Cookie Day, December 4
  • Volunteer Day, December 5
  • Aviation Day, December 7
  • Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day, December 7
  • Start of Hanukkah, December 10
  • Human Rights Day, December 10
  • International Mountain Day, December 11
  • Green Monday, December 14
  • Wright Brothers Day, December 17
  • Winter Solstice, December 21
  • Festivus, December 23
  • Christmas Eve, December 24
  • Christmas, December 25
  • National Thank You Note Day, December 26
  • Boxing Day (Canada), December 26
  • Start of Kwanzaa, December 26
  • No Interruptions Day, December 27
  • Tick Tock Day, December 29
  • Bacon Day, December 30
  • Make Up Your Mind Day, December 31
  • New Year’s Eve, December 31

(As I sit and write this draft, I now realize I should be planning my International Mountain Day Celebration!!)

Dozens of such occasions occur throughout the year that could provide special marketing opportunities for small businesses.  For a complete list, see Anita Campbell’s article in Small Business Trends  “Huge List of National Holidays for Marketing in a Small Business”; you just might find a number of events already exist that are inherently symbiotic with your operations.

Regardless of whether you decide the time is right for you to act on the advice in today’s article, my blogging partner and I would like to wish you a safe and happy holiday season, being sure to tune into a Hallmark Christmas movie or two while filling out your Hallmark Christmas cards to send to family and friends . . . to show you care.

Where to Begin?

“Cha Ching,” my phone sang.

Was that what I thought it was . . . my first sale?!?  I vividly remember the thrill and excitement I felt that evening.  I basked in hugs from my husband and kids, texted my close friends and family, and uncorked the champagne (well, sparkling Moscato actually; it was only a $12 sale after all). 

Fast forward one year ahead when the profit from my sales was about half my full-time income, and I was equally thrilled and excited at the idea of quitting my day job to pursue my business full time.  I couldn’t wait to be able to choose the way I dedicated my work hours, to have creative freedom, to balance my work schedule with my home life however I saw fit, to be directly responsible for my earnings . . . my list could go on and on.  The entrepreneurial allure was holy grail level for me.

Once I gave my three weeks’ notice (which my former boss and now blog partner masterfully managed to extend into three months’ notice), I was officially on cloud nine.     

Fast forward once again to my first day “unemployed” and me staring at my computer screen.  I had so many new designs I was looking forward to creating and so many ideas for new products.  My mouse and my keyboard and I forged ahead at full speed.

* * *

Up until that point, I had spent the entirety of my career in marketing communications.  I studied organizational communications and marketing for my undergrad and graduate degrees, I taught college public relations courses, and I worked for almost 15 years in the corporate world as an important contributor of a national, billion-dollar brand. 

The first item on my new business to-do list – in bold print – should have been to create a marketing plan. 

In reality, that’s not even close to what happened.  Why?  In writing this all down, I actually needed a couple minutes to decide exactly why, and I think it’s the more immediate sense of urgency you get when your business is responsible for your livelihood.  You want to focus on the areas of your company that are as tangible as your mortgage payments . . . and groceries . . . and kids’ back-to-school clothes.  I effectually went into survival mode.  Efforts producing and sustaining immediate profits were crucial while time for endeavors reaping long-term dividends felt like a luxury.

Don’t get me wrong. I had put in place certain basic brand fundamentals from the beginning.  Long before my first sale, I had decided on a name and colors, secured a web site address, and created a logo.  I even had a pretty clear sense of the qualities that would differentiate my company from others.  However, the idea of taking my brand basics and then creating and executing a blueprint for building a strong and successful brand WHILE running my business was completely and utterly overwhelming to me.

* * *

Well, as they say, the journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.  Once my survival instinct numbed a bit, I decided to take one single step.  I addressed one new activity per week.  Since I still had very little “free time” in my business AND had no real marketing plan, I didn’t give myself any constraints on the duration or direction of my efforts; just the quantity – I just needed to do one brand building task per week. 

So one week, I created an Instagram account for my business; another, I researched local venues to get my brand name out in my community; still another, I researched blogs that I could partner with to promote my brand, etc., etc., etc.  In essence, I did what I could/when I could, knowing that as long as these activities reflected my brand basics, my business would reap long-term benefits.

Over time, I mastered my one-a-week goal, and I built on that momentum – once a week, I now had to do one maintenance branding task (writing a blog posting, attending a local “expo/show,” posting content on my social media platforms, etc.) in addition to my one brand building task (researching, expanding into new venues/platforms, etc.). 

If this is starting to sound like a lot, take a breath.  There’s no need to get bogged down with specifics at this point.  We’ll cover them all as we go, and we’ll help you get your system into place.  We’ll focus on the areas we think are most beneficial to start with first, and we’ll teach you how to execute those initial steps; then, we’ll focus on building that brand – one task at a time.  Soon, you’ll find that your successes will justify the time you invest, making the process much easier.

* * *

Next up – What’s in a Name? . . . The first in a series focusing on the initial steps in building your brand.