Merry Christmas or Happy Holidays? If we talk about Christmas, do we need to talk about Hanukkah and Kwanzaa? Do we play Scrooge and avoid the holidays altogether? These are the questions brands ask themselves every year as they try to determine how and where to position themselves during the holiday season, especially on social media where customers and followers are quick to judge and never afraid to call out a brand they feel is doing it wrong.

But don’t fear! We’ve gathered the go-to’s your brand needs to stay authentic and relevant this holiday season and beyond.

1. Stay True to Your Brand

Most brands have established brand guidelines to provide consistency for all branded materials. This tells you which colors, fonts, and logos to use, as well as where and when to use them. Over the past several years, companies have seen the importance in better establishing a brand identity – depicting how brands should look, feel, and sound on their extended channels to provide a consistent experience for their customers. For example, an email subscriber clicking from an email to social media should see consistencies from one location to the next, offering confirmation that the subscriber is still within the brand’s entities. Brand identity also carves out the “who we are” aspect of a brand’s personality, identifying what’s most important.

Perhaps there’s no better example of a brand that has stayed true to its guidelines (and stuck to it while under fire) during the holidays than Starbucks and its #CupGate2015. When Christian customers were outraged that the annual red cup came out and was just that (red), Starbucks responded:

“In the past, we have told stories with our holiday cups designs,” Jeffrey Fields, Starbucks vice president of Design & Content, said in a statement. “This year we wanted to usher in the holidays with a purity of design that welcomes all of our stories.”

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The best part about the response was that Starbucks didn’t apologize for who it is. Starbucks has always been an inclusive brand, and its cups have never had blatantly Christmas designs on them.

However, for companies like Hobby Lobby and Chick-Fil-A, which are open about their Christian values, the message is about Christmas without hesitation, because that message aligns with their brand identities.

2. Know Your Audience and Tailor Your Message to Them

The fourth quarter of the fiscal year is undoubtedly the most important time for retail, as well as many food and beverage brands. When facing the question of where you can and can’t insert yourself, you should be considering your audience. After all, that’s who you’re talking to, and who will react to your message. DEG client UMB Bank did just that last holiday season and tailored its content based on the idea that, “If we talk about Christmas, we need to talk about Hanukkah,” because its customer base has a strong Jewish population.

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3. Maintain Consistency  

Once you find the holiday messaging, tactics, and execution that fits your brand, the best thing you can do is stick to the strategy. Of course, each year you should go back to the table and think of new ways to make that story come to life while maintaining the consistency of your message. The brand who does this so well that it’s basically become a tradition is Coca-Cola.

Coca-Cola introduced its “Share a Coke” campaign in 2013 and continues to find relevant ways to reinvent the concept that makes it seasonally relevant. For instance, in this micro-video Coke imagines using its customizable Share-a-Coke bottles as place cards for Thanksgiving dinner:

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When it comes to celebrating Christmas, customers know to expect two things from Coca-Cola: Santa Claus and polar bears. For years, Coke has been featuring both so consistently, they have become synonymous with the brand. There’s a Twitter account dedicated to spotting the Coca-Cola Christmas Truck with more than 54K followers. The Santa cans have become a tradition that people expect every year, which is why when Coca-Cola strayed from this and featured its beloved polar bears instead, the campaign backfired.

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In one of the two of the earliest ads featuring polar bears, we also get a glimpse of Santa Claus, who seemingly introduces the bear to the classic soda.

Which tip is most applicable to your brand? Share with us in the comments below!

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