Your Online Brand and the Holiday Season

 From disparate beginnings, Christmas has become largely a cultural celebration for my generation – one meant to bring people together and place our focus on the people we love.

It has also become an uber-brand that represents intangible, un-buy-able values (peace, love, joy, family, selflessness) simultaneously with supreme commercialism.

I love Christmas: hot cocoa, a roaring fire, home cooking, decorated trees, lit up streets, friends around, and the overall heightened consideration of other people (which really should be more present year-round). And of course, the unavoidable and remorseless spending of money we don’t necessarily have.

I like shopping as much as the next red-blooded woman, and I love choosing gifts for people I care about, BUT I loathe the chaos that is the holiday shopping experience. Firstly, running a fully booked design firm means I am impossibly busy, and it’s hard to find time to brave the traffic, find parking, and wait in obscene lines at the counter. So I shop for a lot of gifts online, which doesn’t seem particularly festive to me. Something is lost.

Smart online retailers are starting to catch on. In the same ways that a brick and mortar store would decorate their shop for the holidays, internet based companies are learning to create a more festive atmosphere for their customers. We all know that emotion sells. And the experience you’re providing for your customers online can be just as lucrative as one you might create in your physical store.

Now, my customers aren’t looking for the same thing as holiday shoppers. You’re business folk, and it’s not likely you’re going to hire a corporate designer as a gift for a loved one. But, I still felt like I should give a subtle little nod to the holidays… so I created a festive little holiday variant on our logo in the upper left corner. Even for those of us who aren’t selling a product, small efforts like this one show a human side that customers often appreciate.

If your business does happen to be one that caters to holiday shoppers, there are a few things you can do to improve your customers’ experience, and boost your online sales this December.

Intelligent Use of Colour
Humans are deeply and predictably influenced by visual stimulus, particularly the experience and use of colour. If you’re going to ‘decorate’ your website for the holidays, do it tastefully. Blinking flashy strings of rainbow christmas lights as text separators are not going to help your cause. A rich feature area with two or three cohesive colours in a consistent palette will create a pleasing experience, which will make your visitors want to stay and browse around.

Good Bone Structure
If your website design sucks, then no amount of tinsel is going to save it. Before you even think about holiday branding strategies, you need to make sure your base materials are solid. You need an impressive and credible visual image, a strong homepage with obvious calls to action, a simple and clean interface, an intuitive navigational structure, and a minimalist shopping process. Your visitors should not even have to think about how to use your site – you want their focus on your products, not your overcomplicated shopping cart software.

Holiday Sales!
This is a no-brainer. It’s the holidays. People expect special price offers. And if you’re not offering any, it’s nearly guaranteed that your competition is. On a recent trip to Home Depot, my husband noticed there were a lot of two-for-one sales on power tools. He wondered why one might need two of the same tool, but it was actually a pretty obvious holiday sales tactic… buy something you might have wanted for yourself anyway, and get another one free so you can tick a name off your holiday shopping list. It’s a double incentive on high value purchases that might otherwise be put off. His reaction? “That’s brilliant.”

Know Your Market
If you’re catering to a niche market, then your promotional decor should be appropriate to their tastes. A sporting goods retailer would take a vastly different approach to a high-end jeweler. Acknowledge the reasons people come to your website, think about what they want to get out of their visit with you, and adjust your design accordingly. Remember, this is about THEM, not you.

Time For Change
In Q4, users give advertisers 30% more of their time when compared with any other time of year. If you’re going to roll out a new product, new campaign, new feature or benefit announcement, now is the time to do it. On December 31st, advertisers get an additional minute overall to engage their audience. You have their attention. Don’t waste it.

Decorate Tastefully
Cut the clutter. If you have something important to say, don’t drown yourself out with background noise. In trying to say too much, too many end up saying nothing. Focus on a few big drivers, and organize yourself thoughtfully. Your customers come to your website because they want something specific from you, so make it easy for them to find.

Flash is Overrated
A little bit can be nice, but usability is much more important from a shopper’s point of view. The trick is to combine ease-of-use with a visual atmosphere that gives your visitors a good feeling about shopping with you.

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