Christmas in October

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by: Jonathan Salem Baskin

Wal-Mart has announced that it is cutting prices, setting up holiday shops in its stores, all in the hope that it can capture holiday sales now…instead of waiting for the selling season that traditionally arrives the day after Thanksgiving.

Maybe because it may not arrive?

Seasonality is one of the contextual externalities upon which lots of brand and marketing strategies are based. Like the expectation that newly-weds will need to outfit new homes, the presumption is that certain buying behaviors are somewhat dependable. Reliable. Recurring. Many business strategies — and brand marketing activities in particular — are based not on understanding these behaviors, but rather exploiting them as they reappear.

I suspect that lots of what we happily refer to as brand preference is really conditioned behavior, routine, or sometimes just dumb luck. Putting edible food in front of a hungry person isn’t thoughtful or strategic. It’s just obvious.

Only it’s tough trying to sell, say, cuddly sweaters in a winter season that has warmed considerably. Or retail supposedly "reliable" investment products in a market that has surprised even the stoics among us with its unpredictability. 

Or planning to tee-up lots of Christmas and Hanukkah gifts for a future in which it’s very possible consumers will have (or feel that they possess) less money to spend than they do now.

I think there’s something more going on here than the subtle promotional encroachment  that we’ve seen over the past few years.

The risk of moving up previously-planned promotions (whether outbound creative and/or pricing) is that you simply shift future sales to the present, only postponing your sales challenges. 

But what if failing to shift them forward means they might not otherwise happen at all?

Maybe product marketers are facing up to the fact the only things you can depend on are the things that you control

  • No amount of reliance on externalities, or hoping to trip upon or otherwise ride a trend, can take the place of identifying the realities of consumer need and the context of place and time
  • Getting people to do something is far more measurable, perhaps because it’s real, than wasting money influencing what they might think

Scary implications for the overall economy aside, perhaps the Wal-Mart move (already echoed by others) is less an example of promotional impatience, and more proof of a strategic change in the fundamentals upon which businesses can reply upon?

Less waiting, and more doing?

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