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What can marketers learn from Santa?

Author : Mike Maynard, Managing Director of Napier

13 December 2019

As it's nearly Christmas, I couldn’t avoid the obligatory blog post about the festive season. I thought it would be interesting to look at the things that Santa does, as I believe that he is one of the world’s greatest marketers.

As a start here are the top five things that marketers should take note of, although I’d love to hear if you think there are other things that he could teach us!

Santa works closely with engineering

One of the most important things for marketers is to understand and collaborate closely with engineering. In Santa’s case, he has a team of elves with whom he collaborates closely in a vertically integrated organisation, although some would say he isn’t the world’s best boss, demanding long hours from the underpaid elves. It’s also worth mentioning that Santa owns the logistics that his business uses (a sleigh and reindeer), a strategy that Amazon is working hard to copy.

Of course, the benefit of working with engineering is that he can meet a fixed deadline each year. In general, he does pretty well, although there are years when he’s unable to meet demand for the most in-demand presents. Despite him delivering my dot-matrix printer late in the 1980s (trust me, as a geeky kid with a BBC micro, a dot matrix printer was the best present possible), we will forgive him the odd supply-chain failure as even Arnie struggles to get the right present at times.

Santa’s strong brand image

You’ve never seen him, but you know what Santa looks like: a slightly out-of-shape old man with a white beard and red outfit. Consistency is essential in marketing, and Santa is highly recognisable because he hasn’t felt the need to tweak his looks every year.

However, it’s actually not true that Santa’s look has always been the same. Although the red and white outfit does owe it’s colours to the robes worn by bishops in the 19th century, and he was most famously described in Clement Clark Moore's 1822 poem "A Visit From St. Nicholas" (“Twas the night before Christmas…”), Coke visually defined Santa’s modern day looks in advertising campaigns starting in 1931. Given that Santa has kept the same image for 200 years or so, the consistency has been impressive.

Santa has a great database

When it comes to database marketing, no one can beat Santa. Not only does he have a database of every boy and girl (the entire market) he has also cleverly segmented them into the “naughty” and “nice” lists. This segmentation means that he focuses on the nice kids only and doesn’t waste time on the naughty kids whom he has somehow managed to convince that they need to work to move onto the nice list and become a customer.

The best swag

Forget about pens with a corporate logo, Santa is without doubt the marketer with the best swag. He gives away the things that each child wants more than anything else. Even the most creative marketers will admit that their branded give-aways don’t quite match up, and when have you ever received a trade show giveaway that has been beautifully wrapped, has a bow on it and has been placed under a tree?

We believe that the cost of the gifts is probably making an impact on the profitability of Santa’s business, but we guess he is like a modern-day football club that never intends to do anything other than lose huge sums of money simply so they can get the glory of winning a trophy (or in Santa’s case, just living the dream!). Some people have analysed this a little too much, for example the accountancy firm that has speculated what would happen if Santa was an accountant.

Santa’s customer loyalty

Santa has amazing loyalty, with children (and adults) choosing to stay with him for year after year. The questionable business model might help here: there is literally no cost to be a customer (other than having to be nice). It’s impossible to ignore, however, the amazing user experience that he delivers year after year, which must be a key factor in retaining such a large customer base.

Hopefully marketers will learn from Santa and be able to make 2020 a great year for their organisations. As for me, I’m hoping Santa is reading this, as I’d love even more great technology companies to work with in 2020: contact me through the Napier website or by email if you would like to talk to an agency that believes marketing campaign can have the same magic as Christmas (only if you are on the nice list!).

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