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Customer Experience

Jul 02, 2024

How Businesses Can Build Positive Brand Sentiment at Christmas

Learn how businesses can build positive brand sentiment during Christmas, navigate the 'Christmas Creep', and create meaningful connections with customers. Discover the importance of brand sentiment and tips for success.

As the festive season approaches, businesses transition to themed displays, and promotional offers start to permeate across the retail space. But have you noticed that the festivities are rolling out earlier and earlier each year?

This is an emerging phenomenon often called the 'Christmas Creep', which refers to how marketing for the holiday season has started extending well beyond traditional timelines. While many brands could be using it as an opportunity to help customers spread the cost of Christmas, it can also be perceived by customers as a strategic effort to maximise sales and increase their revenue targets.

Whatever the reason, it’s important to remember that brand perception is owned by the customers, and they ultimately have the power to influence whether Christmas Creep is a failure or flourishes.

For businesses, preventing holiday fatigue and keeping their customers engaged while keeping up with the Christmas Creep competition is a delicate balancing act — especially against a turbulent economic backdrop that’s spurned a prediction that two-thirds of UK adults are planning to cut back on spending this Christmas.

To help your business navigate this period thoughtfully and ensure your efforts are perceived as helpful rather than intrusive, we’ve dug deeper into the importance of brand sentiment during the holiday period and how your brand can foster genuine connections with your customers.


Why is brand sentiment important at Christmas?

To understand what makes the last quarter of the year, also known as the Golden Quarter, such an important date in every business’s calendar, let’s go back to the basics.

A strong customer sentiment is one of the building blocks of building brand perception. Think about it: if a customer has a negative sentiment towards your brand, it’s going to affect their overall perception of your business.

It works the other way around, too, a positive sentiment can translate to increased customer loyalty and sales, standing out against competitors and even new customers through word-of-mouth referrals. We even have the data to prove it: our 2021 Brand Perception Report revealed that 74% of Brits always consider a brand’s values before purchasing from them.

When marketing efforts are doubled down at Christmas, so is the likelihood of creating a positive or negative brand sentiment. The holiday period is also when businesses are more likely to generate emotional connections with their audience through nostalgic campaigns and sentimental storytelling that evokes consumers’ memories of Christmases past and resonates deeply with all ages.

With notions of family, togetherness, and memory playing a central role in festive branding, businesses must tailor their narratives to sell an experience or feeling – rather than a product. It reflects the reality of the season but also creates an aspirational image that people strive to achieve.


What are the effects of brand sentiment at Christmas?

When done correctly, businesses can reap the rewards by building lasting emotional connections with their target audience.



Let’s take the popular UK department store and retailer John Lewis as an example. Their annual Christmas adverts aren’t just regular video campaigns; they're cultural events eagerly anticipated and widely discussed (their 2022 Christmas ad has over 4 million views on YouTube as of November 2023). Following year and year of successfully resonating with customers at Christmas time, their brand has become synonymous with festive marketing.

But as the market becomes more saturated and consumer expectations evolve, it’s time to consider if the John Lewis magic is still as potent as it once was. Is it becoming increasingly challenging for brands, even for a seasoned player like John Lewis, to consistently strike the right emotional chord?


So, what happens when retailers get it wrong?

Today, the landscape is more complex than ever. With the rise of social media and a more discerning audience, brands are under immense pressure to ‘get it right’. It's no longer just about tugging at heartstrings; it's about authenticity, relevance, and truly understanding the emotional pulse of the audience. After all, our Brand Perceptions Report also found that if disappointed by a company’s words or actions on a social or political issue, almost three-quarters (74%) of consumers say they would be less likely to purchase from them.

And even some of the most popular retailers are susceptible to missing the mark.

Marks & Spencer’s Christmas advert for 2023 has received considerable backlash since its release at the start of November. Criticism has been centred around the brand encouraging viewers to drop time-honoured Christmas traditions, like wearing party hats and playing board games, to do what they actually love instead.

The second round of criticism came in from a social media post that shared outtakes from the filming of the advert; it showed red, silver, and green paper hats tossed into a burning fireplace – with social media users drawing a likeness to the Palestinian flag and perceiving this to be a sign of the retailer taking a stance on the current conflict in the Middle East.

Despite the post being taken down and an apology issued from the brand, the damage has already been done. Since the ad’s launch, brand sentiment for M&S has plunged. Sentiments of social conversations were previously 34% positive and 21% negative, but the numbers have shifted significantly to 3% and 67%, respectively.

It just goes to prove that as rewarding as the holiday season can be, it can also lead to some pretty big downfalls. Brands must navigate these emotional waters with care; the right campaign can not only boost sales but also build a lasting emotional connection with the audience, one that endures long after the Christmas lights have dimmed. In this season of giving, a brand's greatest gift might just be an authentic emotional experience.

However, If your brand perception does take a hit, all is not lost: 48% of consumers would give brands another chance if the businesses made themselves accountable for their actions.

As with most things, though, prevention is better than a cure.


How to create meaningful connections with your audience at Christmas

In the competitive landscape of eCommerce, especially during the festive season and with customers growing wary of the Christmas Creep, the key to success lies in bridging the gap between emotion and transaction.

As well as listing our top tips, Kerry Leighton-Bailey, CMO here at Feefo, shares her advice for how you can build meaningful connections with your audience this Christmas:

1. Understand your audience

The first step is knowing who you're talking to. As a business, you should already have a good foundational understanding of your audience, but Christmas brings about new challenges, and it's your responsibility to know what seasonal pain points they might be suffering from.

Kerry emphasises, "It's about really tuning into your customers and understanding their needs and preferences, and then checking in with them later down the line as customer needs are always changing. Fresh insights are invaluable for crafting messages that resonate deeply."

“Something else that many businesses overlook is reading the room to get a feel for the current socioeconomic temperature,” says Kerry. “As well as your customers, society and trends are constantly evolving, and businesses need to factor this into their messaging and marketing.”

Feefo’s top tips:

  • Conduct regular surveys and focus groups to gather direct feedback from your audience. Learn more about how to build effective customer surveys with our guide.
  • Analyse social media interactions to gauge sentiment and preferences. Read about how we measured the social media perception of the world's richest businesses here.

2. Identify which parts of your brand your audience values

Recognising what aspects of your brand resonate most with your audience is crucial, as this is essentially your unique selling point that makes you stand out amongst your competitors. It’s also what keeps your brand at the forefront of your customers’ minds.

"Every brand has different strengths. A successful brand should identify these and make them the focal point of your campaigns. Whether it's your product quality, customer service, or brand values, highlighting these attributes authentically can strengthen customer relationships," says Kerry.

Feefo’s top tips:

  • Use customer feedback to understand which aspects of your brand are most appreciated.
  • Develop marketing messages that focus on these attributes, using storytelling to bring them to life.

3. Turn your audience into participants

Moving customers from passive observers to active participants can significantly enhance emotional engagement, therefore encouraging them to shop with your brand.

"Engagement is key," says Kerry. "Involve your customers in your brand's story, making them feel part of something bigger." This can be achieved through interactive campaigns, social media challenges, or user-generated content initiatives.

Coca-Cola’s famous ‘Holidays are Coming’ advertising campaign continues to drum up excitement in the holiday period, but it’s its 2012 ‘Share a Coke’ campaign that lives on today as a best-in-class reminder of an engaging marketing campaign.

With millions of Coca-Cola bottles distributed across the world personalised with hundreds of different names, customers were invited to find their own or one with their loved one’s name to gift to them. The result? An 11% increase in revenue for the brand and just under half a million photos uploaded with the hashtag #ShareaCoke in the campaign’s first year.

Feefo’s top tips:

  • Create campaigns that encourage user participation, like photo contests or social media challenges.
  • Feature customer stories or reviews in your marketing.

4. Think past the festive season

While the Christmas Creep can lead to marketing fatigue, remember that there’s another emotion that can appeal to your customers. Consumers are likely to be affected by a ‘fear of missing out’ when confronted with the fact that festive offers or sales are finite and have an expiry date. In other words, they may be more likely to engage with your business if there's a looming sense that it won’t last forever. This creates a sense of urgency to purchase from your brand.

“The festivities don’t have to stop at midnight on the 26th of December. While Christmas is technically over, businesses should look to continue building meaningful relationships with their customers by updating their product offerings to suit their audience’s changing needs and planning new and exciting offers throughout the calendar year,” recommends Kerry.

“Remember that brand sentiment at Christmas can impact sales year-round. A strong festive campaign can set the tone for the entire year. But brand sentiment is not static, it evolves. So, continuously engaging with and listening to your audience gives you the insights you need to continue to grow a positive sentiment.”

Feefo’s top tips:

  • Develop a year-round engagement strategy, not just focused on the festive season.
  • Keep communication channels active post-holiday season with newsletters, updates, and special offers.

Building and maintaining brand sentiment at Christmas

With its high emotional stakes and intense competition, the festive season is a critical time for brands to solidify their reputation and build lasting relationships with customers. It’s also an opportunity for them to take control of their brand sentiment – not just during Christmas but throughout the year.

While engaging storytelling and emotional advertising play significant roles in shaping brand perception, the authenticity and reliability of customer feedback cannot be overstated. The importance of these reviews becomes even more pronounced in the age of social platforms like X, formerly Twitter, and open-review platforms that don’t verify genuine or fake reviews.

That’s why we would always recommend using a verified invite-only review platform like Feefo to help protect your business against potentially damaging feedback. We can also give you confidence that the certified reviews you’re receiving can help build a more accurate and trustworthy idea of your brand’s customer sentiment.

Learn more about how you can use customer ratings and reviews to measure sentiment, or get in touch with one of our experts today to find out how Feefo can help your business.

Founded in 2010, Feefo is a ratings and reviews platform that collects reliable and constructive reviews for thousands of clients worldwide. We only send invitations to verified customers to ask them to leave a review, so consumers can learn how people like them feel about different products and services. And companies can truly discover what they’re doing right, and where they can improve. This allows Feefo’s clients to create transparent, trusted relationships and deliver exceptional services that their customers can depend on - every time.

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