The holidays are upon us — a great time of year for bad sweaters, chestnuts roasting on an open fire, and parties with friends and family. It’s also a time when those friends and family might ask you (if you’ve been “good”) what you want for a gift.

So brands, here’s a reality check to keep in mind — your customers don’t care about that high priority item you’re trying to sell, so why do you keep trying to push it on them? Context really matters when it comes to marketing and brands need to get over their old methods and ways of thinking when it comes to customer relationships. The idea behind Customer Relationship Management (CRM) still stands true — managing a company’s interaction with current and future customers — but brands need to evolve the tactics they’re using in order to reach these current and future customers. A direct mail postcard no longer cuts it in terms of promotions, especially not with the technology we now have at our disposal. And “Dear (PATRICK)” isn’t personalization, by the way.

What do you know about me? How often do I use your company’s app? What have I bought from you recently? What might I want next? These are the thoughts that brands need to work off of to engage and actually retain a customer.

Unless you want coal in your stocking at the end of the quarter, follow this new holiday script.


1. Know your list. And check it twice.

A customer profile is not static. It’s dynamic. You need to understand where the customer is, both literally and figuratively, right now and engage appropriately. With Black Friday, Cyber Monday, and Mobile Thursday (can ‘Tablet Tuesday’ be far behind?) customers are making it pretty obvious when they’re going to buy and by what channel (with mobile fast on the rise). With time of the essence in “the most wonderful time of the year,” it behooves brands intent on making hay in the fourth quarter to put the right products in front of the right people at the right time via the right channel(s). Customers will figure out when they want to buy and how.


2. Santa shouldn’t be the only one watching to see who’s naughty or nice

Start by creating a unified customer profile and then start streaming in behaviors as they happen— a purchase is made, a review is posted, a cart is abandoned, an app is opened, a SKU is clicked, and so on. With basic observations into what your customers have done historically and are doing right now, you can predict with a high degree of accuracy what they will do next. Better yet, you can lead them there.

On top of a bedrock of data-supported understanding, define your rules of engagement. For example, when the customer opens your app, present an offer for the last product she looked at or the one in the cart she abandoned. If the customer comes into the café and uses his app to purchase a large cup of the special seasonal blend, offer him a great offer on that same blend by the pound to brew at home. Offer him a discount on gift cards, festive mugs, and more. And do it all before he even leaves the register. That’s the power of mobility and a real-time rules engine. There’s no time to pull a list of who’s purchased a certain SKU so you can send an appropriate email offer. He’s in the store right now. This is the moment of impact that makes or breaks quarters. And marketers.

When CRM first came along, it fit in with the times and technology we had back then. Marketers had very little sense of “Lifetime Customer Value” or even customer profiles. They may have had little more than a name, address, and average household income for that zip code.

Now they do. It’s time to act accordingly. With the technology that exists now, we have no excuse for this impersonal, inside-out communication. A generic email may not be the equivalent of the 800-pound Sears catalog of Christmas’ past, but it’s not far from it.


3. Give Thanks

You may think of loyalty as a way of working. You may think of it as an objective or outcome to running the business right. But don’t think of it as a tactic. It’s not a box to be checked or a stocking to be stuffed. Just as “Dear (INSERT NAME)” is not real personalization, giving a few points when a customer spends a lot of money or makes a lot of transactions is not “loyalty.” If you’re doing it just so you can say you have a program, bah humbug. Loyalty programs don’t differentiate. Loyalty does.

Companies that are more loyal to their customers, and deliver more value, have more loyal customers that deliver more profit. It’s not a hoop for customers to jump through. In a certain respect, it’s a hoop for brands to go through to demonstrate their loyalty to their customers, not the other way around.

With a little luck, your customers will spend a lot of time and treasure with you this holiday. Give them something back. Grant them access to special offers or products. Treat them as special. Let them know you appreciate their business specifically and will do everything you can to keep them coming back.

We have so many different mobile and marketing technologies available at our fingertips. It’s an embarrassment of riches. Use all the tools at your disposal and this holiday could be the gift that keeps on giving.