Not Every Trick is a Treat: Branding in a Competitive Environment

November 1, 2016  | By Aidan Griffin

im-a-mouse-duh-mean-girlsBeing the talk of the town on Halloween requires going beyond the cliché and finding an outside-the-box costume that people will also be able to understand and enjoy. Whether scrambling last minute and slapping a mask or a witch hat on or becoming a Goodwill regular hunting for the perfect accessory, Halloween revelers take advantage of Halloween to borrow a persona that extends far beyond their everyday personality. Done right, a Halloween costume can earn you some serious kudos.

This isn’t dissimilar to retail marketers developing campaigns this holiday season. As the nights get longer and mornings get colder, they are looking for ways to cozy up to shoppers in unique ways. The ‘go viral’ mentality has led to a lot of good and bad ideas, but brands and retailers know they can’t just discount themselves into oblivion anymore. They need to find innovative marketing campaigns and brand messaging that puts a new spin on traditional tactics. Like knowing what it takes to win the office Halloween costume contest, there are a few foundational elements Halloween shares with holiday marketing.

Creativity

In the age of data-driven marketing, it can be hard to remember that people can’t give feedback – positive or negative – on something they haven’t seen yet. Numbers can tell you anything you want to know about your customers, and on a macro-level, you can determine what sort of marketing those people respond to best. That is undoubtedly important when creating your brand, full stop. But when looking to stand out in an extra busy time, those numbers can be so restricting that you never find the best answer.

Riddle me this: which costume do you prefer – the store-bought ‘princess’ costume or the one that took someone a week to make after visiting four stores, busting out the sewing machine and coming up with an original costume you hadn’t seen before? Ask Google what’s more popular and you’ll see that lots of people were princesses, so you know that’s a safe way to go, but I promise you’d be more excited to have trick-or-treaters come to your door as the latter.

Numbers and data and research can lie, even if it’s by accident. They’ll tell you what isn’t the wrong move, but they can’t prove what is the right move – not in this instance and not when trying to develop a viral or even just plain compelling marketing campaign.

Relatability

stranger-things-costume
That’s me. I’m ‘dead Barb’ from Stranger Things. People liked my sign.

Creativity is great, but if people are left scratching their heads and whispering to their friends that they have no idea what’s going on, it’s useless. Some of my favorite costumes are when people dress up as characters from kids’ movies I haven’t thought about in years. These costumes establish a sense of belonging and an inside-joke mentality to the holiday. These costumes aren’t cliché, but they rely on a shared connection that most people have, and takes advantage of that feeling to create a positive reaction. Many of the movies I haven’t seen or barely remember are well-established, so I don’t have to know exactly what the character did in the movie or what their most quotable lines are in order to appreciate it.

Retailers can leverage their knowledge of their customers here to find unique connections they have with each other. No matter what you sell, your customers have other interests. Find the connections that fly under the radar and exploit them without alienating those who aren’t in on the joke, and you have a pretty good recipe for success. 

Funny

One thing that is sure to get people to like your costume even when they don’t know you is to have a funny costume. Costumes that take a second to figure out because they’re based on wordplay or costumes that shake the stuffiness and self-consciousness of daily life are always a big hit. They’re creative; people understand that it’s a joke and not who you really are, and they can easily join in the fun with you. The barriers to friendship, conversation or just a moment of laughter with each other when you get the joke is what it’s all about. Don’t take yourself too seriously, whether in costume or in business at the holidays, and you’ll be on the track to a successful holiday.

Halloween marks the holiday season’s earnest launch. The competition for best costume, just like the competition for holiday consumers, is tough to win. But, if retail marketers think about their holiday strategies the same way they think about putting together a good costume, they’ll be swapping out the fun size treats for king size in no time.