The most wonderful (or at least the busiest) time of year is upon event creators! For much of the working world, the holidays are a time to unwind, let loose, and spend quality time with family and friends. But as the majority of people get ready to celebrate, an event planner’s work is just beginning. In a competitive, experiential market, the pressure is on to create fun, memorable holiday events that will bring the community together.
This year’s holiday events ostensibly take on more significance than those of previous years. Emerging slowly from a pandemic and acclimating to a changing world has not been easy for most of us. That said, as travel bans life and society reopens, there is a spirit of hope and renewal in the air. People want to put the past behind them- if just for a night- and feel the joy of the holidays once more.
Now, most holiday events are at least loosely based on beloved cultural and social traditions. While tradition is revered at this nostalgic time of year, it’s also important to create memorable events that stand out. Staying true to brand while thinking outside the box at holiday events can be challenging, of course. But when you consider how potentially lucrative this season is- and what a huge impact it has on branding- getting holiday events right is a worthy endeavor. How can you cultivate a unique experience that reflects cherished traditions yet still brings something new to the table? And how can you leverage your event to boost sales, ROI, and generate new leads? Let’s get down to business (and pleasure).
1. Add Special Touches- and Hype Them!
We all know how important it is to connect with audiences and hype your event in the weeks before it goes live. But we suggest taking it a step further by teasing your audience with new and exciting elements. What does this year’s event have that previous ones didn’t? Adding special touches creates an aura of intrigue and exclusivity around your event- and that spotlights it before it happens.
You don’t have to make a big splash or stray far from your brand to revitalize your event. For example, if you are known for unique, handcrafted desserts or gourmet cuisines, try spicing up your menu with a new novelty item. If intricate, spectacular light displays are a staple at your holiday festivities, brighten things up with a new structure. Some LED structures can be found for less than $30 and create as much holiday magic as more expensive displays. Going for classic? Check out Geanmoki’s 30 LED Window Curtain. Want to set an ambient scene? LumaBase White Paper Luminaria Bags are simple, sweet, and elegant when paired with fairy lights. If your event is all about family-friendly fun, a new group activity or toy for gift bags could hype the younger crowd- and free up parents to enjoy the party and socialize.
Maybe you want to slightly alter the theme of your event to reflect the current mood. Is your event a time-honored classic that celebrates tradition? If so, keep it that way, but consider mingling hope with nostalgia by hosting a charitable activity. Or change the theme of your event to “giving and receiving” by rewarding participants with a special experience. As always, it’s important to know who your attendees are, what motivates them, and the kind of experiences they value.
Now more than ever, the spirit of giving inspires us and keeps us going. As festivities ensue, it’s important to remember that many members of your own (or a nearby) community may be struggling- especially in the wake of a pandemic that shut down businesses across the world. For a family-friendly event, why not set aside some time in which people in your community can bring their presents to be wrapped? You may need several volunteers to help out, but involving your attendees creates a sense of togetherness- and makes people feel good about themselves by doing something for others. And if one of your goals is to generate sales, try introducing new products or services by holding a raffle or contest. Winners get a free item or trial. If you go this route, count down the days to enter via fun emails and social media posts.
Adding a band or some new music to the mix? Changing the theme, display, or setting in some small but exciting way? Including a children’s section where there wasn’t one before so that parents without sitters can still attend? Maybe you’re holding your first ever bake-off. (If this idea sounds delicious, you can pull it off by simply asking people to bring in several dozens of their favorite holiday treats. Then everyone leaves with one of each).
Whatever new experience you cultivate, try creating fun BTS footage that gives viewers a sneak peak of the excitement. You don’t have to take your audience on a virtual tour- showing them every detail will spoil the anticipation factor, anyway. Simply tease them with animated clips via email, social media, on your website, or in any other community forum where your event is featured. “Show, don’t tell” is always better when it comes to teasing events. Live count downs to the main event are also a great way to collectively inspire excitement.
And again, be sure to hype any exciting happenings that were not featured in previous years. When you’re looking to reach new audiences and expand customer loyalty, you need to be constantly evolving- and yes, that includes even the most traditional holiday events. If you’re offering something unique that other holiday events are not, people will prioritize you. What’s more, they won’t forget you after it’s over, and will likely talk about the things they loved about the experience with friends. And remember, it’s an experiential market, so people like to feel like they’re part of something special and exclusive. By the same token, they want your event to hold personal value for them. Charitable activities give attendees a sense of taking part in something meaningful, and they help people feel more connected to their community.
2. Mix Business with Pleasure
We don’t want to be the Grinch who stole Christmas by talking about work, but mixing business with pleasure is par for the course during the holidays. Amid the pandemic, many people lost sponsorships, partnerships, leads, and more. Even if your event is not geared toward professional development, if you know there will be people from your industry in attendance, you might want to expand on that. Extend an invitation to any donors, volunteers, former sponsors, supporters, and local businesses. Make sure guests have ample, well-lit room to enjoy the scenery and talk among themselves. If your current venue doesn’t lend itself to this kind of atmosphere, consider changing spaces. Local restaurants, museums, and galleries are ideal, relaxed settings for networking.
Generally speaking, it’s easier to seamlessly integrate charities into events where networking is prevalent. Just keep the holiday spirit in it by choosing a festive theme for your event. You may also want to consider offering a text-to-give option, which allows people to make a donation from their cell phones.
3. Celebrate Cultural Diversity
This is a big one. In a cultural melting pot, it’s important to be inclusive and celebrate different cultural holidays. And yes, there are ways to do so without appropriating other people’s customs and traditions. While many workplaces are now striving to provide equal opportunities to all races and ethnicities, mainstream holiday celebrations remain largely ethnocentric. Don’t get us wrong- we’re not telling you to cancel your Christmas party or throw away your time-honored traditions. But celebrating cultural diversity in ways that feel genuine to you builds your brand’s diversity- and bolsters a sense of community.
Not only that, but generally speaking, diversity benefits your business’s bottom line. This is a fact consistently supported by bulk evidence. One study by McKinsey & Company found that companies with ethnic diversity are 36 percent more likely to outperform their less diverse peers.
We’re living and working in a largely experiential society, especially when we’re talking about millennials. It’s well known that millennials and Gen Zers are more experiential than their predecessors; they are expansive and express a desire to experience cultures and life experiences outside their immediate environment. Why not find simple, creative ways to include traditions that celebrate Hanakkuh and Kwanzaa as well as Christmas?
Again, do what feels natural to you. It’s important to know your community and what they will likely enjoy. It’s just as important to be true to yourself. If there are certain customs you particularly enjoy, let yourself be inspired by those, and your celebration of them will feel genuine. Rather than copying popular traditions, do a little research into diverse holidays, and celebrate what you like most about them. Creating more multicultural events can be much simpler than you may think. And don’t think that means necessarily doing away with your tried and true traditions! Diverse events make communities more diverse without erasing beloved traditions, such as those revolving around Christmas.
Sometimes diversity can be honored by integrating experiences that relate to a range of winter holidays. For example, Winter Solstice is a now-trending holiday also known as Yule. It honors the Norse God, and can be celebrated with the exchange of meals, gifts, and other festivities. The winter solstice also marks the day of the year that the North Pole of Earth faces the furthest away from the sun that it will all year. Many people from many different faiths or agnostic belief systems celebrate this natural phenomenon. Festivities held in nature can be festive, romantic, and a way to observe Winter Solstice.
Other examples of lesser-known holidays worth celebrating are Bohdi Day (the day when the historical Buddha reached enlightenment) and Diwali, which takes place in November. Many beautiful Festival of Lights events happen each year across the globe.
4. The More, the Merrier
You might be surprised at how many people overlook this one. A good general rule of thumb is to invite more than one person from each company you hope will attend. Why? Well, most of us know what it’s like to be the only one who doesn’t know anyone else at the party. While some extroverts thrive on the challenge, many people just feel awkward, lost, or bored- and those are the last feelings you want to inspire during this time of year. We know the sky may not be the limit when it comes to capacity, but we recommend inviting at least two or three people from each company. This way, they feel comfortable and have people to socialize with right off the bat. The more at home people feel, the easier it is for them to mingle, network, and generally enjoy themselves.
Speaking of invites, here’s a small aside: Make them as memorable as your event will be. December is a busy month, so people may not be as available to interact with your promos as they would be during other times of the year. And what do people do when they’re on the go? They interact with their phones, of course. That said, your invitation needs to make a big impression. Interactive invitations, such as those featuring a live countdown, keep your event fresh in people’s minds during their busiest season.
5. Know Your Community
No matter what winter holidays people celebrate, togetherness is a common theme. Depending on where you are located, the demand for niche and international events will vary. Population demographics and psychographics are key. In the past, demographics seemingly yielded enough information, such as age, gender, and income level. And yes, that information provides some fundamental information about who your audience is and what kind of events they may enjoy. However, it fails to give you the more subtle, intricate information you can get from psychographic profiles. Psychographic information delves a bit deeper to include about a specific population’s attitudes, beliefs, and other psychological criteria that influence buyer behavior- especially during the holidays, when emotions are heightened and more sales are being made than any other time of the year. Knowing what your consumers value emotionally, what their belief systems are, and how they interact with products and media can help you personalize your events. And the more personalized niche experiences are, the more success you have in an experiential market.
It’s important to note that holidays are a wild card when it comes to consumer behavior. Holiday shoppers are quite literally a mixed bag. For one thing, the average holiday shopper is buying things not for themselves, but for others who may belong to a different demographic. So when you use holiday events to leverage product sales, keep in mind that you’re not just catering to the same old crowd. Furthermore, holiday shippers are fickle with less brand loyalty. According to The Ecommerce Holiday Customer Benchmark, holiday shoppers actually have 13 percent lower Customer Lifetime Value (CLV). However, these same buyers constitute 23.7 percent of the annual revenue for “holiday-sensitive” retail categories. (Some of these include, but are not limited to, apparels/accessories and computer/electronics). Of course, holiday-oriented food is also a big seller at this time of year.
What does all of this mean for you? Maybe nothing, maybe everything. Many holiday events boost sales big time, so if you’re leveraging them in this way, it’s important to understand your niche audience. It’s just as important to understand that your audience will likely shift to include holiday shoppers from different demographics (and psychographics).
We’re well aware: A lot of holiday advice can sound contrary. Cater to your niche, but expand to broaden your audience, keep remote attendees happy, and reach new people. Be true to your brand but also be inclusive. Striking a balance between seemingly polar goals is certainly a challenge, but event creators have the creative ability to rise to it. So much of it comes down to knowing both your audience and your own specific business goals for the holidays. And remember, this precarious balance is constantly evolving, so there’s no need to be “perfect”. In fact, there’s no such thing. Your audience will love you simply for being yourself, being open to change with society, and doing your best to grow with them. Even niches are fluid to some degree, so keep an open mind and have fun!