The month of December can be either magical or disheartening for your business, depending on how well you can turn the holiday buying frenzy into sales. While it is tempting to pull out all the stops to grab your fair share of consumer dollars during the retail-buying season, you don't want to sacrifice the long-term health of your brand for a quick, unsustainable hit.

There are some common mistakes companies tend to make when it comes to holiday marketing and branding. Avoiding these pitfalls will help you stay true to your brand and remain memorable well into the New Year. I talked with 99designs Chief Marketing Officer Pamela Webber about ways to avoid these pitfalls while staying true to your brand and remaining memorable into the New Year. Here's what she shared:

Pitfall #1: Veering from your brand and mission

If your typical social media stream consists of snarky jokes, tweeting out sentimental messages full of holiday cheer will strike your audience as inauthentic. Keep your brand voice and mission in mind as you approach the holidays.

"If you typically communicate with humor, by all means, slip puns into your holiday cards," says Webber. "But if you maintain a serious corporate tone the rest of the year, stick to those sincere sentiments in your seasonal holiday materials."

Webber cited Everlane as a company that has nailed it on this front. "Everlane is a clothing company whose ethos is "radical transparency" with an emphasis on ethics and fair treatment of factory workers," said Webber. "With that in mind, Everlane sent out a radically different promotion for their holiday campaign by starting a Black Friday Fund. This fund donates all of its profits from the holidays to its factory workers around the world. While this campaign probably didn't make an immediate, positive impact on their bottom line, it consistently earns them major press coverage around the holidays and has cemented their reputation as one of the most socially responsible clothing brands you can buy from year round."

Pitfall #2: Assuming "holidays" automatically means Christmas

According to Pew Research, 92 percent of Americans observe Christmas, which is meaningful to say the least. But unless your brand is faith-based, keep your holiday marketing fairly general so as to appeal to the 100 percent. Consider advertising "holiday sales" rather than "Christmas sales."

"If you can't resist going for that striking red and green combination. use imagery that evokes the spirit of the season, but isn't specific to religion," says Webber. "In addition to potentially alienating some of your customers, most 'on the nose' holiday imagery is overused."

Despite catching some heat for it's minimalistic red cups in 2015, Webber points to Starbucks as a great example of how to keep things simple and still evoke the spirit of the season: "Starbucks changes its holiday look each year so brand enthusiasts have something to look forward to," she explains.

Pitfall #3: Bombarding your customers

It likely makes sense for you to send more emails, post more notifications, and tweet social promotions this time of year. But, don't overdo it, says Webber: "Holiday burnout is real. Bombarding your customers with something every day will devalue your offering, annoy customers, and may lead to un-follows or unsubscribes. You've spent all year building up your email list and your followers. Handle these relationships with care."

On the topic of social media, in particular, there are lots of ways to stay top of mind over the holidays losing followers by blasting them with sales messages. According to Webber, one tactic that's both effective and affordable is partnering with a likeminded brand (or a few). By finding brands that are looking to target the same audience, she notes that you can each build your social followings and expand brand awareness. You can team up on a giveaway, contest, or discount and get twice the return for the your effort.

Pitfall #4: Putting an expiration date on seasonal packaging

If you have a physical product thinking about changing your packaging for the holidays, keep in mind that while eye-catching holiday packaging may help you attract new customers, it has a short shelf life. Webber says that instead of focusing just on the holidays, you should consider packaging that evokes the tone and spirit of the season all winter long.

For inspiration on how to nail seasonal packaging, look no further than the beer and wine section of your local grocery store, explains Webber. "Every year we see beer, wine, and liquor labels getting more creative with their seasonal packaging. Some of our favorites at 99designs are Sierra Nevada Celebration Ale, Anderson Valley Winter Solstice Seasonal Ale, and Beefeater Gin."

Pitfall #5: Starting too late

How soon should you start planning? It's hard to think about the holidays when summer is still in full swing, but in order to have your holiday marketing and branding ducks in a row, it's really never too early.

"If you're in an industry that relies heavily on holiday sales to make your annual revenue goal," explains Webber, "it's particularly important to ensure you have accurate sales projections. If all goes as planned, you'll need to ensure you'll be able to keep up with demand."

How is your business marketing for the holiday season? Let me know in the Comments section below.

Published on: Nov 30, 2016