Holiday promotions are in full swing, and 2018 is shaping up to be a year for spending. The National Retail Federation predicts this year's holiday sales could increase as much as 4.8 percent, translating to a total of $720.9 billion. The average annual increase of the past five years has been 3.9 percent.

Liz Dunn, the founder and CEO of Pro4ma, claims that this year is "not going to just be a tale of Amazon domination, but I think many of the sort of incumbent retailers are well-positioned for a strong holiday--and across categories. Electronics, apparel, toys, all seem to be shaping up quite strong."

Additional good news: 2018 isn't about pitting e-commerce against brick-and-mortar stores. Katherine Cullen, director of industry and consumer insights at NRF, explains, "It's no longer about online versus in-store experiences. People are shopping both ways."

While the 2018 holiday sales forecast offers cause for optimism, one shouldn't be too quick to forget the competition.

According to a recent Radicati study, in 2018 roughly 124.5 billion business emails are sent and received daily. As for consumer emails, those come to about 111.1 billion emails sent and received every day.

How can you ensure your holiday messaging leaps out from a crowded inbox or newsfeed? The following are suggestions, inspired from real examples of brand success.

Express gratitude

Thanking your consumer is a simple, surprisingly overlooked gesture.

Consumers and brands are not always on the same page, especially when it comes to the idea of brand loyalty and, as a result, gratitude. According to Kitewheel, 73 percent of consumers believe that loyalty programs are designed so brands can best demonstrate their loyalty to customers. Sixty-six percent of marketers, however, believe the inverse. Surveyed marketers are convinced that loyalty programs are designed so consumers can demonstrate their loyalty to brands.

In Harvard Business Review, Mark Bonchek contemplates, "What would the world look like if brands were loyal to their customers? Credit card companies would waive late fees for customers who were on vacation when the payment was due. Retailers would reward shoppers who don't spend a lot, but are active on social media as brand advocates." Bonchek says loyalty "is about emotion first, behavior second."

Companies quantify brand loyalty in terms of sales, but customer emotion cannot be contained by a simple number. Because of this, Bonchek says brands should "go for gratitude and loyalty will follow."

This is the ideal time to think about customer relations beyond transactions. Look to examples of gratitude-based marketing done right. Hint: It lies in being genuine. Authentic brands are trusted brands.

Stay loyal to the brand

When holiday messaging is consistent with company values, people take note.

This is the fourth year REI has participated in #OptOutside, an event of their own creation. In 2015, REI announced that all of its retail stores would be closed on Black Friday, giving 12,000 employees a paid day off to spend outside. Optoutside.rei.com helps consumers decide how to spend their own #OptOutside by spotlighting various hikes, several of which REI contributed proceeds to.

REI's president and CEO, Jerry Stritzke, wrote, "As a member-owned co-op, our definition of success goes beyond money. We believe that a life lived outdoors is a life well lived, and we aspire to be stewards of our great outdoors."

After REI first introduced the concept of #OptOutside in 2015, the brand's social media impression increased by a whopping 7,000 percent. More than 1.4 billion individuals spent their Black Fridays outdoors. REI also received the Cannes Lions Titanium Grand Prix for #OptOutside.

The idea to opt out of Black Friday sales is undoubtedly daring. But more so than that, it's loyal to the REI brand. What are some innovative ways your company can be true to the brand this holiday season?  

Be of value

Help your customer out.

Customized messaging is exceptionally useful to consumers. This is not the time for generic mass messages. Use your collected data to develop personalized recommendations for your customers. Review their unique consumer journeys. Consumers admire these special touches, especially during this time of year. Consumers want to feel like their brand pays attention to their individual needs and wants. Personalization is the key to truly connecting with consumers.

2018 is the year to take risks with your holiday messaging. And as always, when you are true to your brand and your audience, the results you want will follow.

Published on: Dec 4, 2018
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.