Laura Petrolino

Santa, the Communications Pro

By: Laura Petrolino | December 23, 2014 | 

Santa the Communications ProBy Laura Petrolino

(Note from Laura: Oh yes, I’m actually writing this post. Feel free to judge me. I’m hoping this baby really helps me move to the top of the nice list!)

Santa Claus’ Secrets to Being a Communications Powerhouse

Santa is arguably one of the best known public figures on the planet. Maybe even the universe! Martians need holiday cheer too.

And while the fact he leaves gifts at people’s homes definitely helps endear him to the masses, it’s not just any fat man that you’d be comfortable with coming down your chimney in the middle of the night.

The fact that we don’t think twice about this annual ritual is a result of years of consistent and powerful messaging, and top notch integrated communications tactics.

So, what can you learn from this jolly ol’ elf?

Well you better not pout, you better not cry, you better not shout—because I’m going to tell you why Santa Claus is such a communications pro!

Consistent Branding

When anyone thinks “Santa,” they picture a jolly, chubby man, with a thick white beard in his signature red and white uniform.

You see the suit without anyone in it and think Santa. You see reindeer or elves and think Santa.

You think about the North Pole and think…Santa.

Santa has created such a strong brand, one would be hard pressed to do, see, hear, taste, or smell almost anything (non-traditionally religious) having to do with Christmas and not connect to Santa Claus in some way.

Take away: It’s no surprise to any communications professional that consistent branding is vital to success, but Santa takes it one step further by creating a completely comprehensive multi-sensory brand.

  • It’s obviously visual in the colors, uniform, and overall image of Santa himself
  • It’s content driven, and clear in the words used to describe him and the language he uses (can I get a “Ho, ho, ho?!”)
  • It’s defined in traditional holiday smells—hot chocolate, cookies, peppermint
  • It’s auditory and present in endless holiday songs
  • It’s supported by associations such as reindeer, elves, decorations, sleighs, even presents themselves.

Through how many different touch points does your brand reach your consumer?

Can you extend it and remain consistent and on message?

Transmedia Superstar

I might be wrong, but I’m pretty sure Santa created transmedia storytelling. He is online, offline, in malls, in front of stores, in parades, movies, and music.

He’s part of events ranging from races, to plays, to charity events, and a frequent visitor to holiday parties across the globe.

You can dress as Santa, you can buy Santa stuffed toys or action figures, you can email him, you can follow his Christmas Eve journey through multiple different platforms.

And no matter where the story is told, it still maintains that sense of consistent branding and storyline.

Take away: The word transmedia often feels intimidating, but take inspiration from the many simple ways Santa’s story transcends across multiple platforms.

Use your buyer personas and market research to layout where your consumer goes for information. Are you telling your story on those platforms?

If not, how can you extend it farther and integrate them into what you are already doing?

Master Community Builder

His story, the buzz and excitement it generates, and the annual build up of anticipation and wonder build community around a mutual participation in tradition.

It helps connect many different people with distinct background and cultures.

When you really look at the power of this story to form and perpetuate community, it’s absolutely amazing…and inspiring.

And even better, the story sparked the community, but the community is what continues to fuel the story.

In addition, he gets everyone involved  in some way. Making all of us part of the story in an active and intimate level.

And while children obviously play their very important role, the role he puts adults in (who are the true perpetuators of the Santa brand itself) is even more strategic.

While we aren’t going to go into the details of this one since it’s rather…um…confidential—I’m fairly certain every parent or caretaker who has spent many a long Christmas eve with eggnog, a sheet of construction directions (most likely written only in Japanese), and several mysterious extra parts understands what I’m talking about here.

Take away: How do you pull your consumer into your organization? Is your story focus on “us” or on “we”? And most importantly how do you back that up through actions and engagement?

Stockings Full of Strategy

Santa obviously does a lot right when it comes to strategic communications. He does a lot wrong as well, but this girl doesn’t want coal.

As you are looking over your 2015 communications plans ask yourself: Would Santa hire you as his CMO? How can you put similar strategies in action for your organization?

About Laura Petrolino

Laura Petrolino is the chief client officer at Arment Dietrich, an integrated marketing communications firm. She also is a weekly contributor to the award-winning PR blog, Spin Sucks. Join the Spin Sucks   community.