The holiday season is like the playoffs for the retail industry, so it’s easy to get tied up in all the stats. But connecting with your audience during this busy time is just as important as your sales numbers.

To keep you inspired through the hustle and bustle, we put together some stories of the most impactful holiday marketing campaigns of all time and quick lessons you can learn from them. Whether you use these examples in brainstorming sessions with your marketing team or share them with your employees, they’ll help you keep your eyes on the real prize of the holiday season — loyal customers.

#OptOutside by REI

For some people, Black Friday is all about kicking off the holiday shopping season. But for REI employees and customers, it’s about spending time off the grid with friends and family. That’s why the retailer tried something unprecedented and decidedly risky in 2015. REI closed all of its stores (online and off) for the biggest shopping day of the year, giving employees a paid day off to boot. As an alternative to participating in the Black Friday madness, they encouraged their company and shoppers to “Opt Outside.”

Since then, the #OptOutside campaign has become more of a movement than a standalone campaign. REI collects loads of user-generated content each year, with each piece adding to the overarching story of what’s important to them during the holidays and throughout the year. Further, over 700 organizations have shown support for the campaign. The CEO even said the overwhelming participation and support has helped the company survive the so-called “retail apocalypse.”

Holiday marketing takeaway: Bucking tradition is okay as long as it aligns with your (and your audience’s) core values.  

“Share a Coke” by Coca-Cola  

Few brands can give you the winter warm fuzzies like Coca-Cola. And for years, people waited with bated breath to see what adorable polar bear or heartwarming Santa ad the beverage giant concocted for the holiday season.

That changed in 2015 when the brand decided to forego a classic holiday commercial and instead expand their popular “Share a Coke” campaign. Instead of just sharing a Coke with “Mom,” “Katie,” or “Diego,” that year you could pick one up with a holiday-themed classic name like “Dancer & Prancer,” “Mrs. Claus,” or “Someone Nice,” instantly transporting consumers to a child-like headspace overwhelmed by holiday cheer. Santa still took center stage on accompanying packaging and omnichannel advertisements, bringing the whole timeless marketing strategy full circle.

Holiday marketing takeaway: Use the power of nostalgia during the holidays, simultaneously focusing on creating a strong feeling of community, togetherness, and brand loyalty.

Christmas advertisement from Edeka Supermarket

The 2015 Edeka Supermarket holiday ad highlights the importance of compelling storytelling in marketing. Whether the German supermarket chain intended the commercial to be heartwarming or downright depressing, the campaign certainly caused a stir. We won’t offer any spoilers here — if you haven’t seen it yet, take a couple of minutes and give it a watch.

Given the sheer number of tears people shed over the story, it should come as no surprise that people focused more on the message than the brand it was supposed to represent. In any case, Edeka Supermarket fostered conversation surrounding a universal core value of the holidays: family. One writer even went on to say, “I’m sure the ad has managed to make people change their plans this holiday season, and it has managed to change the way we prioritize, this holiday season and on any other day.”

Holiday marketing takeaway: If sparking a meaningful conversation or spurring behavioral change is on your agenda for the holidays, prioritize delivering a strong narrative.

Small Business Saturday by American Express

It’s hard to imagine a world before Small Business Saturday, especially since it fits right in among Black Friday and Cyber Monday. But in reality, 2010 was the first year “Shop Small” was even a thing.

At first, Amex simply encouraged shoppers to patronize local brick-and-mortars through radio spots, TV campaigns, and Facebook, and also offered local retailers the tools to participate. But the event quickly took off, with Senate even declaring Small Business Saturday an official event in 2011. Since then, Small Business Saturday has become yet another part of the holiday shopping tradition.

Holiday marketing takeaway: To create an impact for years to come, associate your brand name with an already successful event like Small Business Saturday.

Let’s talk about how Smiota can inspire your customers to shop around the clock with your brand this holiday season and beyond.