Source: Pixabay

Source: Pixabay

Santa Claus, in the lexicon of marketers, has an extraordinarily strong brand. The Santa® brand we know today evolved over a century ago thanks to Clemente Clark Moore’s poem, Thomas Nast’s illustrations, and The New York Sun’s famous editorial to Virginia, and it was later cemented in our culture thanks to Coca-Cola advertising. His brand has thrived ever since, surviving war, consumerism, and the Internet.

How has Santa survived for so long and what does it tell us about customer experience (CX)?

Santa is free

Parent’s may disagree, but Santa offers a service and charges nothing. Marketers obsessed with sales can mock Santa’s poor business model, but they’d be missing the point. Price is part of every person’s consideration of a brand’s customer experience, and many of the great CX success stories of recent years have come with price tags that are smaller, not larger.

Facebook, Snapchat,, and Spotify are free to users. Netflix has grown by permitting account sharing. Uber offers better on-demand transportation experiences at a lower price than traditional offerings.

And those inclined to laugh at Santa’s bottom line might want to take note of Amazon. The retailer accounted for almost one in three dollars spent over 2016’s “cyber weekend,” more than four times the next top-selling online retailer, a commanding market share that the company achieved, in part, because of pricing that results in minimal profit. Since 2000, Amazon’s revenues have steadily increased from less than $3B to more than $100B, but the company has been unprofitable five of those 16 years (including two of the last four years) and earned net income of more than $1B only once–six years ago. Retail brands that have made more profit quake in fear of what Amazon is doing and will do to their industry and companies. Ho ho ho, who’s laughing now?

Santa solicits input, listens and uses data

Santa knows if you’ve been bad or good, which means his CRM system efficiently handles trillions of data points on tens of millions of children. (Shh, don’t tell the FTC that Santa violates COPPA.) Feeding this huge data lake (literally–Santa stores his data in a lake at the North Pole to keep his servers cool) is the greatest Voice of the Customer (VoC) system the world has ever seen. He knows what every child wants because he asks–he solicits and records individual requests via a massive multichannel system that includes postal mail, email, and, of course, his lap.

Santa delivers one-to-one service

Santa doesn’t just collect all that data–he uses it to provide world-class personalization. Every customer gets what he or she wants, or if that isn’t possible (my 1978 request for a full-size, functional X-Wing Starfighter was not fulfilled) Santa’s deliveries are fully personalized (the X-Wing model was pretty cool–thanks, Santa!)

Using data to deliver a customized experience, once a cutting-edge concept, is becoming table stakes for brands. In the year after Spotify launched its Discover Weekly feature, 40 million users listened to 5 billion tracks, and that personalized feature drove strong engagement with more than half of those listeners returning to the app the following week. (The success was so surprising that it “completely changed” the way Spotify thought about customer experience.) And although Santa uses Exact Lifetime Pinpointing (ELF) to personalize his offerings, more traditional brands are turning to artificial intelligence (AI) for everything from real-time site optimization to product recommendations to visual search.

Santa meets and exceeds expectations

When it comes to Santa’s most important touchpoint–the early-morning December 25th moment of truth–Santa delivers on time, every time. There are no excuses; no weather, economic, technical or labor issues intervene. Santa understands his customers’ expectations, and he satisfies them–the literal definition of customer experience management.

Santa executes well throughout the customer journey, and this has resulted in a tough, resilient brand. Despite the long lines to see Santa, people line up to meet the jolly old elf and never complain about the length of the queue because they know he will be worth the wait. Happy customers sing his praises (literally), hang his image in their homes and send his likeness to friends, resulting in strong brand advocacy.  Children who lay awake on Christmas Eve listening for Santa to arrive grow into parents who put out cookies and milk to give the tireless delivery man some brief respite, a record of loyalty that lasts for generations.

Marketers can learn from the enduring legacy of Santa Claus. Provide the right customer experience for a fair price, listen to customers, personalize their experiences and meet customer expectations at every touchpoint, and it will be Christmas every day for your brand.

  1. December 16, 2016 at 4:15 pm
    Pauline Ashenden says:

    As you say Augie, there are some great lessons for marketers from Santa. But there are also some areas that he needs to improve in as well. A few years ago, we analyzed his approach to customer service and found some holes in the experience, as described in this blog post

    • December 16, 2016 at 4:40 pm
      Augie Ray says:

      I had a hearty laugh at your analysis. Thanks so much for sharing, Pauline.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *