Samsung's Keys to Holiday Success: Kristin Ganong Breaks Them Down

From tablets to TVs, consumer electronics are among the most popular holiday gifts. This means brands and retailers need to step it up this season. To do so, they must understand the consumer and marketplace trends underway. And no one tries harder than Samsung. Here, Kristin Ganong, vice president of digital marketing at Samsung Electronics America, details how the company approaches the changing holiday landscape and why retailers and marketers need to better analyze consumer behavior to find success.

Traditionally, consumer electronics are some of the most popular holiday gifts, and this year is no exception. According to our survey, more than half of consumers plan to shop for them this season. No one knows this better than Samsung Electronics, one of the world's largest companies and fastest growing brands of 2012, according to Interbrand. The company closely follows consumer and marketplace trends to stay innovative and competitive at such a critical time.

As vice president of digital marketing at Samsung Electronics America, it's Kristin Ganong's job to understand these trends and help translate them into sales. We spoke with her about how she and her team are preparing to tackle the holiday season, and what marketers can do to better connect with consumers.

What's a major consumer trend that you saw last holiday season that you expect to see again this year?

The holiday shopping season seems to be getting longer. I remember when Black Friday was the day that seemed to signal the start of holiday shopping season. Even when Cyber Monday came along, you still had that anticipation and excitement of getting started. Now it feels like we have an entire "kickoff" season. Consumers are in that holiday mindset for longer periods of time, and I certainly expect that to happen this holiday season as well. But the key is not being too early, and understanding the appropriate time to launch into the holiday season, which seems to be the end of October. In fact, 'Christmas' was a trending topic on October 30. People are already in the mood.

What's driving this?

Consumers approach Black Friday differently. Some look at it as an exciting adventure with family and friends; others see it as a time to go out and find great deals; and some choose to buy online. Those differences aren't necessarily mutually exclusive, but they help us prepare accordingly. In order to deliver the best experience for our consumers, we developed plans that can hopefully meet their needs and also be executed both in-store and online.

How will this affect your marketing strategy?

By understanding consumer shopping preferences, we're able to help our retail partners — and ourselves as a leading brand — respond to consumer needs and provide helpful programs and communications both in-store and online. It really makes the selling period that much more impactful and exciting. Whether you buy in-store or online, we want to make this entire selling period the #BestBlackFridayEver.

With a higher penetration of adults using smartphones each year, how has shopping during the holiday changed?

Mobile is often referred to as the "first screen" but I recently heard someone categorize it as the "always-there" screen and I find that even more accurate. It's always within reach. It's always ready and consumers can access information wherever they are. Consumers are using mobile to get information anytime, anywhere; whether it's on their couch or in a store. It's the constant platform for delivering information and consumers choose where and when to engage. The immediacy of information delivery drives the need to meet consumer expectations.

What's changed in the consumer electronics space over the past few years?

It's important that we continue to be innovative and ensure that we're always putting the latest and greatest products into the marketplace. Each year there's more familiarity with consumer electronics, and more consumers are choosing gifts, such as smartphones and tablets, or accessorizing their current devices. Now those devices can be connected to other products like your Smart TV and even your washing machine. You're seeing the emergence of the connected home, connected living.

Electronics appeal to a broad spectrum of consumers. You have some who might be late adopters, but they're just as excited about their "new" device as those that are on the cutting edge. So what's important for us is broad appeal while maintaining our leadership in innovation.

In addition to products around the connected home, what else will we see more of this holiday season?

Wearables are an exciting new category that our mobile team launched. They're great companion devices for some of our products that are in the market now. The Samsung Galaxy Gear is a powerful product: it's really tapped into consumer insight with its ability to keep you connected while you're wearing your device. I think the [Samsung Galaxy Gear] is a really intriguing product, and everybody that I've spoken finds it fascinating. They're not only fascinated by the product itself, but by what it signals for future innovation.

What constitutes success for brands or retailers trying to stand out during the holiday season?

You determine the right programs that will help you understand consumers and deliver compelling value to them. And I think that's true any time of the year. I don't think that's just reserved for the holiday period. But it's even more important now because it can be such a crowded and busy time. You really need to deliver value and compelling communications to consumers whether you're a brand or a retailer.

What advice would you give to brand marketers that are struggling with their digital presence for the holidays?

I don't like to approach digital as this mystical channel or platform. We're far too evolved for that. It's still all about great marketing; we're just marketing in a digital age. I don't think the approach necessarily changes. It's still about making sure that you gather the right insights, understand where your consumers are, how are they engaging, and then find a way to be there and interact with them in a meaningful way. The delivery is more immediate, more relevant and can scale more quickly, but the fundamental principles of great marketing shouldn't change all that much.

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