December 15, 2021

What can advent calendars teach us about customer retention?

But first, a brief history.

“Never mind the history. I’m not intrigued to learn about the psychology behind advent calendars.
Just take me to the customer-retention tips!

Still here? Great choice, we appreciate ya. Let’s dive in.

What does Advent mean anyway?

Despite decades of eating little chocolates from behind cardboard doors, we’ve probably never asked ourselves this question before. So it seems like a good place for us to begin.

The word “advent” is derived from the Latin word adventus, meaning “coming”. It’s a season of the liturgical year observed in most Christian denominations and it has loads of different traditions associated with it from wreaths to Christingles.

Originally ‘Advent’ had nothing to do with Christmas at all.

Advent has probably been observed since the fourth century. Originally, it was a time when converts to Christianity readied themselves for baptism. Then during the Middle Ages, Advent became associated with preparation for the Second Coming of Christ. It wasn’t until relatively recently when Advent became associated with the nativity.

The concept of an advent countdown is even newer. Word has it that the tradition came when some Protestant Germans started drawing chalk lines on doors to count down the days til Christmas in the 19th Century. Then, somewhere along the line, clever marketers felt that 24 days of chocolate (or 25 if you’re lucky!) was the winning combination and here we are.

The first actual advent calendar – the kind we know and love today – wasn’t produced until the early 1900s and the first mass-produced calendar was created in 1908 by the German printers, Reichhold & Lang.

So, there you go, that’s a little nugget you can use to make you sound sophisticated at the dinner table this Christmas. But if you’re thinking ‘thanks for the history lesson but what’s this got to do with my business?’ then keep reading…


There are 5 things at work here making advent calendars enjoyable.

Well, maybe 6 if you enjoy searching for the number but can’t say we ever liked that bit.

#1 Expectation

Not everyone likes surprises and often it depends on the type of surprise. In our hunter gatherer days, surprises often meant danger – like a lion coming up behind you. SURPRISE! So it’s no wonder that people can often be a little tentative around the unexpected.

That’s why, more often than not, people tend to shop or eat somewhere familiar because they’ve been before and they know exactly what they can expect.

#2 Intrigue

That being said, we are also naturally curious creatures that love to explore. From 6 months old we’re keen to see what’s behind or underneath things. Our adult brains are equally entertained by a little intrigue and there’s nothing quite like a little mystery to focus our attention on!

#3 Excitement

Counting down the days builds excitement. Anticipation is huge. How can we contain all this excitement? How can we possibly focus on anything else?

As strange as it sounds, Advent calendars can also help us feel in control. It’s organised fun and it keeps our excitement in check because we know where we are and where the journey is going.

#4 Completion

Opening each of doors as you go along completes a stage. It’s like a little milestone or a task being checked off. Especially when even get a small treat or earn a new badge. It feels like progress and our brains feed us feel-good chemicals when we make progress.

#5 Reward

This is probably the most obvious one. Small mammals have been shown to continuously push a button if it dispenses food. And humans aren’t that different: only a few hundred years ago, food was scarce for the majority of the world’s population and our brains haven’t caught up yet.

Maybe it’s food. Maybe it’s gin. Maybe it’s lipstick. No matter what it is rewards do something special to that animal part of your brain.

squirrel shopping cart

The moral of the story

From a business perspective, the lesson we can all learn from advent calendars is this:
Encourage your customers to return to you.

Ways you can achieve this

  • By delivering on expectation – managing expectations is the key to customer satisfaction.
  • By surprising and delighting – it goes without saying, good surprises only!
  • By helping them feel excited about the process – or at least allow them to feel in control of the process.
  • By creating and completing regular milestones, and helping your clients to feel involved.
  • Finally by rewarding them – either with the value you offer or, better still, with a little extra treat. Just like that 25th window.

How would this look in action?

Be honest and transparent

If you know a service might take two weeks to deliver, don’t pretend it could be done any quicker, that will lead to frustration. It’s best to be realistic and open with your customers so they feel satisfied with your service or product. This will mean that you’ll deliver on customer expectations and avoid any disappointments.

By doing so you’ll ensure customers have faith in your products and services and that’ll make sure they keep coming back.

Offer regular updates

Regular milestones could look like updating your client as you progress through your service to them. Perhaps you’re constructing a website, one way you could keep the client feeling involved is through regular email updates on the project’s progress.

This can help with making the client feel excited about the process. Additionally, it can help them feel in control of the process by allowing them to input their feedback throughout.

Reward your clients with special offers

This could look very different depending on what your business offers and your marketing budget.

Maybe you could offer a discount, an extended free trial or free first-time consultation? Or maybe you could give them a free product when they spend over a certain amount? Doing something like this will help to surprise and delight your client by providing them with something extra to get them smiling!

Boost community engagement

One nice and easy way of making your customers feel involved in your brand and the process is to interact with them across your social media channels.

If they comment on one of your posts, make sure you respond or give it a like. If they post something tagging your brand, support it with a message or a re-post. Make it so they feel like they’re forming a rapport with you and your brand. This will help cultivate customer loyalty and make sure your clients are returning again and again.

Produce some original content

One of the most effective ways to get the word out on your business and make customers feel involved in your brand is to create original and engaging content that they can share and learn something from.

Teach people something useful. Walk them through a product or service with a step-by-step tutorial. This doesn’t have to be written content either! Try your hand at producing some video content too and see what happens to your sales.

Tell them you’re thinking of them

After a customer has made a purchase or used a service, make them feel special by dropping them a message of thanks. Or take it a step further, if you can, and give them a personalised call telling them you appreciate their support and loyalty. By doing so, you’ll help to establish a good customer experience in their mind and encourage them to keep returning.

Act on feedback

When customers offer you feedback (whether that’s positive or negative!), let them know that you’ve received it, you’ve heard what they are saying and tell them that you’re going to do something with it.

Maybe that something is a change to a product or service, based on their feedback. Maybe it’s a thank you note like we’ve discussed above. Anything to make them feel in control of their customer journey and like you’ll always deliver on their expectations.

Reward long-term clients

If you have a few clients who are very loyal to you and do a lot of business with you, why not create an exclusive VIP list just for them? You could host a special sale or give them early access to new products.

You still want to make sure you treat all of your customers like royalty, but having something special for long-term clients can help increase your retention rate.

Be consistent

Be sure to give your customers a great customer experience from start to finish. Customers will feel valued and appreciated when they know they can count on you. This consistency is key to ensure that these customers don’t just make one purchase but stick around and prioritise your business above your competitors.

So there you go!

Go get started on your next marketing strategy with the spirit of an advent calendar in mind and see what can be achieved with some tried and tested festive psychology.

Article written by Alan

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