While the holiday season in any typical year would trigger warm feelings of nostalgia, excited anticipation of family feasts, and, yes, a frenzied urgency to finish that last-minute holiday shopping, this year—as we’re all well aware by now—is shaping up to look much different.
So What’s Going On?
Well, a lot of things, actually.
As many major metro areas find themselves in the thick of reopening phases, more than three-quarters of consumers report wanting to see additional steps taken above and beyond lifting certain restrictions before resuming out-of-home activities. What’s more, 73% of consumers report feeling apprehensive about resuming any regular activity outside the home, particularly when it involves venturing into shared environments and crowded spaces, which includes retail stores. And how could they not? Recently, the CDC placed “shopping at crowded stores just before, on or after Thanksgiving” on a list of higher-risk holiday activities.
Additionally, consumers are still very much reeling from the economic impact of a nationwide shutdown, which ushered in some of the highest unemployment rates in history for many states. Because of this, overall spending on nonessentials in the U.S. has seen a 40% reduction that’s expected to persist through the rest of 2020 and beyond.
This certainly poses a host of unique challenges for retailers this year as the holiday shopping season quickly approaches. With many businesses already suffering from lower than expected annual sales numbers, one would expect the holidays to be a welcome reprieve to falling retail revenue. However, given the sentiment of many consumers across the country, some retailers may be in for a rude awakening come the end of the year.
The 2020 Retailer’s Conundrum
Arguably the biggest hurdle retailers face is the fact that giant sales that typically jump-start the holiday shopping season now pose a serious health hazard to the general population. So how are brands overcoming this issue? By being proactive, for one. Mega-retailers like Best Buy, Target, Lowe’s, Walmart, and others have announced that they’ll be closed Thanksgiving day, and most already have plans in place for unique alternatives to more traditional holiday shopping events like Black Friday.
But what about the rest of us? Luckily for brands that don’t have billion-dollar marketing budgets and the ability to alter course so abruptly, there are still plenty of ways to win your holiday marketing strategy for 2020. We at iFocus like to take a holistic approach to marketing strategies, focusing on every part of a consumer’s journey. Because each piece is so critical to the end goal, we liken the entire cycle to a relay race, rather than a more traditional sales funnel. Here, we share some of our best recommendations to help you win the race this holiday season.
LEG 1: BRAND AWARENESS
1. Timing is Everything
One of the biggest keys to success when it comes to brand awareness is getting your brand in front of consumers at the right time. As you’ve probably already begun to notice, the holiday shopping timeline looks much different this year than it has in years prior. With huge sales events already happening (hello, Prime Day) and retailers reporting an earlier launch of holiday sales to combat anticipated low Black Friday revenue, it’s safe to say that if you aren’t giving serious thought to your holiday marketing strategy, then you’re already behind.
In our industry, we see too many brands procrastinate on developing their holiday marketing plan. With visions of holiday deals already dancing in consumers’ heads, experts are saying how critical it is that retailers deploy their holiday marketing strategy earlier than in previous years. According to a recent survey from FinTech company Affirm, over half of those surveyed reported that they’ve already started shopping for the holidays, and 7 in 10 respondents said they’re more likely to buy something on sale now as opposed to waiting for the more traditional holiday sales events.
2. Shift to Value- and Interest-Based Targeting
Finding the right consumers to put your message in front of is arguably the most important piece of brand awareness. Targeting consumers based on physical proximity to a store has been a staple in the advertising playbook for decades. But as with many things in 2020, this strategy no longer holds much clout.
One of the biggest advertising evolutions we’re likely to see this holiday season is the shift from location-based targeting to identifying target consumers based on their values, interests, and behaviors. Shoppers in 2020 have indicated a number of reasons for buying certain products, with availability and convenience crowning the top of their lists. Leveraging current consumer data and drilling down to understand consumers’ unique behaviors on the web will be key to every holiday marketing campaign.
Another major shift we’ve seen this year is consumers’ inclination to buy from brands whose values are in alignment with their own. These so-called “consumer advocates” are taking a stand with the products they buy and who they buy them from. The aftermath of this significant change in the way consumers make buying decisions will likely be felt for years to come, particularly when it comes to brand loyalty. According to McKinsey & Company, 36% of consumers have tried a new product or brand since the pandemic’s onset, and 75% report their intent to continue trying new brands. This shouldn’t make you nervous, though—with brand loyalty becoming a thing of the past, almost any retailer has a shot at getting new consumers.
3. Illustrate Value Through Ad Messaging
Now more than ever, consumers are being inundated with content across the web. Before brands jump on the content consumption train, it’s important to put some serious thought into how your company brings value to the consumer. More digital content means many more buying options for consumers. When nearly every company is running sales and discounts, it’s critical to come up with new ways to catch consumers’ attention.
One of the best ways to cut through the noise is by illustrating unique value, which means brands need to strike a balance between advertising a product and conveying awareness of consumers’ needs. Shift your ad content from promotions-focused to value-focused messaging. Put another way, transition your thinking from “what” to “how.” Rather than pushing a “What you’re buying from me” message, focus on promoting a “How our brand can help you” mentality. Giving some extra love to the emotional appeal of your products will go a long way with the 2020 consumer.
LEG 2: RESEARCH AND INTENT
4. Choose the Right Channels
As consumers venture to new channels to do their holiday shopping, it’s critical that businesses follow them wherever they go. With consumers streaming more content than ever before, connected TV (CTV) is quickly becoming the newest marketing solution. CTV ads allow brands to merge the impact of traditional TV commercials with the more precise targeting capabilities of digital ad formats. Plus, it’s growing like crazy. CTV display ad spending is expected to increase by a total of 35% YoY.
That 2020 is also an election year is only icing on the cake for programmatic ad buying platforms with CTV inventory. Tons of TV spots have been bumped in favor of political ads, meaning many advertisers are already shifting their dollars to streaming inventory anyway. The political season is also wreaking havoc on social media marketing. With political tensions boiling over on social channels, many platforms have seen a mass exodus. In fact, a third of millennials have deleted some or all of their social media accounts, and it’s been reported that social ads with irrelevant messaging creates a negative brand response in under a second.
5. Provide Clear, Real-Time Communication
As many Americans weigh the pros and cons of venturing out to shop for the holidays, hygiene procedures and transparency regarding safety measures is at the forefront of everyone’s minds. It’s not enough to simply follow hygiene protocols—brands must also publicly communicate that they’re taking precautionary measures.
One great tool to provide up-to-date, accurate information is through social media channels. Wait, didn’t we just say you shouldn’t rely as heavily on social media? Yes, we did. But unlike social media ads, organic social content continues to be a great way for brands to communicate with consumers. It serves as a valuable avenue to provide consumers with transparency into how your business is handling safety amid the pandemic.
Revamping cross-channel messaging to focus more on hygiene and precautionary measures—and keeping that messaging consistent—will go a long way for a consumer base that’s ever-more focused on corporate social responsibility. With nationwide sentiment zeroed in on safety, any business that’s perceived as unwilling to take tangible and comprehensive steps to keep the general populace safe is likely to alienate customers. Neil Saunders, managing director of Global Data, said it best: “Under present conditions, the idea of any retailer driving crowds of people into their store is a non-starter.”
Whew, that’s a lot of info. Now that we’ve gotten you through the first two legs of the race, let’s take a quick water break so you can digest all of this. As always, if you have questions or are ready to strategize, you know where to find us. Stay tuned for part two of our 2020 holiday marketing tips, where we’ll help get you through the final (and perhaps most critical) legs of the race: Lead Gen & Sales and Advocacy & Retention.