Keys to Holiday Marketing in The Age of COVID-19

The COVID-19 pandemic has upended just about every aspect of our society and holiday shopping behaviors, and marketing strategies are not immune. What should you know and what are we seeing so far? Here are a couple nuggets.

Early Reading of Consumer Sentiment

The two main trends that are emerging are not big surprises. One is that consumers are planning to do a lot more shopping online, and the other is that they are getting started earlier than in previous years.

Here are a couple statistical highlights from a survey of 1,000 consumers that was recently conducted by Adobe and Advanis.

Infinity Holiday Marketing During Covid

78% of consumers are planning to spend at the same level or more for the holidays.

Infinity Holiday Marketing During Covid

39% of shoppers are planning to make more online purchases than before.

The Holiday Shopping Blitz Has Already Begun

Here’s a staggering stat for you from Adobe Analytics data: online retail spending for 2020 matched that of 2019 by October 5th.

Holiday sales that commenced around Halloween last year have started in early and mid-October. Amazon has already had its 48-hour sales extravaganza, Prime Day, which was held on October 13th and 14th.

The net of this? The holiday retail train is leaving the station and if your plans aren’t in place, get busy fast.

Supply Chain Issues

A contributing factor to the holiday push earlier in the calendar year relates to supply chain issues. Specifically, many experts believe that due to the growth of online shopping, last-mile delivery will run out of capacity. According to a Salesforce study, the traditional delivery providers such as UPS, DHL, and FedEx will experience shipping volumes that will exceed capacity by 5%. On a global scale, that would mean 700 million gifts are at risk of arriving late this holiday season.

Individual marketers can’t do much about this, but it suggests that incentivizing early ordering and being abundantly clear in setting delivery expectations are two important communications tasks. Consumers typically blame the product’s supplier, not the shipper when holiday gifts arrive late, so do what you can to avoid disappointed consumers and diminishing your brand.

Implications for Local Retailers

First, the good news. In a survey by Convey in its fourth annual study of holiday shopping trends, 66% say it’s important to support local retailers who have been impacted by COVID-19. Now for the bad news. In the same study, only 13% of respondents actually said they would shop locally or with specialty chains. So much for good intentions.

This is a clear signal that local retailers need to be aggressive in their local marketing and promote online ordering with store pick-up where possible. Also, consider local delivery. Retail stores serving more as pick-up and fulfillment centers is a growing trend for local as well as large-scale regional and national chains.

Holiday Messaging in the COVID-19 Era

The operative term here is “distraction.” Close to 40% of consumers in the Adobe/Advanis study stated a preference for messaging that takes them away from the challenges of living through the pandemic.

Fatigue from the onslaught of “we’re with you in these uncertain times” themes is apparent. It seems we’re all just tired of this stuff. The desire for messages that entertain and distract were highest among Gen Z and Millennial respondents. Gen X and Baby Boomers showed a preference for money-saving content.

Another interesting datapoint from this study revealed that there is less demand for new brands this year, which infers that consumer are leaning to the tried and true and are more risk-averse when considering new products and brands.

Specifically, only 18% of shoppers are likely to purchase from a new brand this holiday period. According to the study, Millennials and Gen Z are more likely to purchase from a new brand. This data clearly suggests that marketers put extra effort into customer retention, engagement, and cross-selling this holiday season, with an emphasis on high-value targets.

The implications for holiday marketers? Mine your data to understand what your consumers want from you and focus your promotions and messages accordingly — entertain and engage younger audiences, provide money saving content and free shipping info to older audiences.

How to Reach Them?

There has been a massive shift in media consumption habits since the pandemic started and these trends will continue through the holiday buying season. Omnichannel marketing has been the preferred strategy for a while, but now it will certainly be the rule for success this holiday season.

The Adobe/Advanis study reveals that the top channels that will have the biggest impact on purchase decision-making will be search (41%) and TV/Connected TV (34%).

Infinity Holiday Marketing During Covid
Seven Key Takeaways for Holiday Marketing

In sum, here’s what holiday marketers and retailers should be prepared for in this one-of-a-kind holiday environment.

  1. Focus on your online shopping experience. With the dramatic growth in online buying this holiday season, be prepared to be creative and compete in this environment with a flawless UX and execution.
  2. Get moving. The holiday rush is already on, so make sure you’re prepared to capture share-of-wallet while it still has money.
  3. Don’t let the shipper ruin your reputation. With last-minute shipping capacity strained, make sure you don’t get the blame for a gift that didn’t arrive in time to make it under the tree.
  4. If you’re a local retailer, you’re fighting a headwind. The solution to this dilemma is to be creative, be aggressive, tap into the consumers’ goodwill toward local retailers, and find ways to make them put their money where their mouth is.
  5. Match the message with the market. Avoid the COVID-19 platitudes. Give those younger segments a degree of entertainment and distraction. Show Boomers how you can save them money.
  6. Attack the low-hanging fruit. Given the proclivity of consumers to stick with the tried and true, market aggressively to your best customers and work your database for all it’s worth.
  7. Choose your channels wisely. Know your customers’ journey and tailor your messaging to their information seeking behaviors — focus on paid search and TV/CTV.
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