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Woman wearing mask.

Did you know that approximately 42 percent of Americans now shop for groceries online to avoid unnecessary interactions in-store?

Businesses across all industries are in need of new holiday marketing strategies this year. Consumer trends have changed, affecting how people shop, what they shop for, and how they travel.

Speaking of travel, the travel industry saw a 42 percent decline in travel spending in 2020 from 2019 due to pandemic-related travel restrictions? But the statistic you’ve most likely contributed to is the fact that 75 percent of consumers are dining out less or in a modified way. Similarly, 75 percent are less likely to attend indoor cultural events. COVID has prompted a lot of us to reevaluate how we live and what we value in life. It has altered our daily interactions, and for 29 percent of all adults in the country, the pandemic has drastically affected our behavior as consumers.

Holiday marketing strategies are informed by data like this chart, which shows that younger and higher-income consumers reported changing consumer behavior more than other groups.

Spending in America

The Household Pulse Survey reported 63 million adults last year experienced difficulty covering basic household expenses such as food, rent or mortgage, car payments, and medical expenses. Job loss and pay cuts have put many Americans in precarious financial situations, and as a result, it has affected spending decisions. In April 2020, U.S. unemployment was at a record high of 14.7 percent, a level we haven’t seen since the 1930s. Given this information, holiday marketing strategies must evolve—it’s difficult for any brand, no matter how essential their product may be, to ask consumers to spend their hard-earned money with them during these trying times.

Delivery driver opening up the back of his truck and looking for a package.

Keep Your Current Customer Base and Attract New Customers

Not only are brands concerned with attracting customers with their holiday marketing strategies, but they’re also fighting to hold onto their current customer base. The fact is, consumers are no longer predictably brand loyal—40 percent of consumers have reported switching brands and retailers during the pandemic either due to lack of availability or for better value. How brands communicate to consumers over the following months could be a make-or-break moment in determining the future of their businesses. The key to reaching and holding onto consumers with your holiday marketing strategies is to strike an empathetic and hopeful tone.

Woman on her phone walking next to a store window with a sign saying it is closed due to Covid-19.

We saw many brands play it safe last year, sticking to an empathetic script that leaned hard into generic sentiments of “being there for you during these unprecedented times” paired with solemn piano music. Consumers found it difficult to distinguish these generic ads from one another. And although these brands deployed their COVID-appropriate ads with good intentions, taking the safe route ultimately failed to convert for them. Advertisements that focused too much on emotional pandemic messaging that had nothing to do with goods and services lost an opportunity to create an emotional connection to the brand itself. Effective holiday marketing strategies require balancing the consumer’s emotions in the current situation and building positive associations around brand positioning with a clear call to action.

Top-performing emotional themes across pandemic ads include optimism, security, appreciation and empathy.

Balancing Anxieties and Action

Ads that address issues related to the pandemic have been more effective with consumers than business-as-usual ads to promote the brand reputation and perceived ad relevance. But consumers are over the generic “We’re in this together” rhetoric. Consumers want to feel seen and heard by the brands they support; they want their feelings to be acknowledged, and right now, many consumers are still feeling anxious and fearful about the current situation.

Two friends doing holiday shopping in a mall.

Take a good hard look at what your customers have said about your brand over the past two years. Are you connecting authentically? Listen to what the customers say, then ask your team, “How can we take this feedback and be better?” Whether you can provide an immediate solution or not, how a brand responds to a customer’s feedback will determine if they’ll become a customer evangelist or a brand naysayer. Address customer concerns and feelings with empathy. A thoughtful response is more authentic than a play-it-safe generic response which often comes off disingenuous. Brands that can tastefully execute a call-to-action while addressing these feelings are the ones that will rise above their competitors this holiday season.

A Mix of Positivity and Reality in Your Holiday Marketing Strategies

People naturally want to move past obstacles and persevere in the face of adversity. Meet your customers where they’re at (keep it real) and paint a picture of the future through marketing messaging that speaks to this desire to move forward. The pandemic has undoubtedly changed our way of life, but people don’t want to hear the “we’re in this together” message anymore. Instead, brands should build positive associations around exploration, adventure, and celebrations to help consumers shake off the trauma of COVID. Presenting a hopeful outlook creates a positive brand association. Customers are ready to start getting back to a life they enjoy—which includes spending on things and experiences that bring them joy.

Woman walking outside with a stack of gift boxes in her hands.

Not only will this strategy get marketers through the holiday season, but it is also a strategy that will carry brands through the pandemic and beyond.

Customers will be gathering together this holiday season, and brands that make it to the dinner table conversation will be the ones who have led with empathy, creating authentic connections with their customers.

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