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Marketing for the COVID-19 Holidays Season

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Consumer behavior this holiday season will be shaped by what we’ve already experienced throughout the year because of COVID-19.

  • Online shopping will explode.
  • We’ll rethink how we gather during the holidays.
  • We’re still hungry for gift-giving ideas.

Skip the candy corn and take me right to those visions of sugar canes dancing in my head. That might be the gist of how the public feels about this year’s holiday season. We’re heading into a season normally filled with big gatherings and the hustle and bustle of shopping – but we know it’s going to look a little different this year.

So as a business, how do you market for this holiday season when in-person shopping has turned into a highly regulated affair and the online marketplace is more crowded than ever? Getting in front of buyers, who are still going to make holiday purchases, means making sense of the consumer behavior trends spawned by COVID-19. Here’s what you need to know.

What experts are saying about consumers and the 2020 holiday season

Yes, we will still gather, celebrate, and shop. A recent survey by Morning Consult says that 71% of us will uphold our holiday traditions. However, we’ll do it with smaller gatherings – even transforming them into virtual events to reduce the health risks associated with COVID-19. Perhaps that’s holiday music to marketers’ ears. Only 47% of adults surveyed said that they planned to cancel their usual holiday get-togethers altogether this year.

What about holiday consumer spending? About 67% of the participants in the Morning Consult survey said they planned to cut back on spending, with just 20% saying they’re explicitly worried about finances this holiday season. The big cutbacks look to be in the areas of alcohol and holiday-related sacks.

Learn how to use content to generate traffic and leads this holiday season.

Overall, nearly 40% of all shoppers say they don’t plan to cut back on holiday spending for gifts, many even planning to increase their holiday gift-giving budgets for 2020.

What are they planning to give? If there’s a theme for 2020 holiday gifts, it’s how to make being stuck at home fun and entertaining. Nearly half (48%) of those who participated in the survey said they planned to buy or give gift cards. The biggest loser? Anything related to travel.

Staying 6 feet apart to practice social distancing and holiday shopping at your favorite department store simply do not mix. It’s also less likely as the number of retail chain bankruptcies continues to increase because of the pandemic. Surveys indicate that holiday shopping will be different this year:

  • 47% of Americans plan to do most of their holiday shopping online, citing health and safety concerns
  • 29% say they plan to shop online for convenience
  • 21% say they plan to shop online because of their recent experience with it during the pandemic
  • 31% say they will shop both online and in-store
  • 27% say they will shop mostly in-store

Doing the math, you see that a dramatic decrease in in-store shopping is forecast for 2020. That’s good news if you’re an eCommerce business or offer your products and services online. But how do you reach this group of potential customers? What sort of marketing message do they want to hear from you?

Connecting with consumers

The Association of National Advertisers recently hosted a roundtable discussion with Meredith Media and Walmart. Both have been marketing partners for several years, and they were generous with insights distilled from consumer behavioral data brought about by the pandemic, which they believe will shape holiday shopping. Their takeaway trends were:

  • Staying home for the holidays
  • Focusing on family traditions
  • Smaller celebrations
  • Personal gift approaches
  • Early online shopping
  • Food

Keeping these in mind, Meredith and Walmart both plan to engage in marketing campaigns that serve and connect with target audiences to help:

  • Inspire: It’s going to be less about products and more about emotions. Your marketing will connect when you answer questions such as, “What are your customers trying to do and what is their challenge?”
  • Make buying solutions seamless: As consumers move online, how do you remove friction and deepen positive experiences along the buyer’s journey?
  • Community connections: Can you show that you understand and have a relationship with your customers’ communities? How can your products or services empower customers – especially to help them give back to their communities?

What do consumers want to hear from you?

CNBC recently reported that nearly 40% of those surveyed said they’re not looking forward to the holidays. This year has been difficult on so many levels for millions of people, so it’s no wonder that there may be a bit of a haze over the season. Even so, most Americans still think that companies should advertise. It’s the message they communicate that will make the difference.

According to the Morning Consult poll we mentioned at the beginning of this article, consumers are more likely to make purchases from companies that explain how they’re keeping us safe. They’re also receptive to receiving ideas for gift-giving that are realistic for the times we live in. What they don’t want are serious or somber ads or those that completely ignore the reality of the current situation.

In particular, Gen Z wants to see funny and comforting messages with gift ideas, while their Boomer grandparents would prefer to take a walk down memory lane with a more emotional note. Nearly all age groups are keenly interested in hearing about your delivery methods and how close to the actual holiday they can place an order.

The holidays have always been a time when storytelling takes center stage. It’s going to be even more important this year. Consumers want you to help them understand how you fit into their drastically altered world. How can you help them find reassurance in a world that will keep them distant from everything related to the holidays – from shopping to family gatherings? Figure that out, and you’ll have a holiday marketing strategy to engage even the biggest 2020 Grinches.

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