5 evolving marketing strategies for the COVID-19 holiday season

Graphic of people shopping

The holiday season is always much anticipated by consumers and marketers alike. This year, with so much uncertainty due to the pandemic, many marketers are wondering how to evolve their strategies for a holiday season that will be like no other. The marketing strategy that was right just a couple of months ago isn’t anymore.

Results from a new study of 1,000 consumers, conducted by Adobe and Advanis, aims to help marketers understand how to prepare for what buying habits are ahead in the not-too-distant future.

If brands are to thrive and survive in what’s expected to be a very different holiday buying season, the delivery of positive customer experiences is what will allow them to rise above the crowd. We’ve narrowed the survey findings down to five key takeaways for marketers to get the biggest impact this holiday season.

Know your market

Consumers are looking for a sense of normalcy this holiday season, and, thankfully, most of them have stashed away the budget to help. Three-quarters of shoppers are keeping with their holiday traditions and will be buying gifts this year, according to the study. We’re finding the following data points this holiday season.

But we are seeing less of a demand for new brands this holiday season, compared to our last report in June, with only one out of five shoppers stating they’re likely to purchase from a new brand. This is half of what we saw in 2019. To keep your existing customers happy, retention and re-engagement strategies will be key during the holiday season.

As far as messaging and tone, almost 40 percent of consumers are looking for messages that take them away from the ongoing issues this holiday season, compared with the “we’re with you” style of COVID-19 response ads. We see this “distraction advertising” as even more important for Gen Z and Millennials.

Tailoring is also key to messaging. While 68 percent of shoppers believe they will appreciate advertising this holiday season, 46 percent will only do so if the information is personalized to their needs, the study shows.

Takeaway #1: Tailor advertising tone and messages to suit the market you are trying to appeal to. If your product is aimed at younger users, humorous or carefree messaging that takes people away from daily troubles will appeal. Families and older markets prefer more direct, useful, and practical advertising.

Know your offer – Value is a key theme

With few places to go, seven in 10 consumers are saving more than they did pre-pandemic, and most are looking for advertising that helps them find a good deal this holiday season, according to the Adobe/Advanis study.

Additionally, shoppers most often select free shipping (58 percent) and discounts (55 percent) as factors that entice spending, so retailers that soothe fears around shipping price and efficacy should perform well.

Consumers also value convenience. BOPIS (buy online/pickup in store) continues to grow at a staggering rate, surging in August with 59 percent growth over July (259 percent YoY), according to our August Digital Economy Index (DEI). Consumers continue to be more comfortable venturing out to stores, and retailers continue improving the BOPIS experience.

Takeaway #2: Focus on discounts and free shipping, rather than added value, gift with purchase, or BOGO (buy one, get one) offers. Shoppers will be persuaded by knowing they will get what they order on time and at a good price point.

Know your strategy – Multichannel media is a MUST

The Adobe/Advanis study shows many shoppers are influenced by multiple media channels across the customer journey, from research to purchase.

Specifically, we saw that shoppers report spending most of their time on connected TV (48 percent), while attributing greatest impact on purchasing from online search (41 percent).

Using real-time customer intelligence to personalize messaging is critical to engaging customers across channels in the new COVID-19 era. Core to this is understanding how your channels work together across the customer journey.

Additionally, according to the August DEI report, there has been a significant surge in mobile traffic, which now accounts for more than 60 percent of all e-commerce visits in August.

Takeaway #3: Take an audience and customer journey-based approach.

Know viewing habits – Media consumption up with COVID

Media consumption has been up across the board since stay-at-home orders went into effect. We’ve been tracking Advertising Cloud auction volume data for the past several months, which is a guidance metric for user behavior and content consumption. Connected TV is the major growth story since COVID-19 began. It has seen as high as a 59 percent increase in viewership since February, according to our internal Ad Cloud data (from February to August). Display advertising has increased 24 percent during this time, and mobile video ads by 10 percent.

Takeaway #4: Your target market is likely spending more time on digital channels. Find out which ones are the most impactful for your audience and tailor accordingly.

Know how to target – Be flexible

Savvy retailers know that the seismic shift to online shopping is no longer just talk. It has very much happened, and marketers have adjusted their campaigns to reflect the move away from in-person shopping. This is clear to see in the apparel industry.

“COVID-19 has changed the world of clothing for both shoppers and retailers. Shoppers moved a huge portion of their apparel shopping online in May and June as they avoided brick-and-mortar stores,” says Taylor Schreiner, director of Adobe Digital Insights at Adobe. “Consumers also changed what they bought, preferring pajamas and sweatpants to work suits. But once people had enough clothes to get them from the couch to the work Zoom call and back again, the outsized boost to online clothes shopping went away.”

Additionally, retailers will also need to adjust strategies based on location as the pandemic revives, dies, or forces additional stay-at-home measures. What might be right for consumers in New York may not be suitable for those in Miami. As an example, our July DEI report found states that reopened saw a smaller YoY increase in online sales in July, by about 8 percent.

A nationwide campaign simply won’t work under these conditions. Monitoring daily news and virus rates should become a must for companies if it hasn’t already. When virus numbers drop or gain, marketers need to be ready to dial up or dial down spend as they ready for state-level restrictions or opportunities.

Takeaway #5: Personalization and localization are vital this season. One-size-fits-all campaigns won’t work. Don’t go nationwide – go state by state, even city by city, with messaging and offers where possible.

For more insights, check out our new whitepaper with this data here.