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2020 Holiday Marketing Trends & Best Practices



What are consumers' plans for the 2020 holiday season, and how can brands best connect with them?

The winter holiday season, regardless of what someone celebrates, is usually a time of joy, celebration, and connection for families and friends. Different groups and demographics have diverse and various traditions, which marketers have long since been finding new, exciting, and authentic ways to creatively communicate and target. Whether Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, or Christmas, successful and inclusive marketers find ways to include everyone in the cheer.

This year, of course, will look a bit different for everyone, with COVID-19 and other events changing the way people in the U.S. will shop, celebrate, and connect. According to Morning Consult, 71 percent of people in the U.S. will engage with holiday traditions, but with smaller gatherings. Unsurprisingly, many will opt for virtual celebrations to mitigate risk.

For marketers, this might seem scary, as many companies rely on retail revenue during this time — and a potential dry season could be devastating. However, in these changing and turbulent times, holiday cheer is needed more than ever — and this is merely a way marketers can adapt and pivot to developing new ways to appeal to consumers, and provide just the right tone, cadence, and support needed right now.

That means one thing: Meeting consumers where they are, and doing so authentically — which means finding alternatives, whether through virtual platforms or more robust holiday sale deals.

The New York Times reported that consumers will shop more online, which is already causing retailers to pivot their strategies and sales events. For instance, Walmart and Target will close stores on Thanksgiving and instead offer curbside pickup and online sales earlier than usual to meet consumer needs, prioritizing safety and health. 

It's not just about COVID-19 concerns changing the way consumers will physically engage with the holidays, whether with less physical shopping or family gathering, but how people will feel inclined to spend. According to The Conference Board, consumers will be more frugal this year, as a result of job and financial insecurity. As such, it is projected that spending is not likely to propel economic recovery in the months ahead, which is especially significant to note as the holiday season is one of the biggest revenue drivers for companies.

For instance, in 2018, over 114 million U.S. consumers shopped on Black Friday, according to Statista. Moreover, Deloitte reported that "holiday retail sales this year are forecast to rise between one percent and 1.5 percent, amounting to between $1.147 trillion and $1.152 trillion during the November-to-January time frame," which is compared to 4.1 percent percent in 2019, with sales reaching about $1.14 trillion.

Rod Sides, a vice chairman at Deloitte and its retail and distribution sector leader, surmised that this year will be complicated, for a lack of better words, stating, "This year, one of two holiday scenarios will play out. History would tell us ... we are going to see groups of consumers recover differently."

Below are case studies, brand examples, and best practices for 2020 holiday marketing. 

Demographics of Holiday Plans and Ad Messaging Preferences

  • How COVID-19 Is Changing the Holiday Shopping Season. Morning Consult, September 2020
    While noting overall trends, Morning Consult found these demographic variations in how Americans plan to celebrate, travel, spend, and shop during the 2020 winter holidays:

    How holiday gatherings will be different this year:

    • Black Americans, Hispanics, Americans living in the West, Democrats, and gen Z are more likely to plan to downsize their holiday gatherings this year.
    • Higher-income, higher-education, and/or Americans living in the West are more likely to want to gather virtually this year.

Holiday spending:

    • Younger generations, Black Americans, and urbanites plan to spend more.
    • Hispanics are significantly more likely to plan to spend less.

Ad messaging that would increase purchase intent:

    • Gen Zers are notably more interested in funny, sentiment, optimistic, empathetic, comforting ads or those that offer gift ideas than older generations, while boomers are much more interested in entertaining and serious or somber ads.
    • Ads about company values may actually mute interest among gen Z, a generation increasingly more interested in action over words: 19 percent of this generation indicates that an ad of this nature would make them less likely to buy from the company advertising (versus only six percent of all adults).
    • Empathetic and sentimental ads are likely to increase buying among Democrats, but least likely to do so among Independents, with impact among Republicans between these two extremes.

The chart below shows trends overall in the United States:

  • 2020 Holiday Shopping Trends Report. Tinuiti. July 2020.
    This report from a digital marketing agency highlights generational differences in holiday shopping plans and habits. Gen Z indicated that Black Lives Matter consciousness will influence their holiday gift choices, with one-third planning to shop from black-owned businesses.

Overall Consumer Trends

  • COVID-19 Barometer Shows Consumers Are In for the Long Haul. Kantar, September 9, 2020.
    Households continue to feel the pinch of strained finances and remain committed to strong financial planning. Increasing numbers of consumers are bargain hunting with 70 percent, a new high, paying attention to prices. With 42 percent delaying big purchases and the majority (79 percent) with no holiday plans, reprioritization and moderation are the guiding principles of daily life today.

How Brands are Planning to Reach Consumers during the Q4 Holiday Season

  • Anticipated Consumer Trends for the 2020 Holiday Season. ANA, July 8, 2020
    Media giant Meredith and retail giant Walmart have been partners for many years, and they are closely monitoring shifts in consumer behavior brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic in preparation for the 2020 holiday season. Meredith identified consumer trends to watch out for, such as staying home for the holidays, focusing on family traditions, smaller celebrations, personal gift approaches, early online shopping, and a greater focus on food. With these predictions in mind, marketers can develop products, services, and communications that speak to the current and future needs of its consumers.

Walmart shared four thought-starters, challenging marketers to think differently about how to serve and connect with their target audiences:

    • Spark inspiration. Focus less on product and more on customer insights and emotions. Ask "what are they trying to do, and what is their challenge." Brands that do this can connect with customers beyond a simple transaction.
    • Make buying solutions seamless. Curate product experiences and eliminate friction along the buyer's journey, especially at the moment inspiration is sparked. Incorporate "shopability" into everything you do.
    • Find the community connection. Understand the communities that your customers belong to, whether that be their local neighborhood, their friends and family, or broader communities. Empower customers to connect with their communities and help them give back to their communities.
    • Build for flexibility. Keep a close eye on the needs and behaviors of your customer and think regionally. Consumers in different states may be experiencing very different realities amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Keep media and communications plans flexible so you can dial them up or down depending on the current situation.
  • Ho, Ho, Hum: Struggling Retailers Brace for a Muted Holiday Season. New York Times, September 2, 2020.
    Customers have moved online in greater numbers, hoping to avoid crowds at stores, and retailers are already adjusting their holiday plans accordingly. Rather than enticing shoppers into stores with holiday sales events, retailers like Walmart and Target recently said they would try to temper the crowds by closing on Thanksgiving Day and putting their best deals online earlier than usual. Instead of conversing with browsing shoppers, many store workers will be spending their time handing off purchases to people who pull up to the curb in their car. And the holiday windows and light shows common to department stores in cities across the country will probably feel muted with a diminished amount of foot traffic.

  • The Election and Holiday 2020. eMarketer and Epsilon, June 4, 2020.
    Insights for a proactive marketing plan:
    • Retailers should expect sales to decrease in the two weeks prior to the presidential elections in November.
    • After the elections, however, sales will rebound to pre-election levels. In 2016, sales increased by five percent after the election.
    • Epsilon advises marketers to:
      • Start hitting consumers on the Monday after the elections.
      • Be mobile focused.
      • Make omnichannel offers.
      • Be able to optimize on the fly.
      • Be a positive beacon in tone and balance product with gratitude and uplift-oriented messaging.

  • Four Predictions for an Uncertain 2020 U.S. Holiday Shopping Season. Kantar, September 8, 2020.
    Economic uncertainty, the acceleration of digital commerce, and an October Prime Day will make this holiday season unlike any other. In order to avoid stressors on the supply chain, the season will start earlier and spread throughout the fall months.

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"2020 Holiday Marketing Trends & Best Practices." ANA, September 2020.