Brands Struggle to Strike the Right Tone This Holiday Season

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It’s not even November, but the holiday shopping season has already begun. With nearly two-thirds of consumers saying the Covid-19 pandemic has negatively impacted their attitude toward the shopping season, retail marketers are rethinking their approach this year and focusing more heavily on empathy and values when they target younger shoppers.

“Good marketing is compelling. But great marketing connects with customers on a subsurface level,” says Garin Hobbs, director of deal strategy at Iterable, a growth marketing company. “It’s empathetic and it’s inclusive, and it strums the resonant chords within us.”

Striking the right chord will be especially important this holiday season, with more shoppers preferring to stay at home in light of pandemic restrictions. According to a new survey released by Iterable, 83% of shoppers say they are more likely to purchase from a brand to which they have an emotional connection, and more than 50% of those earning more than $100,000 per year say they are “much more likely” to make a purchase when they “connect” with a brand.

How should brands be making those connections, and what changes should they make in their digital marketing strategies to account for the Covid-19 pandemic?

Hobbs says the only way to achieve true intimacy with customers is by actually knowing them. Once brands know what their customers are feeling and what their motivations are, they can ascertain how to strike the right tone, which is essential during periods of uncertainty.

“The world is a confusing and unpredictable place in the best of times, but when you add in a global pandemic, economic depression, and social instability, it becomes sheer madness,” Hobbs says. “Generally speaking, people are confused, unsure, even frightened. They want and seek clarity. Sensitivities are heightened in these times, with previously innocuous adverts understandably getting pulled due to a new context.”

Iterable’s survey found that 27% of shoppers say Covid-19 has “very negatively” impacted their overall attitude entering the 2020 holiday shopping season, and for the most part, shoppers do not plan to spend more on gifts this year compared to previous seasons. One-third of survey respondents said they plan to complete all of their shopping online, while just 3% said they plan to complete all of their shopping in stores.

Hobbs says the results of Iterable’s survey make clear that brands will have to work harder to earn their market share this year, especially as established selling tactics fall short. He expects the surge in e-commerce demand to continue beyond the pandemic, and says companies will need to adapt to build better customer experiences on e-commerce platforms if they hope to compete in the long-term.

“If the digital transformation wasn’t on a brand’s radar, this should definitely be a red flag and warning,” he says.

With the majority of shoppers saying the pandemic has negatively impacted their attitudes about holiday shopping itself, Hobbs believes brands will need to work harder to give people something to look forward to. Holiday messaging should be “joy forward,” and it should remind consumers that there is a joy to be had in the first place.

While incentives and special offers are always effective drivers of increased mobile use and engagement, Iterable’s data shows that consumers are burnt out right now, and they are weary of receiving the hard sell. If retailers really want to win over consumers this holiday season, they’ll need to find that delicate balance. Lower-income shoppers, in particular, are signaling that they prefer a longer break between shopping events, with the majority preferring between two weeks and one month before they hear from brands again after an event.

“Many factors determine an emotional connection, but leading with empathy and values is a surefire way to do it. That means brands with less mission-driven messages or messages that don’t align with consumers’ values may see a drop in sales. Values drive engagement and loyalty, but they are subjective to the individual,” Hobbs says. “Brands that are effectively and emotionally connecting with customers are thriving.”

Stephanie Miles is a senior editor at Street Fight.Rainbow over Montclair

Stephanie Miles is a journalist who covers personal finance, technology, and real estate. As Street Fight’s senior editor, she is particularly interested in how local merchants and national brands are utilizing hyperlocal technology to reach consumers. She has written for FHM, the Daily News, Working World, Gawker, Cityfile, and Recessionwire.