It’s that time of year again. Mariah Carey has climbed out of 1994 and back into the Top 40. You can’t get away from the sound of jingling bells, and everything on the menu comes with a side of “Christmas Cheer.” Whether you love it or loathe it, there’s no denying that the holiday season will impact your brand’s end-of-year performance. But after a fraught year—hello pandemic, politics, murder hornets, and more—your holiday marketing strategy is either the last thing on your mind or just one more potential pitfall you’d rather avoid.

But we don’t recommend putting your head in the sand from now until January 1st, especially if you’re in the B2C, retail, or ecommerce space. With a little forethought and a whole lot of strategy, there’s still time to end 2020 on a high note. 

End-of-Year and Holiday Marketing: Retail’s Golden Egg

Nearly 70% of small businesses view the winter holiday season as a top sales opportunity, according to The Visa Back to Business Study – Holiday Edition. And with good reason. Though it varies by industry, many retailers make 20-30% of their annual revenue between November and January 1st. 

Plus, according to Deloitte, holiday retail sales this year should rise between 1% and 1.5%, amounting to between $1.147 trillion and $1.152 trillion during the November-to-January time frame. In other words, after the year we’ve been through, most businesses can’t afford to sit this one out. 

And Visa’s report shows that most consumers won’t be holding back this year. Desperate for normalcy, 88% of those surveyed report that they plan to holiday shop despite the challenges the pandemic presents. Of that 88%, nearly half plan to do their shopping in-person. 

The real winners of this year’s unusual holiday season? Local businesses. More than a third of shoppers plan to split their purchases between local shops and large retailers. 

Holiday Marketing in 2020

But, just like everything else this year, holiday marketing is going to look a little different. 

Think about the typical holiday ad. The odds are good that you’re envisioning something that leans towards “warm and fuzzy.” Think family gathered around the dinner table, presents on Christmas morning, snowball fights, and sharing a hot cup of cocoa. 

As the coronavirus case count rises in the U.S., a few of these tropes might have people reaching for the hand sanitizer. Make sure your holiday campaign tugs the appropriate heartstrings instead of falling flat by keeping a few key trends on your radar. 

Implement a digital-first strategy

A year ago, most people had daily commutes, school schedules, and occasional social gatherings. Today, we’ve got Zoom meetings, remote learning, and social media. With many states encouraging or requiring strict social distancing policies, the entire holiday landscape has shifted to digital. People are working, shopping, socializing, and relaxing through virtual channels. Your brand needs to meet them where they’re at. And, in 2020, many of them will be on the couch in their sweatpants.  

Pro-tip: digital-first and mobile-first should go hand in hand, not just during the holiday season but also year-round. 

Talk about the elephant in the room

In the past, holiday ad campaigns may have featured large crowds of happy shoppers filling your store. Or lines stretched around the block in anticipation of your kickass pre-holiday sales. But those visuals just aren’t going to fly in the face of COVID-19. In fact, these rosy callbacks to holidays past could be a turn off for today’s shoppers. 

Your audience doesn’t need you to be the eternal optimist. They need you to set realistic expectations. Are you limiting in-person shopping? Requiring masks in-store? Expecting shipping delays? Make sure your creative and copy reflect this. 

As Meredith notes, this is one way to “[l]et customers know that you understand the challenges associated with this holiday season. You want your advertising to reflect what consumers are really dealing with, not an idealized look at past holidays.”

Keep things positive but not dismissive

We can’t lie. 2020 has been a major suckfest in a lot of ways. You know it, your customers know it. Heck, even your dog probably knows things have been a little weird lately. Any attempts to paint in broad, rosy strokes run the risk of coming across as disingenuous. And if there’s anything today’s consumers loathe, it’s inauthentic marketing

So, how can you find the silver lining while still keeping it real? According to professionals from the Forbes Communication Council, you’ll want to start with a feeling and work backward from there. Melissa Kandel of little word studio asks, “Do you want your audience to feel joy? Comfort? Laughter? Decide on that core holiday directive and everything else – the look and feel, the copy, the visuals – will feel consistently merry and bright.” 

Understand how the current context will impact your customers

This one ties into your overall messaging and the feeling you’re trying to create. For example, imagine you sell airplane neck pillows. This year, you’re marketing to at least two very different buyer personas with very different needs. 

On the one hand, you have those who are willing to travel despite the pandemic. Their specific pain points might be fear about how to travel safely and comfortably. Maybe they’re opting to drive solo instead of flying. Or they’re going to be catching a red-eye in the hopes of scoring an emptier flight.  

On the other hand, you have those who are choosing to stay home this year. They might be missing out on family gatherings, missing the rush of travel, or just plain bummed that the world is such a mess right now. Or they’re busily orchestrating a 70-person, multi-household Zoom dinner. Either way, your job is to show how your airline pillows can make their life easier. 

Whether you’re marketing to one or both of these groups, the coronavirus’s impact is your overarching focus. Whether you deploy humor, like these guys, who were missing their commute during quarantine or take a more traditional, heart-strings-tugging approach, the context (and how you choose to unpack it) will affect your campaign’s reception.

Yes, B2B brands still need a holiday marketing strategy

Think you’re off the hook just because you’re not marketing B2C? Think again. Your clients have end-of-year budgets to spend and a whole new year to plan for. And remember, the holiday season is also the renewal season for a lot of business contracts. 

With the right holiday marketing strategy, you can avoid a year-end slump and build even stronger relationships with your clients. After all, businesses don’t have buying power; the people who run them do. 

So, take some time to put yourself in your audience’s shoes. What are the challenges they face around this time of year? And how can you help them (without getting in the way or bogging down their inbox)? The holidays are a great time to boost brand awareness and show off your B2B brand’s human side through thoughtful content marketing

Ready to get the ball rolling on your 2020 holiday marketing strategy? 

As a full-service digital marketing agency, Savy is here to help you connect with your audience across various digital and real-world channels. And we’ve got our strategic and creative teams working together in-house so you can get the most out of your end-of-year marketing budget. Give us a call to launch a campaign that’ll sleigh (sorry, we had to) the competition!