2020 has been a lot of things and it’s fair to say ‘the year of change’ sits quite firmly at the top of that list. Good change, bad change, strange change, the need for brands to stay wide eyed and ready to - at the drop of a hat - make a change is something that we’ve not only experienced ourselves but have spent the majority of the year helping our clients do as well.

The pandemic has forced us to form new habits and when it comes to consumerism, the revision of our old behaviours has been significant. Online shopping reigns supreme, with 58% of consumers shopping more online now than they did before the pandemic.

57% of consumers say they’re now paying more attention to how healthy the items they buy are. 17% are now willing to pay more for ethically sourced, sustainable products. 30% are focused on living within their financial means. And, with social distancing likely to remain in place for the foreseeable future, the desire to physically go to shops has dampened.

So how do we begin thinking about and planning for our festive marketing activities in a world where change is inevitable, fast, and often quite drastic.

Before we start looking ahead, it helps to see where we’ve been.

Consumers are keeping it local

During lockdown many turned to their local convenience stores, partly due to the big supermarkets’ initial wobble in product supply and partly because it allowed them to stay close to home. Following this, 51% of shoppers stated they would continue shopping locally after the pandemic.

People care when you care

During the height of the pandemic, Pret offered free hot drinks and a 50% discount on all other products for NHS workers. Similarly, BrewDog started making hand sanitisers at its Aberdeenshire distillery, amid fears that there were shortages in the UK. They then gave it away free to those in need. These acts of altruism didn’t go unnoticed by consumers who praised the efforts.

Authenticity speaks volumes

The National Trust stayed true to its founding mission of ‘benefiting the entire nation’ by keeping as many of its gardens open, for free, as they could allowing people to get outdoors for a much-needed change of scenery. Director General Hilary McGrady stated “Over the coming weeks we will do all that we can to keep on providing public benefit through caring for places and giving people access wherever possible.”.

In being forced to change our shopping habits and with more time to reflect upon our spending choices, a new set of consumer values has started to emerge.

According to GlobalWebIndex's Coronavirus Research in April, 68% of people agreed that brands should stop normal factory production and pivot to making the essentials.

Consumers were very loud and very clear in stating that the pandemic wasn’t the time for brands to be putting themselves first, it was all about the greater good. And with that, ‘having a purpose’ is now no longer a nice-to-have storytelling quirk for brands but should be a fundamental part of their business strategy. What can your brand do to help the communities it comes into contact with?

This societal expectation of brands has evolved quickly and significantly. Whether looking after the wellbeing of employees or sourcing more sustainably friendly ways to manufacture, brands now have a responsibility to make good when and where they have the power to do so. In fact, 84% of respondents said they wanted brand advertising to focus on how brands help people cope with pandemic-related life challenges.

It may all sound vague or idealistic and perhaps there’s a small cynical voice somewhere telling us that these changes in values won’t last. As the world continues to open back up and some sense of normality returns, so too will the spending levels of pre-pandemic times. However, the Brand Trust Report has shone a light on some powerful statistics and proof that show this isn’t just a passing notion:

65% of respondents said a brand's response to the pandemic would have a “significant impact” on their likelihood to buy from them in future. Paying lip service and making all the right noises is transparent to consumers. They want actions, not words.

60% said they are turning to brands that they can “absolutely” trust. The ones who were there with the right product or solution when it was needed the most.

And over 1/3 of consumers said they’ve started using a new brand because of the innovative or compassionate way they responded to the pandemic.

In a nutshell, the pandemic has changed the fundamentals to how we all think, behave, and spend money. And brands need to follow suit.

From this we can see a clear shift in consumers looking for more honesty, transparency, and consideration from brands, with each holding a huge influence on where shoppers will spend this year.

Facebook’s 2020 Christmas marketing guide has been created using advertising data and insight from their platform - if anyone knows how, what, and why people are spending this year, it’s them. They say:

  1. Gen X and Boomers dominate global mobile and ecommerce growth. Thanks to lockdown and with no option to nip out to the shops in person, this makes sense.
  2. Self-gifting and seasonal shopping can be positive outlets in difficult times. This year’s been tough and we’ve all been in need of a pick-me-up.
  3. Imposed disruption fuels receptiveness to new products and services. Brand’s ingenuity and ability to react swiftly to new challenges has not only benefited the customers, but has benefitted brand’s integrity too.
  4. The economic downturn will expedite the rise of mega sales. Nearly 1/3 people surveyed by Facebook said that they’ll wait for products to be on discount or sale before purchasing. Now’s looking like a great time for a promotion.
  5. The new value equation = affordability, authenticity and action. And it’s that last point that we’re particularly interested in. Now, more than ever, consumers are actively taking an interest in social responsibility and brand authenticity.

When it comes to marketing in this new world, we believe there are four more key things to consider, so have added our own points to the list:

  1. Be open and honest about your values, then act upon them.
  2. Champion all-things local (geo-targeted ads are a great way to get started with this).
  3. Whenever, wherever, and however you can, give back to the wider community.
  4. Ensure empathy and focus your messaging on solutions, not selling.

And so we come to Christmas 2020. This year has taught us that change can happen in an instant and brands should be used to pivoting quickly to remain sensitive to these uncertain times.

While that remains a good rule of thumb, we also think there’s an opportunity now to get creative like never before, and use our current backdrop as a space to provide value and solutions.

Take the Nottingham-based bakery Sideline Cookies, who wanted to give something back to the NHS. Some manufacturers have been able to pivot production in order to make masks and hand gel. However, Sideline Cookies knew they couldn’t make these items so instead supported the NHS in their own way. For every box of cookies bought, the bakery donated another to their local NHS hospital for staff to enjoy.

The initiative was well received and this contribution to a wider cause not only made a positive, authentic difference within their community but led to an increase in their own brand awareness.

To sum it up, this Christmas is going to be much like the rest of 2020: very different to other years.

Amongst the constant change, we’re all just looking for connections now more than ever - whether it be over Zoom or in person, at a safe distance. The brand-to-consumer connection is just as important, only it looks a little different nowadays. Stick to being authentic and empathetic, employ creativity in everything from your strategy to your comms, and show that you care - not only for sales and uplift but for the greater good - and we’re sure it’ll be a (much-needed) feel-good festive season.

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