December 15, 2020

Not So Fast 2021

Contributed by FIFTEEN


By now we’re sick of hearing it: 2020 has been a year like no other. Yet when it comes to the holiday season, there are some marketing truths that still hold up, and others that are brand new to these uncharted waters we’re navigating. We’ve broken down some of them below, so your brand will be ready as we crawl to the finish line of what’s been a doozy of a year.

1. Make sure your website is ready for a huge uptick in traffic and online holiday sales.
With the COVID-19 pandemic still raging throughout the U.S., expect more consumers to do their holiday shopping online. In fact, compared to 2019, Morgan Stanley estimates foot traffic in stores is down by as much as 43 percent, and Deloitte says e-commerce sales may grow by up to 35 percent this year over last.

Kim Caruana, FIFTEEN’s senior digital project manager, said there are a few relatively simple things online retailers can do to help increase potential sales. Adding links to specific lists on the homepage (like “Gifts for Him” or “Popular Gifts Under $25”) and even small promotions like 10 percent off an item can go a long way toward directing consumers to specific items or sealing the deal.

Customer service is also huge, especially this time of year. “Frazzled shoppers want to know a real, live and local person is there to provide timely information and answers,” she said. “If a company can swing it, we advise having a dedicated person or small team to immediately answer messages that come in through social media or the website’s online chat feature.”

Last, a retailer needs to know its website is mobile friendly and can handle larger visitor numbers. Google has handy websites that can help with both, and Caruana urges online retailers to test both sooner rather than later. “With Amazon moving Prime Day to October, the holiday shopping season started earlier,” she said. “If loading time is an issue, consider temporarily removing any unnecessary plugins or videos, or upgrading hosting service packages.”

But, she cautions not to make any major design changes until after January. “The last thing you want to do is make website visitors search for information or introduce a new checkout system,” Caruana said. “The name of the game now is to help them find exactly what they need and check out quickly, accurately and securely.”

2. Work with the holiday news cycle.
Does your brand have a feel-good story to tell? This could be the perfect time of year to drop your favorite reporter or blogger a line. Chances are they are looking to share some holiday cheer with audiences, and your idea just might be the ticket.

“Traditionally, December is slow for hard news, so the odds of a feature story idea being better received are definitely in your favor,” said Tara Erwin, FIFTEEN’s public relations manager. She said the key is to understand how the news cycle, current events and end-of-the-year newsrooms look, and tailor the pitch accordingly.

It’s no secret that newsrooms at traditional media outlets have shrunk, and reporters and editors are asked to do more with less. December can exacerbate that situation even more as media professionals try to burn off their vacation days before the end of the year. Don’t despair, as this can create hidden opportunities. While staffing shortages might make it difficult to secure coverage for a specific, one-time event, there’s overall less competition for reporters’ attention, so they may be more receptive to a general interest story idea, especially if it ties into a larger story or trend.

Feel-good angles are always safe bets this time of year, so if your company made a sizeable or unique donation, if your nonprofit is addressing an overlooked need or you’re focusing on a group that’s been in the news regularly (think first responders), make sure you divulge that information at the beginning of the pitch. And of course, the usual media relations rules apply: prep your spokesperson beforehand with on topic talking points, include statistics that provide context and demonstrate impact, and if working with bloggers or TV outlets, include compelling, interesting visuals.

Finally, Erwin encourages brands not to underestimate the power of December 24th. “Imagine you’re a reporter covering Christmas Eve Day, and most organizations are either off or closing early. Sure there are the usual retail or religious-themed topics to cover, but as a PR practitioner, why not give the newsroom a call and see if you can work together to make each other’s day a little easier – and more fun? The news still has to go out, and you have a story to tell. It’s a win-win.”

3. Think outside the (shirt)box with your holiday campaign.
There are probably a handful of holiday commercials that you remember fondly. Folger’s, GAP and Coca Cola are a few that immediately come to mind, and it’s no wonder: their messages are simple and capture the spirit of the season without going overboard.

This year, it’s especially important for a brand’s holiday messaging to reflect the times we’re in. People are furloughed from work, extended families are forgoing celebrating together and the CDC has cited a 40 percent increase in mental health and substance abuse issues among American adults since the start of the pandemic. Reading the room is the vital first step to ensure your audience will have the right mindset when they receive what you’re communicating.

“For this season’s FIFTEEN holiday gift, it felt empty to give a ‘thing’ to our clients and friends to thank them for their patronage and partnership,” said Rachel Spence, FIFTEEN’s creative director. “Instead, we wanted to share some good news and positivity with an opportunity to do something truly impactful for others who need help.”

Called the 15 Days of Gratitude, we’re taking to Instagram to share 15 'silver linings' the pandemic brought to our team this year, ranging from piano playing perfection to plant propagation paradise. And since Child & Family Services isn’t able to administer its Adopt-a-Family program, something we’ve loved to support in years past, we donated 15 tablets through their Amazon Wish List.

“To us, the holidays are about helping others through both our words and actions, and we transferred that sentiment into the 15 Days of Gratitude,” said Spence. “We’re excited to share this perspective with our online community and hope they’ll join us by sharing their own silver linings, and perhaps making a family’s holiday a bit brighter by donating to Child & Family Services as well.”

Even though many national brands start their holiday campaigns right after the previous one ends, it’s still not too late to plan something for this year (you could even make a case for waiting a little longer, given the way current events seem to change by the minute). Social media and digital communication allow for the ability to quickly evolve with the times, but if a tangible gift is more in line with your branding, try to stick with something that reflects where we are right now. For example, travel items will probably be put away for at least the time being, but a cozy blanket or puzzle are likely to see immediate use. And of course, there’s no rule that says the holidays are only the first 24 days of December. In fact, many consider January 1 or Epiphany (January 6) as the official end to the season, which allows you a couple more weeks to plan and execute the perfect campaign.

2020 has been marked by many firsts, and maybe it’ll also be the year your brand tries something new this holiday season.

Return to all Stories