Moving into the 2021 holiday season, consumers are looking to experience elements of the traditional while leaning into their "new normal," and marketers have an opportunity to incorporate this shift into messaging, digital touchpoints, and in-person experiences, says Jay Choyce Tibbitts, Social Strategist, Deutsch NY.

While not entirely out of the woods, 2021 has seen a “new normal” slowly arise that brings back a bit of the familiarity of pre-COVID life that so many of us missed. Reconnecting with friends and family, public gatherings, and in-person celebrations are on the horizon. Consumer confidence has also risen, with some reports estimating November and December holiday sales to grow between 8.5% and 10.5% 1. But to be valuable and impactful during this period, marketers must not forget the past and its influence on the present.

Here is a checklist of 5 ways to maximize your 2021 holiday marketing efforts to account for the shifts taking place as we near a post-COVID world.

1. Incorporate current realities within traditional holiday messaging

There's really not a more cheerful and hopeful time than the holiday season when it comes to marketing messages. Images of togetherness, gift-giving, vibrant cherry red, and of course, Santa are all expected elements from brands leading up to the last few weeks of the year. 2020 thwarted so much of this cheerful time for consumers, and many brands scaled back on their ‘traditional’" holiday messaging to be sensitive to the harsh realities of millions.

The 2021 holiday season provides an opportunity to restore the 'traditional' messaging that many consumers crave, but with an added layer of awareness that highlights the genuine emotional realities they're  currently facing.

We've seen brands mix traditional with true-to-life messaging with incredible success, such as Samsung's (Still) Home for the Holidays campaign in 2020. This satire on holiday classics with a COVID-19 twist was a great example of merging traditional holiday themes while interjecting consumer realities. In the case of Samsung, they were able to acknowledge a sensitive topic while keeping a cheerful and happy tone by leveraging the power of humor. The overlap of traditional and "new normal" messaging provides a layer of emotional connection with audiences, leading to increased trust and sales.

2. Prioritize in-person for experience and digital for convenience

After nearly an entire year of virtual life and Zoom celebrations, consumers long for in-person experiences. "Open now near me" and "local gift shops near me" are seeing as high as 440% increases on Google search 2, proving there is an intense desire for the joys of in-person holiday shopping.

In parallel, a year of online-only shopping has highlighted the benefits that digital offers. While they crave in-person experiences, consumers won't be altogether abandoning the world wide web this holiday season. Online and other non-store sales are expected to increase by between 11% and 15%  3, and consumers expect the ease and convenience they experienced last year to transfer over and fit within their lifestyles.

Ensure that any in-person activation or extension of marketing efforts is differentiated from what consumers can experience digitally. Is it exceptional customer service, an in-person activation using augmented reality, or a retail locations' hyper-curated design to appeal to camera culture? There has been so much innovation in the last 12 months with virtual experiences, given that they were the only option we had, so ensure that anything in-person is reigniting human connection or providing something that can only be experienced IRL.

3. Cater to the “always on” shopper

Consumers' shopping patterns have changed from "going shopping" to "always shopping" because of increasing product discovery opportunities. This has been accelerated by the growth of digital and social commerce. One of Instagram's highest priority features, Instagram shopping, has positioned itself as a tool to help "tell your story and highlight products seamlessly, so people can easily shop in the moment of discovery" 4. Pinterest recently launched its "Find What You Actually Love" campaign, emphasizing the discovery platform's power to tie emotion to purchase. Content is a catalyst for discovery, and social media platforms are capitalizing on the opportunity.

As marketers, we also need to consider this shift from intent-driven purchasing to an always-on shopping mindset fueled by inspiration. As campaigns are developed, center messaging around the emotional sell of the product and spotlights its benefits. This strategy will attract both shoppers seeking out your products and those eager to spend yet unsure where to look.

4. Leverage the power of social media to capture new and younger audiences

As you prioritize discovery and appeal to shoppers who aren't necessarily seeking out specific products to add to their holiday shopping roster, don't forget to harness the power of social media. A majority of consumer purchase decisions are influenced or, in many instances, a direct result of their time on the growing number of social media platforms.

McKinsey's 2021 holiday survey revealed that social media influenced 58% of respondents' purchase decisions. Diving even deeper within demographics, 87% of Gen Z consumers will actively seek holiday shopping inspiration on social media, making it an ideal touchpoint for your marketing efforts 5. In a 2021 engagement study from TikTok, the platform holds attention much more than competitors with a 15% higher cognitive engagement rate. 6

The power of social media lies within its access. For brands, it's the access to consumers that they can target and appeal to in a much more personalized way than other advertising avenues. For consumers, they're granted access to the brands they admire and are curious about.

As you plan your marketing mix for the holiday season, maximize your social media efforts by developing a bespoke social strategy that considers audiences already actively on these platforms seeking inspiration and product discovery.

5. Build customer relationships, it's never been more important

We can't talk about the 2021 holiday without discussing one of the most significant barriers impacting brands – the supply chain. Brands and retailers globally are running into the common issue of product shortages and extended shipping times, while consumers still expect a seamless shopping experience as they navigate the holidays. Challenges are inevitable given the nature of these supply chain woes, so focus your marketing efforts on building relationships with your customers to appease frustrations. The stronger you can build consumer-brand relationships, the less likely switching will occur due to an added layer of emotional attachment on top of the utility the product or service is providing.

It's' an incredibly exciting time to be in this industry, as we are granted the chance to reconnect with consumers at the same time they reconnect with the world around them.