- Retail is coming back amid ongoing regional variance and uncertainty, and marketers are shifting focus forward to holiday planning
- While changed consumer behavior makes this year’s holiday season harder to predict, early indicators are hopeful
- A return to basics will likely pay off better than novelty for its own sake in Q4, and Braze offers four recommendations to guide a successful year-end season
- Messaging anchored in brand humanity will deepen the customer relationship, and sophisticated marketing automation makes that personalization at scale possible
Despite the uncertainties that 2020 has dealt us, time marches on and we find ourselves midway through the year. Marketers are shifting focus from crisis mode back into a more predictable cadence of seasonal planning, while keeping a watchful eye on the headlines. If it’s summer, that means gearing up for a big Q4 holiday push. Whatever happens in Q3, it’s a sure thing that as we roll into the Q4 holiday season, shopping for gifts will be a different experience than in past years.
We see the green shoots at Braze, too, as we watch what’s happening for our 1,000-brand customer base with more than 2.3 billion MAU spanning the globe.
Our ecommerce brands saw purchasing customers grow by 30% globally between March and April. In the U.S., we noted a huge increase in total purchases over the month of April, maxing out at 181% right after Americans began receiving stimulus checks.
Changes in customer behavior will stick around after COVID-19
As many hunkered down at home, the new normal included old-school fun like jigsaw puzzles and movie nights (through streaming services, of course) as well as innovative necessities like telemedicine and online grocery shopping.
Calendars were booked solid with video meetings, from the youngest “attending” school, through grandparents safely visiting with family, along with all those business meetings for the work-from-home crowd.
As people adopted new ways of doing real-world things online (another Zoom happy hour, anyone?), Braze customers saw new users peak on March 23 with a 75.72% increase in acquisition relative to the first week of January.
Looking ahead to the holiday season, it’s important to factor in how customer behaviors have changed.
The “home as haven” mood is likely to linger, based on Brand Humanity research commissioned from Forrester Consulting on behalf of Braze, which indicated even back last fall that consumers appreciated retail brands that communicated with them in ways that were perceived as “friendly,” “reassuring,” and “warm.”
The study also shows customers’ expectations rising for what it takes for a brand to come across as human.
All those new mobile and online shoppers are marketers to lose, if the holiday customer experience doesn’t meet these higher expectations. Consumers are looking for retailers to be responsive based on their needs…it’s really that simple.
Back to basics for customer engagement
Given the many unknowns ahead, it’s probably not the year to go for sizzle and stunts in the critical Q4 period. Our recommendation is to zero in on customer value delivery, using all the tools in your tech stack.
Keep it simple, and focus on these four things:
- Listen closely to your customers. They are already telling you what you need to know through their actions on your site and your app, along with the data they share to ease their experience. It’s your turn to be loyal to them, digging into retention rather than acquisition (which is bound to be difficult and expensive anyway in the noisy holiday season). Pair human empathy with data to achieve brand humanity, and the research demonstrates that you’ll see positive business outcomes.
- Understand your customer’s context. If you’ve listened attentively and are working with a modern technology ecosystem for analytics, you’ll know what’s relevant in the moment. Then your brand can speak to customers one-on-one with confidence, and do it at scale thanks to personalization enabled by marketing automation. It’s why business leaders are planning to deepen investments in marketing technology: The payoff is clear.
- Act on customer insights, creating seamless experiences across channels and devices. Let science guide the marketing art, leveraging holiday data to best advantage. Test and learn, then optimize. Again, no need for razzle-dazzle if you are satisfying customers; redirect the budget set aside for extended reality to more prosaic—and productive—tools.
- Learn from other brands’ successes, at holiday and beyond. From the Braze customer base, you might be interested, for example, in how Anthropologie uses web push, how Ibotta creates personalized shopping lists, how Pomelo capitalizes on abandoned carts, or how Sephora SEA drove conversion with a culturally relevant gamification campaign. And you’re sure to be inspired by how Bloom & Wild ran a real winner of a campaign by encouraging customers, counterintuitively, to opt out.
Marketing automation is the gift that keeps on giving
There is much that is out of retailers’ control this holiday season, and the experiential extravaganzas marketers considered in 2019 are probably on the cutting-room floor (although they may come back in the future).
The good news is that what the consumer really wants is to know that brands “get her” and are paying attention to what matters to her in the moment. That’s true all year, it’s true during the holidays, and it’s true when everything else seems to be changing.
Listen, understand, and act on her behalf, and there’s your sophisticated customer engagement strategy. Execute with a modern marketing automation ecosystem, and there’ll be at least one thing you can count on as we wave goodbye to 2020.
Sara Spivey is the chief marketing officer at Braze, a comprehensive customer engagement platform that powers relevant and memorable experiences between consumers and the brands they love. Sara has more than 30 years of marketing, strategy, and leadership experience with industry-leading organizations.