​​Has the pandemic consigned seasonal shopping to the bargain bin?

How to make sure your Christmas campaign doesn’t get stuffed like a (hard-to-find) turkey.

Advertisers need to build in flexibility to keep up with unpredictable changes in shopping behaviours, argues Sofie Mobbs, Head of Client Services at Flashtalking by Mediaocean.

Change has been the only constant in 2021 – and now it’s shaking up the busiest retail season like a snow globe. Businesses have had to adapt to shifting work patterns, customer needs and supply demands. New ways of shopping have also influenced consumer behaviour and, in turn, retail marketers are re-learning how to truly engage their target audiences.

The Christmas snowstorm starts early in 2021 

Seasonal shopping has evolved into an increasingly extended process, with 45 percent (Finder.com, Nov 21) of consumers looking to cross off the last present from their Christmas list roughly one week earlier than in years gone by. What’s more, 41 percent intend to wrap up their preparations before December (according to eBay Ads), but the elongation of ‘seasonal’ shopping has been magnified by more recent difficulties. As labour and driver shortages present a potential threat to festivities, shoppers are planning even further ahead to avoid Christmas Day disappointments. Predicted stock shortages have also encouraged early bird behaviour, with consumers flocking to supermarkets months in advance to snare themselves a Christmas turkey. 

Seemingly in tune with early purchasing behaviour, Very launched its Christmas ad in early October, but ultimately received mixed reviews from audiences. So, how can brands adjust their creative strategies for success this season? To connect with consumers, marketers must focus on being flexible for individual needs, behaviours and attitudes, because a ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach will dampen the sparkle of their Christmas campaigns. 

Dancing across digital platforms

The shift in digital purchasing behaviour has been significant, with (64 percent) of consumers now finding it easier to browse online due to convenience, a greater range of options and the ability to conduct research. Furthermore, the growth of social commerce on platforms such as TikTok and Pinterest is amplifying Gen Z’s move away from more traditional consumer spaces for their Christmas inspiration this year. Marketers need to ensure their ad creatives are adaptable and optimised for all digital platforms, ad formats and target audiences. Whether leveraging short-form video or interactive display ads, retail marketers need the means to adjust their assets in real time.

Using dynamic creative optimisation (DCO) technology, marketers can automate these adjustments and deliver quality ad creative with ease. Through data-driven decisioning, DCO solutions can tailor ad creative for any placement or platform, producing thousands of ad variations with a brand’s creative assets. Marketers can then implement their optimal mix of digital platforms and ad formats, as DCO offers them the flexibility to serve impactful ad creative anywhere. To raise audience engagement even more, marketers must also look beyond platforms and formats to consider messaging as well. 

Season’s greetings must be personalised

Despite consumers spending more time online, 56 percent (Finder.com, Nov 21) are still planning some in-store purchasing. For marketers, this means they need to adjust their messaging and calls to action, so digital campaigns can fuel both online and offline buying journeys.

Following the prolonged lockdown periods of 2020, many consumers will be looking forward to celebrating and socialising as much as restrictions permit this year, with the majority (55 percent, Future, July 21) of the UK public wanting to make up for last year by going all out for festivities. But with uncertainty still lingering, businesses need to be able to adapt quickly to consumer sentiment. 

DCO tools allow marketers to achieve this by efficiently utilising available data to inform ad creative and messaging. Consumers interested in a physical shopping experience, for example, could receive personalised ads that focus on a brand’s new in-store experiences, thereby driving footfall. For the consumers only shopping online, meanwhile, messaging can highlight quick delivery options if the data suggests speed and convenience are appealing to these digital shoppers. 

No matter when consumers go about their seasonal shopping, marketers need to be flexible with their ad formats, messaging and creative. The retail landscape has witnessed tremendous changes and whether these will outlast the festive season remains to be seen. What is likely is that the online and offline buying journeys will become more intertwined, real-world disruptions will continue affecting shopping behaviours, and brands will need to meet these challenges head-on. 

It seems clear that the traditional method of developing and deploying one linear campaign at the start of the ‘shopping season’ needs be replaced with an earlier, multi-platform and responsive campaign strategy that is constantly gauging the lay of the land. Using tools that are able to adapt campaigns in real time, marketers can ensure their Christmas creative hits the mark for audiences whenever, wherever and however they engage with retail brands.