The 2020 Holidays Are Make-or-Break for Brands

The holidays. They’ve always been a time of familiar comforts. For business owners, Thanksgiving heralded the arrival of Black Friday and Cyber Monday, followed like clockwork by a month of elevated pre-Christmas sales and in-store purchasing. Businesses, shoppers, families—everyone got what they wanted as we all took some time to unwind with family before the New Year.

No chance this year. “Business as usual” is not a thing in 2020. A confluence of factors—a pandemic, a fraught election, and an economic downturn—have made this year a make-or-break moment for every business, not just the major players. That’s why every brand out there should be looking at this holiday season as a testing ground for their 2021 growth potential.

There are three areas of concern that every brand should be investing in. If you’re not doing the legwork on these this holiday season, you need to start.

Is Your Brand Story Up to Snuff?

The pandemic forced us all to reassess everything, including traditional go-to-market strategies, and will in 2021 require further fresh thinking, unique approaches, and creativity. Brands will need to reposition with new strategies across every channel and medium, in effect ensuring that everyone is “singing from the same song sheet.” Essential for all this to succeed is the right brand story.

As I have been saying to clients, companies in 2021 absolutely must transform into purpose-driven brands with purpose-driven stories. The strongest consumer brands, whatever their size, are shifting focus toward simple messaging that addresses unmet aspirations and/or social impact in some form. Whatever state your digital strategy, B2B channel partnerships, or brand identity are in, all of it needs to be rooted in a refreshed story that is responsive to the changes that were brought about by 2020. That means communicating your “why” well and ensuring that it is aligned across your marketing strategy, taking into account a transformed economy, a new era of B2B partnerships and relationships, and some compelling changes in buyer behavior.

Digital Transformation Is Coming for You

The role of digital marketing has been shifting from that of a mere extension of the brand to a key strategic communicator and sales point. As economic activity shifts farther away from brick and mortar, largely due to the pandemic, the role of digital media and data will be ever more critical. Importantly, this will remain true whether every brick-and-mortar store opens up again tomorrow.

What’s required to begin with is the understanding that your brand identity will be digital-first, with all else—including TV, out-of-home, tradeshows, and print collateral—sitting shotgun. In this context, centering your strategy around digital becomes a priority.

This accelerated competition in the digital field comes as a consequence of the accelerated rise in online shopping. To compete, retailers will have to not only make their brand identity and story accessible to web users, but their product sales as well.

Trust Is Crucial

Trust was a major casualty this year. Trust in government, business, and educational institutions all took a hit. This void has already elevated the role of trusted brands in consumers’ lives. But in 2021, it will require strong strategic post-crisis underpinnings and improved practical applications to elevate success.

One key area of trust is delivery. If your brand identity is largely digitally communicated, and your sales take place mostly online, then audiences will have to feel certain you can deliver—and by “deliver” I mean literally get products to their doorstep. After all, the increase in online shopping has meant a dramatic increase in pressure on our national and global delivery systems. But guess who doesn’t care to blame the mail system for a lost package? Consumers. They will blame you. Smart brands will take this issue of delivery overload into consideration and think of ways to ensure that products get to their destinations. It can be a tough problem, but failing at this means losing trust.

Other aspects of trust have to do with brand story and identity itself. Aligning with the proper social causes in the right way and projecting a confident and appealing message with a stake in social good will be more essential than ever in 2021. Trust is also about knowing your customer and dealing well with customer complaints. Overall, the more reason you give audiences to trust you, the more your audience expands, the more certain you can be of a growth-oriented future.

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