Lori Badanes, owner of Einstein's Attic, a toy store in...

Lori Badanes, owner of Einstein's Attic, a toy store in Northport Village, started offering a one-on-one "Santa Experience" for those who purchase a $250 gift card to the store. Credit: Lori Badanes

The ability for brands to make a real connection with consumers this holiday season in their messaging will go a long way given heightened sensitivity and safety concerns that still linger with COVID, experts say.

In fact, a recent Iterable survey found 83% of respondents saying they are more likely to purchase from a brand they have an emotional connection to, which means small businesses who often have more intimate relationships with customers should use this to their advantage.

"Emotion is behind up to 90% of the decisions we make," says Garin Hobbs, director of deal strategy at the San Francisco-based Iterable, a cross-channel marketing automation platform. "The smartest marketers are putting their marketing message in alignment with that emotion."

Pre-COVID it was very much about "brand first" leading with product promotion, he says.

"What we see now is a shift more towards intrinsic motivation," Hobbs says.

That means brands with less mission-driven messages or messages that don’t align with consumers’ values may see a drop in sales, he says.

To be sure, age can influence this with older generations preferring more straightforward promotional advertising messaging that clearly describes a product and younger generations like Gen Z, needing empathy in messaging to prompt them to make a purchase, according to Iterable.

Empathy will go a long way this holiday season along with a focus on safety, says Jack Mandel, an East Norwich-based marketing consultant and professor emeritus of marketing at Nassau Community College in Garden City.

If your business can communicate your safety measures like curbside pickup or delivery options that will be appreciated by consumers, he says.

Consumers impacted by COVID will also likely be focused on value, he says.

They’ll expect discounts to incentivize them, Mandel says.

The Iterable survey found 36% of consumers are currently waiting for an online sales event before shopping for the holidays.

While discounting may cut into the retailer’s bottom line initially, "people will remember that and come back later on," Mandel says.

To create goodwill, you also might offer freebies "that show you care" (ie. a branded mask) and, if possible, safe socially distanced events to draw people into stores, he says.

Lori Badanes, owner of Einstein’s Attic, a Northport Village toy store, started early November offering a one-on-one "Santa Experience" for those who purchase a $250 gift card to the store.

It’s by appointment only and one family at a time comes in for a 20-minute interval where they can meet Santa, mail a letter to Santa in a North Pole mailbox that makes the letter vanish and enjoy hot cocoa. Between appointments, the area is sanitized with a disinfecting mist.

Badanes also created an online page where families can put up a holiday wish list for their child and other family members can purchase the gifts online and then pick up at the store.

"We have to be completely flexible to whatever the customer needs us to do," says Badanes, noting the Santa Experience is booked until Christmas.

Nicole Penn, president of EGC Group in Melville, said while...

Nicole Penn, president of EGC Group in Melville, said while customers are looking for deals, "convenience and ease of shopping experience during COVID is almost as equally important." Credit: Scott Penn

Beyond flexibility, you also have to know your customers and try to reach them on a personal level, says Nicole Penn, president of EGC Group, a marketing and digital services firm in Melville.

"We’re seeing a lot of success with personalized messaging," Penn says. This could mean using the customer’s name in correspondence or sending relevant products based on past shopping history.

Some brands are even doing VIP experiences like private appointments for shopping in-store, she says.

While customers are looking for deals, "convenience and ease of shopping experience during COVID is almost as equally important," Penn says.

Businesses also need to communicate to customers they’re open and make sure key information like curbside hours are updated on relevant sites. Shoppers are looking heavily at sites like Google My Business and Yelp for this type of information so it’s important to update those sites, Penn says.

Late last year, EGC built a proprietary digital platform for clients called Raydeus that allows a business to update multiple sites simultaneously without having to do it on each individual site.

"We saw double the amount of retailers using Raydeus after COVID," she said. "Everyone has needed to communicate more often with customers."

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Fast Fact:

The bulk of shoppers (69%) prefer to receive promotional messages or learn about sales events from brands through either text messaging or email.

Source: Iterable

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