The holidays are just around the corner and marketers are anticipating a shopping season like no other. With a global pandemic still very much affecting our day-to-day lives, more consumers will be opting for safer ways of purchasing holiday gifts in 2020 and avoiding crowded stores as much as possible. To capitalize on this shift, businesses will have to turn their doorbusters into inbox busters, and they’ll have to do it in a way that sets them apart—providing individualized relevance and adapting to the new 1:1 economy.

Digital is the New Norm

When the COVID-19 pandemic forced many of us to adapt to a new way of living and working, a shift in buying habits also emerged. More people started turning to delivery services like Amazon, FreshDirect, and UberEats to avoid unnecessary trips out and to limit contact with others. And it wasn’t just the corporate giants that were seeing an increase in deliveries. Everyone from local bookstores to local wine shops illustrated their resilience and shifted their business model to meet their customers’ new needs.

Even as life during a pandemic becomes the “new normal” and enhanced safety and social distancing measures are put in place, the majority of consumers (67%) still say they’ll continue to turn to digital purchases for the bulk of their holiday shopping.1 With consumers leaving their homes less and turning to digital purchases more, the inbox holds a unique power in 2020 that it’s never quite had before. But it also means that marketers will have to be smarter with their holiday emails and provide more relevant content to stand out from the added competition.

Email Engagement is Up

In spite of all the uncertainty and unpredictability that came with 2020, marketers across almost every industry saw some good news: a steady increase in click and open rates compared to last year.2 The trend continued month over month as well, with open rates for March increasing nearly 16% compared to February.3 Consumers clearly wanted to know how the brands they followed were responding to the crisis and what their business plans would be moving forward.

Here at ERGO, we saw this trend in increased engagement continue through the summer too, with a 74% increase in engagement with data-driven content year over year. Outside of learning about how certain businesses were handling the change in environment, customers were eager to learn more about information that was personalized to them. In fact, 75% of consumers report that they completely ignore emails that lack any sort of relevance. They want 1:1 marketing that actually provides some tangible value to them, based on their preferences and behaviors.

Some Changes Are Here to Stay for the Holidays

New shopping habits and increased engagement aren’t the only changes we’ve seen in the world of email in 2020 that we expect to stick around for the holidays. With so many social and environmental issues coming to a head, and “cancel culture” becoming a popular practice, this isn’t a time for businesses to shy away from where they stand or ignore the societal changes happening.

Inclusive and Socially Distant Images

The Black Lives Matter movement called for an increase in diversity everywhere, including email marketing. Because of COVID-19 and social distancing guidelines, companies now have to make sure their emails don’t feature large groups of people, and often opt for more outdoorsy settings. With experts and officials pushing more people to cancel vacations, work remotely, and stay home as much as possible, we saw more images—and products—with a “do-it-yourself” type of lens.

Empathetic, Human Language

The way an email looks hasn’t been the only thing that the social movements and pandemic have influenced. The way businesses connect and communicate with customers has also seen a shift this year. It’s been less about hard sells for a lot of companies and more about the idea that “we’re all in this together.” How many emails have you received this year that weren’t trying to sell you anything, but rather just establishing a brand’s stance on a certain social issue? Local and small businesses have also been more upfront about needing help and support from their communities, and consumers have been more vocal about wanting to give that support.

The Need For Relevant Marketing

As more businesses innovate and adapt their services to this new socially distant and socially conscious world, consumers’ inboxes will be crowded as ever this holiday season—which means you need to understand your customers on a personalized level to stay relevant and break through the noise. That’s where Smart Content™ comes into play. ERGO captures customer preferences right from the inbox and develops signals, so you know your customers as actual people, can appeal to their values, state of mind, and drive brand loyalty over time.

An Inclusive, Understanding Holiday Season

According to research, 83% of Gen Z consumers are more likely to purchase from a brand they have an emotional connection to, while older generations prefer more straightforward promotional advertising.1 Some may be cutting back this year due to the pandemic, while others may be really leaning into the holidays as a much-needed way to treat themselves.

Recognizing these differences, and treating your customers like individuals instead of simply sending the usual one-size-fits-all email, will be the key to connecting to your audience this holiday season. That kind of hyper-personalization is exactly what ERGO can help with, both during the holidays and beyond.

Discover how you can make your holiday marketing matter >

1 2020 E-Commerce Holiday Shopping Trends
2 Mailchimp’s COVID‑19 Email Marketing Trends
3 Email Marketing Benchmarks: COVID-19 Edition