Six months ago retail was in a panic state. Over and over we heard two huge questions from marketing leaders:

  • Is it ethical to talk about my product right now?
  • Should I have a sale?

If you’ve been on the internet or in a shopping mall since then, you’ll know that, almost universally, retailers determined it was indeed the right moment for a sale. 

Some, like Monday-favourite, Everlane, approached this thoughtfully through a personal, plain-text email acknowledging “we don’t do this very often.” They took the time to educate on the value of their products, instead of just slapping on a steep discount across the board. Others, like The Gap, seem to have been in a state of perpetual markdown since March—consistently devaluing the brand and training shoppers to never pay full price.

Likewise, we learned, customers still wanted to hear about your product: they wanted some normalcy while they waited out lockdown or tried to adapt summer plans to local, outdoor, socially distant activities. Some lucky brands even managed to thrive in this time. 

But as we step into the year’s biggest selling season, a new question emerges: How can retailers market through the 2020 holiday season while the world is still in a socially-distant holding pattern?

We think the answer is to do it with empathy. This means looking beyond your warehouse of backstock and even beyond your own brand story and considering how you can meet your audience where they’re at, right now.

Around Monday we’ve been calling this “selling generously.”

Here’s how it’s done:

1. Don’t make it about you

With many countries, cities and provinces again on the brink of a second lockdown, shameless excess and pure consumerism still feel in bad taste. Through the pandemic we’ve seen brands successfully navigate this by focusing on community before conversion.

That doesn’t mean you should stop selling. Instead, it means taking the focus off your own product and looking outward—help where you can, double down on excellent customer service, be a light in a tough time and don’t clutter your customers’ feeds with messages that don’t meet them where they’re at right now. Authentically embrace the spirit of generosity that we marketers love to talk about this time of year.

Some practical ways to do this? Find creative ways you can give back. Consumers have never been so committed to supporting brands that align with their values, and they notice when you put your money where your mouth is. 

Our pals at Tight Club have consistently been donating large portions of proceeds from their prime-time Saturday classes to the Vancouver Black Therapy and Advocacy Foundation.

And at the height of lockdown when every riding coach was out of work, our friends at Asmar Equestrian developed a new affiliate program so that instructors could supplement their income by promoting products to their students and community.

What could that look like for you? If you’re not in a position to sacrifice part of your margin, then it may simply come down to the spirit behind your offering: are you convincing or exploiting? Are you serving a genuine need or demand?

2. Make your campaigns relevant

This year, the holidays will look different for many of us. Due to travel restrictions, we may not be spending the holidays with our family or loved ones, elbow-to-elbow around a turkey. We certainly won’t have a big glitzy office party or cram into a chalet for bumpin’ apres-ski. 

Many classic holiday ads just won’t fit in the current landscape of social distancing. It’s time to rethink the way we depict holidays. Focus on people finding new ways to connect at a distance, on couples making new traditions of their own, or on creative ways to move our favourite holiday gatherings outdoors.

Be sensitive to economic realities: here in Canada the unemployment rate still lingers at a whopping 12% (and 8% in the US).

This isn’t the time to show mountains of gifts under the tree, it’s the time to show people using their imaginations to creatively connect and help others. 

3. Merchandise for the moment

It’s not just your campaigns—your merchandising also needs to address the lifestyle changes we’ve all made this year. The products that went gangbusters a year ago may not be relevant in the current landscape. How can your product line best serve that reality? 

Going back to our small intimate Christmas gatherings, our socially distant/outdoor parties and the new ways folks will need to connect this year—create a visual narrative through your merchandising that brings this to life and gives precedence to items that will enhance those small intimate gatherings. Think festive face masks (the new “ugly Christmas sweater”) and hand sani stocking stuffers, a high-end 2-piece sweatsuit, comfy dog-walking coats, down slippers, or the perfect running gloves that make winter fitness in the outdoors a little more bearable. 

Ask yourself: What story can we tell through our product line that will feel most relevant right now?

For many brands, this season is make or break. Your customers want you to thrive so you can be there on the other side of the holidays. They are rooting for you. Selling generously doesn’t mean being silent or giving it all away. It simply means starting with empathy for your customers and speaking to the needs they have right now. Done well, adopting a “selling generously” approach can solidify your relationship with them for the long term and ensure you emerge from the season and the pandemic with your brand, your value and your future potential intact. 

Want to hear more? On April 9 we hosted a virtual meet-up and shared our advice for selling generously in the midst of a pandemic. Watch the full recording here.