Few Americans are Looking Forward to the Holidays. What Can Brands do to Help?

It’s been a hell of a year.  Natural and manmade disasters, terrorism, political upheaval and social unrest at home.  We’ve been taxed emotionally, socially, environmentally and spiritually.  Thank goodness for the holidays, right?  Most reports point to greater holiday spending this season, with some predicting a 4% uptick driven in large measure by people feeling more stability and certainty in their own situations.  This happy holiday news for retailers must mean that people are feeling a lot more holiday season enthusiasm, right?

Well, not so much.  In a recent survey by Shapiro+Raj, it turns out that 70 percent of Americans aren’t really looking forward to the holidays. The reasons are the usual suspects…stretched budgets, debt worries, shopping stress, obligations.  So, if the friction points aren’t new then why the greater sense of “meh?”

As with most things, context matters.  The country itself is in a state of friction.  In fact, close to 80 percent of people are not happy with it and 53 percent of people feel the US is getting worse, a group more apt to feel less than enthused about the holidays.  Put this macro-friction atop what is the standard holiday conflicts and now the annoying gets maddening.

There was a time when we could escape real-world tensions for at least a little while—movies, sports, and yes even the holidays.  But today it’s all intermingled, which chips away at our enthusiasm (just ask the NFL).  Add the firehose of 24/7 news, Facebook envy and Pinterest anxiety, and the pile on continues.  Black Friday is now on Thanksgiving Thursday, anachronistic in today’s tech age but also self-serving.  The inevitable video of a riot breaking out at some big department store over the “must-have” toy was oddly amusing but could now be seen as being more like the “Hunger Games” in this cultural context.

Brands always talk about taking friction out of the buying process, but this season one should consider the friction with which people may be coming into it.  Brands have a great opportunity to contribute to not just commerce but also comity.  Three simple ideas…

  • BUILD A SENSE OF COMMUNITY: At a time when we feel like we’re all going to our separate corners, create an experience that brings people together under a shared sense of values and purpose.
  • ADD A PERSONAL TOUCH: Chaos is often an excuse to be short and intemperate, so commit to small gestures that breed smiles and reminders that there is humanity at the heart of your brand.
  • SPEAK THEIR LANGUAGE: We need to better communicate with one another, so make it easy for people to ask for you on their terms via their Echo, Google or Siri technology.

How can your brand better understand the cultural context to forge deeper connections with consumers this holiday season?