Brands that get creative with messaging can not only uplift customers with great content. They can also get them set on new paths that could even change behaviors over the long term.

Monica Deretich, advisor to Sailthru

After months of shelter-in-place directives, every state is now under some phase of re-opening. Many people are starting to set their sights on the “next normal,” which means summer. Of course, summer looks different this year, but it’s still something to enjoy. While everyone is working hard to stay safe and get the economy back in shape at the same time, that won’t stop people from shifting their thoughts as the weather heats up.

For retailers, there are still many hurdles to overcome. Nevertheless, to connect to consumers, it’s important to keep those good feelings of summer going while also communicating the more realistic elements of the pandemic and the tight economy. There will be big changes. Instead of big summer concerts and cruises, people will likely think about home manicures and hikes, which consumers can celebrate in their own right. The messaging balancing act doesn’t have to be unnatural, because we’re all going into this crazy summer together, and that’s what will drive the most successful campaigns.

Safe fun in the summer sun

Summer brings a shift in the consumer mindset. The initial phase of the pandemic is over, and people are going to be looking for creative ways to enjoy the season. Brands that get creative with messaging can not only uplift customers with great content. They can also get them set on new paths that could even change behaviors over the long term. A study from Mitto shows that 41% of consumers are now ready to hear from brands about topics unrelated to the pandemic. Asos UK was excited to announce that summer is coming and noted that “summer is just a mindset anyway, right?”

New brand campaigns are sensitive to the times but are starting to nod gently to relatable summer thoughts. Lululemon promotes shorts with copy like “Sun’s out” and “Give your legs what they want.” Not only does it hint at the change in weather, but many are also likely planning outdoor activities, and the retailer becomes relevant to those plans.

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People who might not be ready to run outside just yet, Free People’s recent campaign focused on educating their customers about how to buy perfume online, fun food recipes and DIY fashion. These happy diversions don’t take away from the gravity of the situation; rather, they give people a little break and allow them to think about treating themselves in a realistic way. They’ve even embraced the fact that retail store locations are closed with a “no dressing room needed” free shipping and returns message.

And, of course, the customer is still going to want a deal. They will likely expect big holiday anchored events to remain as well as additional promotions due to this unique year. Retailers need a balance for the rest of the year. This summer, they should focus on targeted promotions based on customer behavior. This way, retailers can save money for impactful holiday season promotions later on. It can be very easy to lose steam by continuing a heavy promotional execution now through November. Let the fun of summer carry messaging for a while before relying on deals to drive traffic.

Party of one

Getting the job done right will require a lot of creative work from home on the part of retail marketers. There were immediate limitations to summer content for ads and ecommerce when stay-at-home orders emerged. Rather than fitting models with new fashions or having stylists on-site for a product shoot, many functions within the organization have to be done alone from home. While the old standards are not going to work, there no doubt hundreds of marketing, merchandising and creative teams holding Zoom meetings about how to improvise. Improvisations could include turning to user-generated content (UGC), content from the employees themselves and photo shoots with mannequins.

Sure enough, the retailers who have an existing network of influencers were among the first to embrace imagery taken by the influencers and used for the entire campaign. Revolve was early to use influencer and UGC imagery starting back in March. They used mostly at-home gifs to promote their #REVOLVEaroundthehouse Tik Tok campaign. For many brands, this requires bending, ignoring a lot of the style guidelines such as crop, pose and lighting, to name a few. This, in turn, resulted in authentic and relatable imagery.

The “UGC bandwagon” can start to feel like noise if the content isn’t differentiated. Oreo did a great job of encouraging people to shoot their own videos with an Oreo challenge, which they quickly assembled into a commercial. Labatt beer had to ditch all of their summertime creative that featured people partying and had their own team reshoot funny at-home summertime activities that were uplifting and realistic at the same time. Retailers can do the same.

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Of course, no brand wants to find themselves in the middle of a PR crisis by promoting unsafe summer fun. For many people, it’s still scary and there are lots of unknowns. However, a recent study from Magid shows that many people, especially younger generations, are ready for funny and fun content. Now is the time to find a balance of positive tone with the safety that still needs to guide summer activities for all of us.

Sailthru provides a marketing automation platform for retailers and brands.

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