by Laura Starita
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Avoid Surprises This Back to School and Holiday Season — Know What Motivates Your Customer

Back to school marketing campaigns hero

Marketers have their go-to strategies to drive conversions during the major calendar moments when business surges. For example, end-of-year campaigns historically out-perfom when they leverage intense, attention grabbing language and formats. Retailers, travel, and entertainment companies, and financial firms have learned to embrace these emphatic approaches to elevate their business above the noise for customers.

But what happens if a holiday season bucks the trend? There’s so much riding on calendar-based campaigns, no business can afford to simply rely on what worked in the past to dictate their strategy for the present. And if that is what your business did during the end-of-year shopping season in 2021, you might have been disappointed, according to data from the Persado 2022 Customer Motivation Report.

Happy (or unhappy) campaign surprises

In the last month of 2021, Persado data showed a flip in the performance ranks compared to what we saw in 2019 and 2020. Instead of the most successful retail campaigns using emotion-driven motivation language focused on Achievement and Attention, those dropped to the bottom as positive emotion-driven language oriented around Luck, Gratification, and Encouragement soared to the top.

After two years of pandemic shopping, it’s possible retail shoppers simply wanted a little light. At the same time, they were also well aware of the supply chain woes driving stockouts and delays, which may be why Regret messages like “Don’t miss this sale” did better than usual (customers don’t usually respond well to being told what to do).

Surprises like this are not unheard of in marketing. Consumer sentiment can change very quickly in response to external conditions like social or political events or economic conditions. We all know that – and yet we are rarely in a position as marketers to adjust quickly enough to respond to it. Most of the time, campaigns for moments like Mother’s Day, Back to School, or the retail holiday season are crafted, approved, and locked down weeks or months before the event itself. 

Was that you? Well, you weren’t alone.

Best practices work best…except when they don’t

It’s not only calendar campaigns that can catch marketers off guard. Certain industries can also see changes in the language their customers engage with during certain market conditions.

Take financial institutions: they often succeed when they speak the language of Achievement and Gratification to customers looking to borrow, save, or invest. But that changed in 2020, when pandemic-driven shutdowns forced some out of work. Financial institutions responded by mixing in more messages that emphasized on-time payments and reminders about ways to check account status. In this context, language focused on Attention and Regret (usually a low performer for the financial sector) motivated customer engagement.

A more stable 2021 saw a partial return to more positive messaging, though Urgency messages continued to unexpectedly outperform. What does this tell us? The takeaway is that marketing insights and best practices are a strong foundation on which to develop messaging strategies. But for optimum performance, marketers need a way to get the pulse of the market, experiment with different approaches, and adapt based on what they find customers engaging with in the moment.

To learn more about the language trends of the past few years, explore the 2022 Customer Motivation Report and our corresponding eBook.