Online search data: the Christmas gift that keeps on giving

The analysis of search data around gift giving unwraps the nation’s mindset, ahead of an unusual Christmas.
09 December 2020
Adele Jolliffe

Head of Brand Domain Consultant Team, Insights Division, UK

Andy Nelson

Director, Mavens of London (a Kantar company)

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In a world of uncertainty one thing is for sure: the COVID-19 pandemic will not be over by Christmas. As with the weddings and birthdays that have preceded it in 2020, we shall all be looking to adapt: get ready for virtual congas at remote Christmas parties, and keep the spare Christmas crockery in the box. We’re going to need a smaller turkey.

Whatever else may change, the traditional giving of gifts is very likely to endure. Brits are big gift givers under normal circumstances, spending to the tune of £21bn collectively and upwards of £400 per person in 2019.

It’s not just about the numbers. The psychology of gifting has shown it to be deeply connected to our evolutionary selves: demonstrating altruism, breeding positivity and creating community and connection. Given the year we have had, we might hypothesise that the choices around gifting for Christmas 2020 will have shades of this deeper significance.

To explore this notion, we turned to the world’s biggest and most revealing source of expression of individual need: Google. If people’s wants and needs are changing, it can be hard to achieve the necessary depth or honesty by asking for rationalised answers to questions, and social media posts can be too curated to truly hit the spot. What people type into Google, however, provides a private, individual insight into people’s needs and desires. (After all, who do you first ask about that worrying tummy ache?). In this way, we can unwrap what’s on people’s minds as they consider their gift choices this year, and reveal something about how Christmas and indeed we as people have changed.

The first finding is that we were searching for all things Christmas earlier and in greater volumes than ever before: searches for anything regarding Christmas were up 12% in September 2020, compared to the previous three year’s’ average*. Is this a pragmatic desire to be more prepared? Perhaps. Is it a sign we want to bring forward the comfort and excitement of something to look forward to? Probably.

What we’re searching for reveals three small but significant insights about our mindset ahead of a Christmas like no other:

1. We’re more keen to treat and indulge those we love.

Searches for food and drink gifts are up 129% vs. this time last year and, within that, searches for luxury food and drink gifts are up 155%. The proportion of gift searches that are food and drink-related almost doubled. The trend towards experiences over things is long established, but restrictions on our movements make that harder. With luxury food and drink gifts, we can deliver memorable experiences for each other in the home.   

2. We might be looking to splash out rather than cut back this year.

It is clear that, as, a nation, we are looking for luxury and high-value treats. Our budget minded concerns are far less prevalent than we might expect: related searches are up just 6% compared to last year and under-indexing vs. the growth in other areas. Fears about forthcoming downturns and crisis do not appear to have dampened enthusiasm for our annual end-of-year splurge.

3. We’re doubling down on giving back.

The COVID-19 pandemic continues to exacerbate the stark economic contrasts in society, and acts of solidarity continue to gain momentum: from the response to Marcus Rashford’s food poverty campaign, to some of the UK’s biggest brands linking seasonal customer spend with charitable donations. Gifting is no exception: searches for charitable gifts are up by 47% against a backdrop of annual growth of 7%. People have been more aware of supporting their communities with increasing interest in shopping local. Now, at Christmas, it seems we’re exploring how we can do good with gifting.

The value of search data goes beyond Christmas

With the right approach and intelligence, search data can be an integral part of a brand management toolkit, because it’s an accessible and agile way to reveal changing needs. BrandZ analysis has consistently shown that brands who stay ahead and adapt to changing needs with relevant innovations are considered more different by consumers, and this has a real implication: Saïd Business School found that a brand being perceived as “different” was the biggest contributor to outperforming norms in shareholder returns.

Connecting to consumer needs relies on understanding what your audience are concerned about as well as how you can help them. Unprompted, immediate, scalable sources of this information (like search data) enable your brand to connect with your audience at the right time with the right answer.

Achieving strong levels of salience (or mental availability) comes from growing your brand’s associations with category entry points. Search can help identify what those are and whether they are changing. If COVID has changed the needs and desires of consumers around Christmas, what has changed in your category? What opportunities for 2021 are you missing as a result? We are incorporating search data into our most innovative brand guidance programmes to help our clients answer these questions. Knowing your consumers’ needs and seeing who amongst your competitors is answering them, will help you stay one step ahead.

If you want to know more about how search can supercharge decisions around your brand, get in touch.

*Source: 2.5 million individual Google UK searches across 5348 keyword terms, Oct 2017 to Sept 2020

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