The global pandemic, resulting in strict measures/advice from various governments to slow the spread of the virus, presents a multitude of challenges to marketers. On the one hand, industries such as food, retail, FMCG (fast-moving consumer products) and media (Netflix, etc.) are working overtime to keep us positive and engaged, whilst other industries such as hospitality and travel are experiencing unprecedented declines.
Although economic confidence is shrinking, we believe through the adoption of key strategies brands and marketers can not only navigate these difficult times but also come out with improved customer experience that will serve well in the long run.
The following are examples of how brands are effectively connecting with their customers. Before considering any of these strategies, it is important for marketers to consider how their approaches align with their brand image. Brands will not pass the sniff test with consumers if they are not authentic. Furthermore, appearing to capitalize on a situation such as this will do more harm than doing nothing. It is vital to think with a customer-centric mindset.
- Customer Empathy – Brands that appear to capitalize on a difficult situation are likely to lose customers for a long time. Communications that show empathy with the customer and are more personalized to their situation can improve a brand’s image. For example, many food delivery services are offering no-contact delivery and are waiving delivery charges in response to UK governments’ advice on restaurants and pubs. Similarly, retailers are offering advice on how to make products last longer as well as offering dedicated shopping hours for elderly and health service customers. And in travel, we are seeing brands such as Hilton using their loyalty programs to show empathy by freezing lapse windows to give customers more time to use their rewards.
Understanding your customers’ concerns and taking action to address those concerns provides comfort as everyone adjusts to a new way of life. Brands are likely to build long-term loyalty by being empathetic.
- Assurance of Business Continuity – Amidst the panic and disrupted routines, individuals are looking for assurance. Communication assuring continuity of services from the brand will provide clarity and comfort to customers. Grab4, an everyday app which provides food and goods delivery services communicated its continuity of business and provided assurance to its customers. Knowing that they still had access to everyday needs alleviates potential overbuying and relieves stress.
- Standing by company value and mission – Consumers are watching what their favorite brands are up to during this situation. This is another opportunity to show what a brand stands for in terms of Mission and CSR. For example, Starbucks China implemented measures to ensure its partners, suppliers and staffs are supported through this situation.
Similarly, one of Grab’s email strategy was to focus on supporting local stores for food delivery during this tough time where walk-ins and dining in is prohibited.
With a tag line of “Just Do It”, Nike is an aspirational brand with customers who consider themselves doers and pride themselves on strength. The company appealed to this group’s desire to do their part and pointing to the ability of reaching millions on social, encouraged individuals to play inside. The post was reshared by professional athlete greats like USNWT soccer player Carlie Lloyd (@carlielloyd) and NBA player LeBron James (@kingjames). It has also triggered followers to share how they are #playinside and #playfortheworld.
- Opportunity to Implement and Improve Digital – The term “digital transformation” has been a “This Year’s Top Trend” for several years, but with the flip of a switch nearly all aspects of global life has gone digital. A recently conducted Ipsos survey indicates a trend in consumers shifting from to store to digital channels. For many traditional B2C companies who have been lagging behind niche online players, this presents an opportunity to make much needed changes to digital channels. With consumers staying indoors, there is a dramatic shift in how they are interacting with brands and an effective digital presence and improved customer experience can set up a brand for long term success.
- Lifestyle and Virtual – With the prospect of staying indoors for longer than normal, customers are increasing looking at ways to stay fit and healthy while remaining indoors. Google search trends for UK show a significant interest in home fitness equipment. For example, “Reebok g50 review” and “reebok g60 exercise bike” have seen +450% and +250% increase in searches. Similarly, searches like “Dumbell sets” and “Renting spin bike” are achieving breakout results. A key eClerx client in the sport apparel industry has experienced a significant YOY rise in “home fitness”-related searches on its website. Listening to customers through rigorous monitoring of search terms both onsite and organic can help aid short term marketing strategies and improve performance.For brands that already have significant digital services, it is important to create awareness and education for consumers can tap into during the lockdown. Especially in banking, there is a demographic of consumers who are accustomed to walk-into branches but now must adapt to online banking. For example, Citi bank has taken steps to create awareness of how to use Citibank online using Web or Mobile apps.
- Promotions, Discounting, Incentives – It can be very tempting to turn on the discounting taps to arrest a potential decline in revenue. However, if not done properly, it can create a negative brand image and impact customer sentiment like in the case below.
Several travel brands are looking at incentives versus discounts to keep customers and stem the loss of revenue. For travelers with booked travel, airlines and cruise lines are offering incentives of 110-125% of value for travelers who accept credits versus request a refund. This is an excellent strategy of giving something to the customer and encouraging long-term loyalty.
- Cybersecurity – The COVID-19 panic and chaos are being misused by hackers to install ransomware on devices as a fast growing technique. According to Zscaler, a security firm, two major categories of attacks are using the words “coronavirus” or “COVID-19” to attract targets in high numbers. In March, the company has seen nearly 20,000 unique incidents of phishing attacks. It is very important to keep a focus on the cybersecurity when the team would be lean and hackers would get an upper hand.
- Leveraging Technology – When all indicators point to record levels of unemployment, automation is the last thing employees want to consider. When call centers were down, Virgin Media sent an email to customers to call only when necessary, and encouraged them to use the help and chat features on its website. However, leveraging technology can reduce costs thereby saving jobs and improve customer satisfaction and increasing revenue. For example, deploying intelligent automation within the customer service organization to address order status inquiries leads to faster response times, more relevant answers for customers leading to higher customer satisfaction and greater lifetime value. Again, customers are facing uncertainty, and while it may seem trivial, by knowing when an online order will be processed and received gives them a sense of control.During this time of uncertainty, change in status quo and ever-increasing restrictions, it is important for brands to stay calm, consider their strengths, and to think about what is available to them. There are so many clichés along the lines of “what makes us stronger”, and it’s likely that this temporary situation will lead to a permanent shift in customer behavior. Remaining empathetic, authentic, and adopting a customer-centric mindset is the need of the hour and will likely lead to long-term success.