Post-COVID, Brands Must Grow with Their Customers

man with mask

As we enter the home stretch of this unrelenting and remarkably resilient year known as 2020, marketers have had to employ a level of nimbleness arguably never before experienced in their careers. The saying, “The Customer is Always Right” has never been more true. With the COVID-19 crisis showing little sign of letting up, marketing has emerged as the nerve center of a brand’s pandemic response calling for a new level of flexibility to adapt to changes in customer behaviors.

Consumers are, and have been, responding to the crisis in a variety of ways. Some feel anxious and worried, fueling panic-buying of staples and hygiene products. At the other extreme, some consumers remain indifferent to the pandemic and are continuing their business as usual. Retailers and brands must understand how their own consumers are reacting, and develop truly customized and personalized marketing strategies for each. The days of one-size-fits-all marketing are over, though I’d argue they’ve been over for a while now. Today, it simply does not have a place.

When faced with sudden and profound changes, you need to be able to adapt your media strategy and advertising messages on the fly. Here are a few considerations for marketers while planning for a post-COVID-19 future.

Understand Your Evolving Audience
Understanding customer sentiment and how their behavior might have changed since the onset of the pandemic is invaluable information to digest. Are they price-driven, quality-driven, convenience-driven, brand loyalists? Do they shop in analog or digital, or both? What are your customer segments? What does it take to acquire them, and what steps can you take to maximize lifetime value? This is at least as important as how you target and acquire new customers, if not more so.

The challenge to motivate customers to visit a physical store to interact in-person is greater and perhaps more important than ever. For a brand to be successful, it must communicate its key qualities and benefits and let the brand personality shine through by creating seamless experiences for the consumer. Whether that manifests itself in new offerings such as increased flexibility around scheduling curb-side pickup or greeted incentive-driven buy online, pick up in-store (BOPIS) options, consumers are looking for ways to stay connected with their favorite retailers in today’s changing environment.

A Renewed Focus on Personalized Experiences
Integrated marketing has proven that brands are aware of the changing needs and behavior of consumers. Traditional brand models offer customers a generalized experience, but the keywords right now are “personalized” and “relevant” instead of a wholesome experience designed to cater to everyone. The underlying theme now is “tone”.

E-commerce will undoubtedly accelerate in 2021. Digital innovation is now a non-negotiable. “Digital-first”, “mobile-first” and “visual-first” are the new pillars for connected brands and marketing strategies. Salesforce reports, 88 percent of business customers and consumers expect companies to accelerate digital initiatives. This is an expectation now, no longer just an end of year prediction.

Online can be used to make a more compelling and useful consumer experience in a semi-lockdown state; to replicate a rich shopping experience online when the physical alternative remains a challenge. It can be used to fill in the missing pieces of an altered brick and mortar experience.

Cost Efficiency and Performance
During the pandemic, an astonishing 73% of advertisers held back on launching digital campaigns. Many marketers chose to take a “wait and see” approach.

But as consumer time spent on digital media skyrockets, and behavior changes to a more focused online purchasing model, brands can leverage cost-effective programmatic approaches, coupled with location-based insights to meet consumers where they are and when it matters most. In recent years, digital advertising has enabled brands to double their marketing ROI. If there was ever a time that brands need a fast ROI from their advertising spend, it’s during the uncertainty of the post-pandemic period. The opportunity is there if leveraged appropriately.

Establishing and Maintaining Brand Trust
The post-pandemic consumer will require a huge emphasis on trust. With the exception of health care providers, the vast majority of U.S. consumers lack trust in all major institutions. And according to the EY Future Consumer Index (FCI), that distrust extends into retail and consumer brands. In fact, only 21 percent of consumers reported trusting brands, and only 20 percent reported trusting retailers.

Retailers and brands that pivot to meet consumers where they are placing their trust and where they find value will be in the best position for post-pandemic success. Segmenting your customers based on their emotional responses to this crisis and how their behaviors and interests evolve will create more opportunities and lasting relations with key customers and prospects.

There’s a sincere hopefulness as we close out this year amid the uncertainty. Brands will need to plan ahead as best they can to establish and strengthen their relationships with their customers in real-time as their behaviors continue to evolve. At the end of the day, the customer is always right. We need to listen.

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