The Covid-19 crisis has, without a doubt, changed the entire retail landscape, resulting in a shift in consumer behaviour. Brands have understandably had a lot of re-evaluating to do – about how they sell their products to consumers without the benefit of an in-store experience, how they remain relevant or how they communicate with customers in a way that’s human and empathetic to the current situation.
We’ve seen great resilience from some retail brands, for instance, offering dedicated “working from home” sections filled with comfy yet videocall-ready lounge wear.
Before the crisis, loyalty was a key issue to crack for brands – this is only heightened in the current climate. Building a strong customer engagement strategy is key for brands to weather the storm – and this relies on the winning combination of technology and humans to deliver personalised, timely and tactful customer communications.
Redefining the relationship
Retaining, and even expanding, customer bases is challenging for brands at the best of time. In this context, they have to reconsider the role marketing plays in redefining the relationship with customers and keeping them engaged throughout the crisis and beyond.
A huge part of this is being respectful with the tone brands use in their communications – for fear of appearing like they’re taking advantage of the crisis. With social media becoming the ‘courtroom’ and consumers, rightfully, the ‘judges’ that hold brands publicly accountable for what they say and do, it’s clear that brands cannot afford to get it wrong.
Right place, right time
Mass communication emails to irrelevant customer segments don’t work and it’s no longer good enough for brands to hope they do. Ignoring customers’ individual context, channel preference, or previous interactions with the brand is lazy and a recipe for disaster when looking to make meaningful engagements that have positive impact.
Braze recently released data for April which shows that 9 in 10 (94 per cent) new retail consumers in the UK came via the web. This trend of web-first consumers is consistent with what happened in March and is unsurprising, considering people were strictly confined to their homes at the start of the Covid-19 lockdown. The takeaway is that consumers are more responsive than usual to longer form communications right now, as opposed to more direct messaging channels like push. This trend is not surprising, given most of us are not on the move in lockdown, spend longer on laptops and desktops and have more time to read longer communications. This type of data is what that brands should be looking at to spot trends and adapt their communications strategy.
And to make this strategy a reality, an agile customer engagement platform, free from channel and data siloes, is what brands need if they want to jump on communication trends quickly and prepare for the next change. With restrictions easing in the UK, people will increasingly be on the move, which will result in an uptick in mobile usage. To stay relevant and engaging, it’s essential for brands to recognise such consumer behaviour trends and serve the right message, at the right time on the right channel.
It’s too risky for brands to place their bets on a single channel such as email or mobile communications and hope that there will be a good enough ROI. There will continue to be uncertainty in the near and long-term, but what's certain is that brands must prepare for all possibilities and be ready to adapt communications accordingly. Customers now are on myriads of devices that they like to use at specific times, so if brands want to engage with the now ‘always on’ consumer, they must be able to connect with individuals on their preferred channel.
But the right channel isn’t everything – brands need to look at the rest of the puzzle and this includes timely communications. It’s one of the most crucial aspects for brands to connect with customers in the moments that matter. Who could forget the 2013 “you can still dunk in the dark” Super Bowl ad from Oreo? The legendary ad was broadcast mid-game when the stadium lights suddenly went off, and it’s still regarded as the prime example of being creative at speed. Seven years later, this example isn’t as out of reach as some might think – with agile technology and teams in place it’s possible.
Creativity: the new edge
Sure, gathering consumer data and making sense of it through analysis is a must, but technology alone cannot be the panacea for brands to be relevant and engaging. Human consumers want human communications. Brands must understand that to be communications winners, their messages must be devised with creativity, personalisation and empathy in mind.
The travel industry, one of the worst hit industries in the crisis, has interestingly produced an excellent example of how to use data to engage with customers appropriately. The go to flight search engine and online travel agency Skyscanner managed to rise above its competitors and the general industry during one of the most uncertain times it has ever faced.
How? It conducted a survey analysing what customers thought of travelling during the lockdown and adapted its customer engagement strategy based on the data. Its goal was to reassure their customers that they were here for them by providing hope as well as information around lockdown anxiety. And it did just that – with customer interest for late 2020 flights peaking after the campaign launched.
We’ve never experienced a crisis like the one we are living through. What’s clear is that, for the retail industry, there are ways for brands to stay relevant and weather the storm, while respecting customers at this challenging time. When it comes to customer communications being human, timely and relevant is important always, but especially in this moment. This is only possible with agile marketing platforms that are built with the customer in mind. Brands that are combining man and this tech will undoubtedly come out of this stronger and will be able to face any challenge ahead.
James Manderson, GM, Braze EMEA