It is widely accepted that the COVID crisis has forced as much change in 10 weeks as was predicted to take place in 10 years, and for businesses around the world this has prompted some major pivoting. Agile, forward thinking companies have been the big winners as business models have been turned on their heads. These brands will continue to reap the rewards of their fast reactions to major changes in consumer behavior, while those that failed to embrace digital transformation will be left stranded, many fatally.
While the effects of lockdown have been felt far and wide, the narrative is now shifting to recovery and businesses are gearing-up to manage the next phase of what is now accepted as the new normal. Stories of successes are already starting to emerge from the carnage wrought by COVID-19, proving that with any change comes opportunity.
So what do consumer-facing businesses need to do today to benefit from this new world tomorrow?
Do not underestimate the power of brand loyalty
The basic and fundamental foundations of marketing remain: those who have a great product or service at a great price will come out on top. However, the key differentiator will be in the battleground of brand loyalty.
Many companies have the demand but are struggling to get their product to their customers. To that end we’re seeing some great innovation around distribution, delivery options and times, next day delivery and so on. Offering as many options for people to choose from at their convenience will endear you to your customers and drive repeat business.
By partnering with businesses who can get your product to customers efficiently and reliably you will also improve customer loyalty and drive repeat purchase.
Several smaller businesses seem to be leading the charge in showing how it is possible to marry innovation and disruption together in a really powerful way, being proactive and adaptable, while large organisations struggle to effect change quickly.
View your business in totality
2020 will always be a pivotal year for businesses and people alike, and in many cases has served to clarify in the mind of the consumer what is important to them.
Individuals feel empowered to effect change and while they will support any brand that reflects their ideals in an authentic and genuine way, they will just as quickly reject those that are not quick to adapt. People are becoming ever more conscious of what they stand for, and what they will tolerate, in everything from implied racial discrimination to sloppy attitudes to sustainability. It is important now to stand up for what you believe and do something about it rather than just talking about it.
Be aware that customers who are passionate about a cause will scrutinise everything about a brand now - and rightly so. Business leaders must consider what their brand stands for, where it comes from, what the packaging is made of, how they treat their employees, whether they have women on the board, if they use slave labour, and so on.
Brands have to have sustainable development goals - not just because it’s the right thing to do but because customers are looking for that level of commitment now.
However it remains crucial that companies keep authenticity at their core. We have seen some wonderful gestures from big and small brands alike during the COVID crisis, be it from those who have switched their manufacturing process to create hand sanitizer, or those who have committed to feeding the front line workers. These acts of kindness will live on in the memories of consumers for years to come and ultimately pay dividends for any brand who has authenticity at its heart.
And amid the horrors of the pandemic we have witnessed an uprising against racism across the western world. Black Lives Matter has provided a desperately needed accelerator to the attitudes of businesses big and small when it comes to diversity and inclusion. Many businesses have publicly supported the BLM movement, and now is the time to turn intention into action.
The power lies in the hands of the community
A business that manages to build a community of loyal, happy customers who champion their service or offering will have half their job done for them. But that doesn’t mean brands can sit back and relax - maintaining a community that is on your side requires input and effort. Not only do brands need to keep talking authentically and transparently to their community, but they need to offer a higher level of service - whether that’s in Instagram Live sessions, more interactive posts or by simply being responsive on social media. The competition for attention and eye balls is fierce and brands need to give their customers a reason to remain loyal.
But just as important is the community that businesses create internally. Consumers are not just the people who are sold to, they are just as much the people who run the business. A company that is run by a strong, unified group of employees, who all subscribe passionately to the ideals of the business as a whole will be a more successful operation overall.
It is imperative that a CEO today works out how to bring all their people together and positively change their mindsets around how they now operate in a post-COVID world.
Creative is still key
In 2020 you cannot be a successful consumer brand if you don’t have a large and loyal following that is willing to champion your product or offering, if you don’t reflect the values of your customers in the way you run your business, and if you haven’t created an effective community of like-minded people who support what you are doing.
But you cannot rely on influential fans alone. The cornerstone of every marketing plan is a great creative, a campaign whose messaging is impactful, effective, has the right tone and speaks to the customer.
Engaging content that works on an emotional level will always cut through and be noticed and, if done right, will pay dividends.
A brand’s core message can stay the same, but if they can demonstrate empathy in a sensitive way and speak to the issues we are all facing, to a greater or lesser degree, they will endear your product or service to existing and new customers.
This past six months has changed us all in one way or another, and savvy businesses are adapting in response to that. People are unsure of the future, they are anxious about tomorrow, they are looking for nuggets of normality among the uncertainty.
Whether we're driving change internally or whether we're driving change in the wider world, let's talk to people not as customers but as humans. We must give our business personality and speak in that voice. Only then will we achieve authenticity, loyalty and long term success.
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By Jenny Stanley, MD, Appetite Creative