The past two years have presented marketers with unprecedented challenges. Some saw their organizations bear the brunt of the shutdowns while others went overboard. And whether the business was up or down, everyone had to rethink engagement. This shift was underway even before the pandemic – in large part due to increased digitization – but the scale has moved dramatically in just 18 months. In fact, the US IBM Retail Index predicts that the pandemic has accelerated the shift to e-commerce for five years.
With so much fluid around, it’s not easy to define marketing strategies, tactics, and messages. The rules of engagement have changed and continue to do so. Even if future standards remain in focus, we believe it is useful to focus on five areas that define how – and how – we engage with customers, employees and other constituents.
1. Keep Emphasizing Digital Access
Even before the pandemic, 87% of all consumers started searching for their products online.
Digital marketing is now the dominant way, if not the only way, to reach customers. And since technology is evolving so rapidly, you will need to constantly update your tactics as the drive toward e-commerce continues. According to the Adobe Digital Economy Index, online consumer spending in the first two months of 2021 increased 34% compared to the same period in 2020.
The time to look at the screen is over, whether it’s via email, text messages, social media, or video. One study found that adults in the US spend nearly eight hours a day using digital channels, a 15% increase from 2019 – a growth that will be maintained through this year. In Salesforce’s State of the Connected Customer Report, 57% of consumers said they changed the way they interact with businesses during 2020. Two-thirds said COVID-19 raised their expectations for businesses’ digital capabilities.
Leverage your digital presence across channels to develop marketing tactics that create a deeper connection. For example, if you have a mobile app that makes contactless ordering and receiving fun, feature it in an email campaign. If you have helpful videos that let people do DIY around their homes, emphasize how your clients can get professional help while following the stay-at-home guidelines. Through your marketing messages, help your customers understand how you can help them reach the products and services they love without sacrificing their safety and those around them.
Related article: How to engage customers in times of uncertainty
2. Be bold in your pursuit of excellence
The foodservice industry was one of the first to feel the impact of the pandemic, and it was devastated. Organizations had to be creative because their livelihoods depended on it. One organization that saw an immediate drop in business when restaurants closed is George Forkas, a producer supplier to some of Chicago’s upscale restaurants. The company quickly turned to creating GFP Chicago, which provides weekly home delivery of boxes of produce, now across the Midwest. Similarly, Panera launched Panera Grocery, enabling customers to purchase high-demand grocery items such as bread, produce and milk – along with soups and sandwiches. In addition, many restaurants joined the Goldbelly e-commerce platform in 2020. In return, the platform introduced an interactive virtual cooking series called Goldbelly LIVE! Along with other experiences for consumers to interact with their favorite restaurants and chefs.
There are many other examples of creativity. For example, in an effort to help parents who have kids at home full-time, Time for Kids gave everyone free access to its 2020 digital editions. In addition, Amazon Prime provided kids with free video content.
Indeed, innovation in products and services is essential. But also innovation in marketing. In Salesforce’s State of Marketing 2020 report, marketers cited “innovation” as their top priority. Eighty percent of those surveyed use email marketing, but high performers are 1.8 times less likely to use email marketing the same way they did a year ago.
If you’ve launched a new service, consider a new product launch campaign – bonus points for striking the right chord like “We make our resources available to you so you are not left without the essentials in these times”. If you encounter something in your business that makes you stand out, think of ways to highlight it in your marketing communications.
3. Humanize your brand
In marketing, relevance has always been key, but its association with the “do good” theme is becoming increasingly important at a time with a growing sense of caring for one another. In the case of the Connected Customer in Salesforce, 68% of customers expect brands to show empathy. Think about auto insurance providers that offer discounts or discounts because members don’t drive that much. or OpenTable featuring local restaurants or “food tours” to encourage local economies and a sense of community. One of the brands that got it right early on was Adidas and the hashtag #HomeTeam.
Look for complementary marketing tactics that combine your brand identity with some empathetic elements such as giving back, helping the local economy, emphasizing the importance of staying home, or helping people through the effects of quarantine.
Related Article: Pandemic or not, you need empathy-driven customer experiences
4. Be careful when crafting your messages
The eighteen months of increased spread of the emerging coronavirus (Covid-19) were not necessarily just direct effects of the virus itself. Other important themes mixed throughout this period, including racial justice, the climate crisis and political division. Individually, each of these factors requires care in messages. Collectively, they increase the challenge of saying “the right thing”.
Extra care is required to ensure that the messages are not deaf. While you need to sell your product or service, you also need to communicate with your character in a cautious/wary tone. Reassure the audience that life will settle more to a “normal” situation, but also describe how you are with them until that happens. Messages should go from “This is why you need to buy” to “We’re here for you whenever and wherever you want us.” Examples include sharing ‘a little bit of good news’ or giving ‘permission to disconnect’. Stay away from fear, uncertainty and doubt.
More than ever, it is crucial to test messages, making sure they resonate before they are delivered at scale.
5. Multiply emerging channels
One of the most significant developments has been the rapid adoption of video sharing. Vonage reports that video has seen four years of growth in just seven months. There are plenty of examples: the emergence of telemedicine is common. Lowe’s has also launched a video chat tool that provides professionals with virtual consultations guided by augmented reality and computer vision technology.
While digital access is more important than ever, this shift also highlights the imperative to design and deliver a consistent and seamless experience across channels. Increasingly, customers will interact through multiple digital channels and physical channels. For example, an Adobe study found that combining online grocery shopping with in-store or curbside pickup remains popular with consumers.
Marketing across multiple channels is more pressing than ever. Evaluate other channels against your existing marketing channels that make sense to expand and multiply. Confirm anything remotely services/offers.
Marketing strategy and tactics should continue to be the same in many ways that have long been considered best practice – relevant, personalized, and timely. But they also need to be different in a few ways in the current climate – innovative, empathetic, and accessible. And remember, the moment you think you’re going down, the next change will happen. So be prepared to reassess and rethink again!
Amy Fletcher is a Senior Principal at West Monroe Partners and the company’s customer experience practice leader in Seattle. She has more than 20 years of global experience in management and technology consulting in various industries.