Consumers, businesses, and marketers are in uncharted territory. The coronavirus crisis has significantly changed the way people work, shop and live, and both brands and consumers are figuring out how to navigate the new normal.
For example, shoppers are spending less and browsing more. But, as they move to online channels, they’re also consuming more digital content as they look for productive and entertaining ways to spend their time. The brands that respond to these changing purchasing patterns with new strategies will gain a headstart on the road to recovery.
And there’s a silver lining: a unique opportunity to stock up on long-term customer loyalty.
By mapping out engagement strategies across channels and planning for a transformed retail landscape, your brand can better prepare to bounce back. Here are four key customer engagement strategies that can help brands prepare for the rebound.
Focus on customer relationships rather than selling
Consumer behaviors reflect the turbulence of the moment.
Due to economic uncertainty, consumers may be purchasing less, but don’t equate declining purchase frequency with a lack of customer loyalty. Just because customers are making fewer purchases doesn’t mean you should stop trying to engage them, especially as digital content consumption spikes.
Shoppers who aren’t contributing to topline revenue today could still deliver added lifetime value — with the right engagement.
Salesy language and a lack of empathy can damage fragile customer relationships anytime, but especially right now. Customers want to know they’re not alone and brands must speak to them in a way that feels authentic and compassionate. If your brand stays silent, you risk losing customers — and customer acquisition is an expensive and intensive endeavor. Instead, focus on relationships, empathy and consideration to maintain existing customers and provide a foundation to build on during the eventual rebound.
Encourage engagement through the right content
Automated marketing communications planned months ago are no longer relevant and likely don’t provide real value to customers.
Instead, engage customers with content that acknowledges it’s not just business as usual. This could mean simple messaging revisions that are contextually relevant to what’s happening in the world, or a complete overhaul of offerings that address each customer’s individual motivations during the crisis.
While not every message needs to detail your company’s response plan, generic marketing messages aren’t as relevant for consumers as those that reference a customer’s current experience like “shop these WFH-approved sale items.”
Customers have specific motivations and experiences during times of change, so messaging and offers need to be personalized and relevant in context.
For example, for a customer living in a city where a brand’s retail shops have closed, switching a blanket 20% off promotion from in store to online may address the current reality, but it doesn’t address customers’ unique motivations. In contrast, a 1:1 approach would identify that the customer is very engaged on social media and create an offer for online shopping that rewards her for sharing branded content on social media. Reaching customers on a 1:1 scale is the only real way to deliver contextually relevant and individually tailored experiences.
This requires your brand to process a large amount of data, extract customer insights and identify the optimal content for each customer — and the right time to serve it up to them.
Share messages across the correct channels
From the confines of quarantine, customers are using a plethora of online touchpoints to access content — from email to mobile to voice. In response, your brand must understand how each customer prefers to interact and meet them wherever they choose to engage.
The current crisis has likely accelerated many businesses’ plans to move to online channels, and brand loyalty programs need to become more flexible and tailored to support more digital engagement. Engaging consumers across all channels through personalized experiences that travel with them will be essential for maintaining customer loyalty as markets begin to rebound.
Prepare for the rebound with revenue
In the current economic landscape, it can be tempting to pump the brakes when it comes to marketing. Between uncertainty around messaging and cost concerns, pulling back can feel like the natural option. But while it’s important to make strategic decisions about marketing in a crisis, preparing for the eventual rebound should not translate to a halt in customer engagement and experience.
Your brand needs to maintain the pace of communications now to support and maintain customers through the pandemic. Continuous engagement forges stronger connections that customers will remember when markets turn around and normal purchasing behavior resumes.
Now is also not the time to pull the plug on strategic investments in customer experience and digital channels. Businesses that stop all marketing efforts will have customer retention issues to deal with down the road. It’s much harder to rebound from a marketing standstill, so laying the groundwork with customer engagement and loyalty now can prepare you to make the most of the rebound.
It’s certainly a challenging time for retail, but changes in customer purchasing behavior and reduced sales aren’t signals that it’s time to pull back customer engagement. If anything, they’re signs that it’s time to double down because killing customer engagement initiatives now significantly increases the risk of losing long-term customers your brand is counting on when we return to normal. By investing in relationships with existing customers and stocking up on loyalty now, you’ll be much better positioned to hit the ground running in the months to come.