The mass-disruptive impact of Covid-19 has long-term implications for how brands should adapt to meet their customers’ needs.
Of course, no brand should ever take its customers for granted, but generally, successful brands will find ways of staying aware of what their customers are looking for.
But the pandemic is bringing changes of a magnitude that many brands would not normally anticipate.
And what we first saw as temporary shifts in behaviour look to have long-term consequences.
For example, a recent BCO (the British Council for Offices) survey indicates that working patterns will change permanently as a result of Covid-19. The five-day week at the office will become a thing of the past.
How should brands tune-in the their post-Covid customers, to ensure they position themselves correctly?
How Pressures Change Customer Behaviour
Changes in how we work and live put enormous pressure on brands, as what is going on the hospitality sector shows, but brands should never lose sight of the pressures their customers are experiencing.
Any strong brand should have a clear understanding of its customers’ concerns, but what has happened to these concerns during Covid-19?
Covid-19 has changes people’ buying habits. With everyday routines first interrupted, then supplanted altogether, brands cannot take people’s lifestyle choices for granted.
Yes, there have been bursts of activity suggesting that people want what they’ve become used to wanting, but the shifting status of the pandemic has then disrupted these patterns further.
Take holidays, for example. On the one hand, for some consumers they appear to be so sacrosanct they will book to travel abroad regardless of the circumstances. But then suddenly there is a tightening of quarantine, and the whole holiday experience gets a lot more stressful, almost instantaneously.
What will be the long-term impact of this uncertainty? Will the anxieties and pressure customers face ultimately determine their actions, more than their wants?
And again, look at the steep decline of the daily commute, and the impact on those industries that depend on it to thrive, selling customers things like breakfast goods and lunchtime snacks and sandwiches.
There is real, acute economic pressure here on brands. But these pressures are derived from the issues that customers themselves face.
Brands must respond to these shifts in behaviour by being empathic to the customers’ issues, worries and needs. This can mean a change in messaging, but it may also require a fundamental shift in brand positioning.
Tuning Your Brand to the Customer Experience
How customers interact with brands can take on a whole new level of importance when these customers lives and livelihoods are facing upheaval.
These interactions may have a lingering effect on loyalty and trust.
Putting the customer experience first mean attuning brand activities and messages to what the new normal means for customers.
There are various ways in which brands can tailor their responses.
- They can attempt to meet customers on the terms that matter most to them in the given circumstances. For example, ensuring effective home deliveries and digital communication channels. Prioritising contactless payments and making customers feel comfortable if they are coming on-site to visit a brand’s place of business.
- Brands can focus on integrating with, and providing support to, local communities, emphasising employee wellbeing, crafting messages that are about support rather than marketing.
- They should ensure their capabilities are nimble and adaptable for constantly changing conditions. This involves things like flexible working practices, and gaining grassroots insights from customers via channels such as social media.
- Finally, brands must also keep an eye on the bigger picture and what a post-Covid landscape will look like for them. Will this require migrating customers to digital channels, or changing their fundamental product or service offering?
Making these changes requires managing the customer experience with a forensic level of detail and analysis:
- What is the process by which people buy from you?
- How do you interact with your customers?
- What works and what doesn’t?
- How easily and rapidly can you change your approach?
The one thing brands cannot assume is that the old rules still apply.
How Have Customer Expectations Changed?
Crisis makes people more reflective and therefore more aware of their own personal values and priorities.
This feeds into their expectations as customers. But these can be very mixed when it comes to brands.
Customers may be more forgiving of delays due to disruptions to infrastructure, for instance. But at the same time, they will be looking to gain the best, most efficient outcome for themselves, to preserve what they have.
Brands need to stress how they put customers first, therefore, and to back up their claims with demonstrable, measurable results.
More brands are waking up to this value-led environment, where care for customers, and communities, is becoming an integral part of marketing messages – to the extent that some of these messages may not look like marketing at all.
Back to Basics: Brand Values and Purpose
Adapting to change, and to continuous change, may not be enough, if it is largely reactive.
The main challenge in a post-Covid situation is getting to the bottom of what exactly has changed, and how much it has changed.
The experience of the pandemic is transforming customer opinions as well as user experiences. What brands may need to do before they fine-tune their activities and communications is reset the dial more fundamentally.
This means going back to basics.
What is your brand purpose and how does this shape your brand values?
If your current business model is built on customer behaviours that are changing, or have already shifted dramatically, then making minor adjustments might be a case of too little, too late.
But revisiting and redefining your brand purpose can bring a fresh perspective, and provide better insights into how your business might evolve and adapt in response to these big changes.
To come back stronger, you must first recognise and accept your vulnerabilities. This is also important for how you empathise with your customers. Just as your brand may feel exposed to greater risk, so your customers are facing near-constant uncertainty.
You need to combine this empathy with a sense of resilience and fortitude that you can transmit to your customers, to build their trust and confidence in you.
Begin the process of rethinking what the world looks like, for your customers and for you. This is how you can tune-in to the post-Covid customer.
A Partisan Approach
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