As lockdown continues to ease and businesses begin to return to a level of normality, we have seen an increase in clients asking us, “how and when do we restart (or for some, start!) communicating with our customers”. Reactivating consumer demand might not be straight forward.

Businesses often experience ups and downs, but it is safe to say the Coronavirus pandemic has brought with it a whole new level of uncertainty, requiring many companies to change and adapt their strategies and even business models.

Mixed in with the, often grim, daily updates on the virus’s impact, there have been examples of goodwill, sacrifice and optimism. The pandemic has seen many revaluate what is most important to them, with resulting winners and losers as consumers shift their behaviour. We have seen increased usage of digital channels and social media with the online shopping and gift industries especially benefitting, although not so much the events, entertainment and alcohol sectors.

Throughout the pandemic, we have spoken to, watched and tracked many companies. In identifying those who have ‘done it right’ during the worst of the pandemic and their subsequent communications and activity, we have identified four stages of reactivating demand that will be of benefit.

  1. Reassure – Consumers
  2. Reassess – Audience/ tribe. Context/ occasion.
  3. Reignite – Market Category, Engage/ inspire.
  4. Reconsider – New alliances, new partnerships.

Stage 1 Reassurance 

It was always evident that purchasing behaviour would be impacted. A lack of clarity in a very fast-moving situation has seen growing uncertainty, decision paralysis and many people staying in survival mode.

The critical takeaway is the importance of keeping customers and clients informed and reassured, and to do so with empathy and compassion. Companies which or that react with well-developed, clear digital strategies are more likely to be the winners.

Case Study: Hilton Clean Stay

Hilton Hotel reassured guests of hygiene and safety regulations by creating Hilton CleanStay.

  • They boosted cleaning procedures, to give travellers a piece of mind
  • Collaborated with Lysol, Dettol and the Mayo clinic to create a new set of guidelines
  • Developed digital communication strategies and transitions to contactless technology allowing guests to navigate their whole hotel experience though the comfort of their mobile phone

Key Question:

Have you reassured customers that you are continuing to trade and how you will be doing so in a way that is safe for them and your organisation and stakeholders?

Stage 2 Re-assess

It’s also time to take a fresh look at your consumer groups and segments. Review if and/or how they are changing due to the recent and ongoing impact of the pandemic. Individual priorities may have shifted along with habits and lifestyles. What once interested your consumer may no longer, as their needs are now different. In the United States, 75 percent of consumers have tried a new store, brand, or different way of shopping during the pandemic.

Whilst not everything has changed, you might want or need to adopt new ways of communicating with your target customers. It is important to evaluate if your existing communication and marketing channels are still working and getting the same visibility and cut-through? as before. Not only may your customers have re-assessed what services and products they can do with or without, but other brands and industries are also shifting where they communicate. These changes can result in your message losing its relevance or getting lost in increased noise.

Case Study: Seedlip

Alcohol consumption rose significantly in March as Brits cleared spirits shelves on supermarket aisles. In April 2020 Alcohol UK commissioned a survey with Opinium which recorded peoples drinking behaviours post lockdown. Out of the 2000 survey participants, around 25% have either stopped drinking or reduced how often they drink, since the lockdown.

Seedlip’s audience, context and occasion were therefore repositioned to suit a new wave of health-conscious and digitally obsessed consumers. Their consumer focus shifted from being a non-alcoholic alternative for pregnant women, designated drivers and the sober to a new tribe of stay-at-home guiltless tipplers. They assessed their consumers’ new healthy habits and created fun mocktail (including Seedlips’ ‘Nogroni’, a take on the Negroni). Classes were put out on their social media channel, IGTV, designed to be a “from home” activity to shake up lockdown evenings.

Key Questions:

Are my existing segments and personas still valid?

Have they changed completely, or do they need updating?

Are Do existing communication and marketing channels need adjusting still working?

Are they getting the same visibility and cut-through as before?

Stage 3 Reignite

If your company is one that consumers haven’t had front of mind for the past few months, now is the time to reignite their interest in your products or services.

Customer experience has become more important than ever as people are bombarded with COVID messages and sales announcements along with the prolonged hassle of social distancing and the difficulty of one-on-one contact. Now is the time to become a leading voice and inspire your audience. Look to re-engage your audience and create a customer experience that reignites the relationship with new and existing consumers. Delivering a complete digital customer experience is now integral to building loyalty.

Case Study: Bloom and Wild

Bloom and Wild, a letter box florist, known for their beautiful flowers, thoughtful marketing and ‘happiness guaranteed’ gifting experience.

  • Personal online florist service with great customer experience throughout the customer journey.
  • Reignited the relationship with new and existing consumers, becoming the leading online florist
  • Uplifting tone of voice spreading positivity at a time of difficulty.

Key Questions:

How can you reignite relationships with your customers?

How can you develop your customer experience?

Can your product or service become more digital or personal?

Are there activities you can do to stand out from the competition?

Stage 4 Reconsider 

The unexpected can grab consumer attention and drive interest and re-engagement in your business and products. Fitting within your values, find a way to show your customers they need you again.

During lockdown we have seen some big brands reconsider partnerships, business partners and distribution channels.

Previously resilient, independent organisations have now shifted to digital platforms and networks of mutually beneficial partnerships.

Casestudy: M&S and Deliveroo

The announcement of M&S’s partnership with Deliveroo was received with huge excitement. The partnership cut out the hassle of PPE, queuing, one-way systems and social distancing just to get a pint of milk for your morning cereal, all delivered in as fast as 30 minutes. At the same time, each organisation was able to tap into the other’s consumers and enter new markets and social segments that might have been hard to otherwise reach.

Key Question:

Are there mutually beneficial partnerships you could look to leverage with existing suppliers?

Summary

Now is the perfect time to review the four stages, identify where you are within the process of reconnecting with your customers and come up with a strategy to reconnect.

Whilst the above case studies are retail focussed. The points are still very relevant to both B2B organisations as well as SaaS, eCommerce and independent businesses. The key takeaways are:

1. Communicate with empathy and reassurance.

Deliver clear and reassuring signals about safety, hygiene, social responsibility, and value. Look to use automation to aid this, including email flows and scheduled touchpoints to support this.

2. Review your consumer segments and personas.

Have your customers habits and priorities changed? Re-assess how this may have impacted the need for your product or service and tailor messaging and communication accordingly.

3. Customer experience is paramount, especially online.

The increase of digital interaction through google, social media, and online shopping means there is more choice than ever and ease of finding alternatives and comparison. Combined with the impact of limited opportunities to develop personal relationships through face-to-face meetings (which digital communication cannot entirely make up for) means the digital experience must be as good as possible. Review your customer journeys. Can you reduce friction or further add value in the process? How do your marketing and sales communications tie into these?

4. Consider partnerships.

Everyone is in the same boat, and you might be surprised how pairing with another company can massively benefit you both at a time of need. Partnerships also excite and engage your current client base whilst broadening your channels to new consumers who have not needed you before.

To read more on sales demand, we suggest McKinseys analytical article on Rapidly forecasting demand and adapting commercial plans in a pandemic