Why Brands That Put Customers First Will Win In The COVID-19 Era

Why Brands That Put Customers First Will Win In The COVID-19 Era

In this guest post, Yoghurt Digital co-founder Ian Fong (pictured) shares why brands need to forget about selling and instead focus on providing real value…

The COVID-19 pandemic has stirred up a lot of thoughts and feelings, and I think the biggest one is uncertainty. Business-wise, what worked last month won’t work this month, or let alone this year. The reason is simple: Too much has changed in a short period of time.

In Australia, the unemployment rate is expected to rise to 15% – an unprecedented number. With people losing their jobs, being stood down, or experiencing a loss of income, they’re not spending as much. Many households now have an essentials-only policy, while others are cutting down on their discretionary spending.

If you run or manage a business, you need to pivot your marketing strategy. And the best course of action is to provide real value to your customers while you prepare for the inevitable upswing.

And how do you do that? By marketing with empathy.

So, how do you market with empathy?

If you haven’t already, you’re probably in the midst of finalising your marketing strategy for the next fiscal year. Chances are, you’ll need to rework it more than once to remain in step with market conditions that are fluid and seemingly ever-changing. You’re also far from alone.

Right now, your marketing strategy should concentrate on understanding what your customers are going through. It should hone in on ways to add value to their lives and set them up for success in the long-term.

I’m not talking about your typical ‘brand trying to be human’ social campaigns. I’m also not talking about sending an email to your database about your brand’s response to COVID-19 (our inboxes have been flooded with them, so they’re not cutting through the clutter).

None of that is going to work in today’s landscape. Instead of spruiking products and services, you need to provide value in other ways. Real ways. Tangible ways. But to do that, you need to be able to step into your customers’ shoes. “Brands that use this time to be commercially exploitative will not fare well,” predicts the Harvard Business Review – and I agree. We need to be as delicate and agile as possible.

If you want your brand to survive, empathy is essential to your bottom line.

And customer research is essential because…?

You need your customer’s feedback in order to be empathetic. You need to know what questions are running through their minds; what concerns, fears and doubts are keeping them up at night. The easiest way to get the answers to these questions is simply to ask. Forbes calls this “marketing’s secret sauce,” and I love that description.

So, don’t just put ‘customer research’ on your to-do list – make it a priority. By figuring out what your customers are thinking and feeling, you’ll be able to truly understand what they’re going through and relate. That’s the key to empathy. It’s also the stepping stone to pinpointing how your brand can help them through these turbulent times.

I’m a big believer in data-driven strategies. Why? Because they work. In our day-to-day agency life, we rely on customer research and market data to help our clients to understand their customers, but also to make the strategies we deliver more targeted, more relevant, and more effective. To get the most complete picture, combine qualitative insights (such as customer surveys and interviews) with quantitative data from your analytics. There are plenty of research methods to choose from, but these three are a great starting point.

Research method #1: Customer surveys

The best way to speak to your customers at scale is by sending them a quick online survey. Your goal is to ask open-ended questions that prompt your customers to “talk” to you. Most people have a short attention span and an even shorter tolerance for long surveys – so stick to 5-8 questions.

Here are some questions you could ask your customers:

  • How has COVID-19 affected your personal and professional life?
  • How has COVID-19 impacted your spending?
  • How have your online shopping habits changed?
  • Are there specific sites or stores you’re visiting more often?
  • What are you purchasing more of, and why?
  • What are you purchasing less of, and why?

To boost your response rates and unlock more in-depth answers, try to incentivise the survey. Depending on your budget and your brand’s product or service, you could offer a discount, free samples, or free shipping with their next purchase. If you don’t think your customers will be enticed by a monetary incentive, you could give them access to an eBook, how-to guide, or exclusive Facebook group.

Research method #2: Analytics

Data doesn’t lie. Speaking to your customers is more important than ever, but your analytics platform is also a goldmine of information. It tracks your customer’s online behaviour and gives you a unique insight into how they’re reacting to the current situation.

When you pull your reports, look at these numbers specifically:

  • What content are people consuming the most right now?
  • Where are users spending the most time?
  • Where are users spending the least amount of time?
  • What keywords are they typing into your site’s search bar?

From these reports, you’ll be able to identify any trends, as well as:

  • What they’re buying and not buying
  • What they’re interested in
  • The kind of content you should be producing more (and less) of. For instance, you might want to move away from heavy sales messaging and focus on entertaining or escapist content.

Research method #3: User testing

User testing is always a valuable tool – and right now, it could be the difference between your site making a sale and encouraging your customer to click their way to a competitor.

To get a glimpse into your customer’s mind when they’re shopping online, play around with user testing. If you’re new to this technique, start by choosing a product you sell on your website. Maybe it’s an item of clothing, maybe it’s food, or maybe it’s an online course. Then, figure out where most people who purchased that product started their journey. Did they come to your site from a social media post? Or were they led there by a Google search (and if so, what search terms did they use)?

Now that you have some basic information, put together a focus group of users. It doesn’t need to be big, but you do want to have at least three people for this exercise.

For the test, try this:

  • Find that product on 3-4 sites, including yours. Ask the user to compare the websites, and talk aloud as they scan through each one.
  • Use these questions as prompts: What did you notice first about this site? What do you like/dislike about the site? Did you get the information you were looking for?
  • Ask the user to choose one site to purchase from, and explain why.

Finally, combine insights and build empathy along the way

The next step is to bring those qualitative and quantitative insights together. Remember, knowledge is power. The more information you have, the better positioned you will be to weather this crisis.

With our clients, we like to group insights by theme:

  • What are the common patterns we’re seeing?
  • What do your users need most at the moment?
  • What are the biggest challenges or issues your users are facing?
  • How can your brand help them solve these problems?
  • What content can you create to help?
  • What products can you offer to help?

Your aim is to figure out what your customers need, and how you can give it to them. If you can prove your product or service is genuinely useful, the sales will come.

Focus on helping, not selling

In our industry, we’re used to shifting strategies. We’re used to the ebbs and flows of the market, and while we don’t pretend to have all the answers, we know that customers don’t want to be hard-sold to right now. That’s why it’s so important to empathise with your customers and offer as much added value as you can.

If you can make that the main goal of your marketing, you have a better chance of building genuine connections and fostering long-term relationships with your customers. You’ll be one of the brands that got it right.



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ian fong Yoghurt Digital

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