As most stores remain closed in the U.S. and would-be shoppers hunker down at home, brand marketers are faced with a stark new reality: how to promote during a pandemic.
While companies are relying on digital communications to connect with customers, experts say it has never been more important than now to strike a balance between promoting the business and empathizing with consumers, who could be financially challenged by the economic downturn or have shifted into protection mode.
For starters, experts recommend that advertisers market non-essential products in a more gentle way, if at all. They also advised footwear businesses to create campaigns that build consumer trust through transparency and by acknowledging the changed landscape.
“When [we] talk about transparency, it’s about saying, ‘This is the situation and how it’s affecting us as a brand,’” said Ben Malki, director of customer success at Dynamic Yield, a personalization platform. “‘Here’s what we’re doing to keep our employees safe. Here’s what we’re doing to have a relationship with you, the customer, but keep you safe as well. Here are things that you might expect.’”
These measures will be different for every brand, and Malki recommended leaning into each company’s ethos when determining the elements that will matter most to their consumer. Brands with social responsibility commitments may wish to emphasize the steps they’re taking to protect their delivery staff during the coronavirus outbreak; local and independent retailers might want to highlight the ways they’re still able to serve and support the community.
Ross Kramer, CEO of marketing automation platform Listrak, agreed that compassionate messaging can sow the seeds for future sales, once consumer spending returns to normal levels. Such campaigns or initiatives introduced in response to COVID-19 will be remembered when shopping increases again. These could include charitable contributions, a designated community space for customers, waived delivery fees or extended returns guidelines.
“The stories of how brands are helping the larger community [should be] a core part of the content they are sharing with consumers during this difficult time,” said Kramer. “Ultimately, the right content and messaging now will lead to deeper customer loyalty and a larger wallet share from core consumers down the road.”
What’s more, with a tactful touch there’s also an opportunity to improve sales through messaging. Using customer data to generate targeted email campaigns, brands can tailor limited offers or discounted product bundles to members of their consumer base. Listrak and Dynamic Yield both help companies unlock their data to produce more relevant communications for each shopper.
If done infrequently and thoughtfully, consumers may value the opportunity to purchase their favorite styles at a lower rate, while they try to conserve cash. The recent stimulus package has positively impacted purchasing — Listrak reported that its apparel clients saw e-commerce sales increase by about 70% on April 15, when many consumers received their checks.
But Kramer warned against mass discounting as a way to temporarily boost sales.
“Once the country starts running again and brick-and-mortar reopens, retailers do not want to solely be dependent on promotions,” said Kramer. “The trust and loyalty that brands have established with customers during this time will come more into play than ever.“
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