Covid-19 is transforming the way we interact with brands. Over the past 5 months we have already witnessed a radical transformation in consumer habits through shifts to online shopping platforms, as well as a willingness to try contact-less options like “buy online - pickup in store.” While some people are returning to brick & mortar establishments in places where the virus is under control, much of the behavior consumers exhibited when connecting with brands during the pandemic will become permanent. Some of the statistic proving this, compiled from McKinsey, are here.
Today’s brand leaders are realizing that to be “liked” is no longer enough. There must be a greater value exchange between brand and customer. They must act quickly to ensure that their products become more relevant to people now—not somewhere in an undefined future.
Whether considered the “new normal” or “life in lockdown,” we are living with profound uncertainty and increased challenges. It is only natural that people are rethinking their relationships with brands and what those brands stand for. Already we are seeing that shoppers will vote with their wallets by not spending with companies that treated their staff members poorly during the crisis.
Gone are lengthy marketing cycles and extensive product development scenarios. Today we must test, learn, and repeat faster than ever before as we focus on brands and their relationships with the people they serve. Given that almost all product touch points are now online, as we come to grips with a world dramatically affected by COVID-19, brands must now simultaneously juggle both performance marketing and brand building through new means of digital storytelling. That is not an easy feat in the best of times; however, it is now the only route to successful branding in the Age of COVID.
Brands are built from the personification of a business, which is ultimately a process of discovery and identification. A business is typically concerned with declaring who it is, what it does, how it looks and who it serves. These aspects are fundamental pillars from which it builds a memorable identity, but it cannot end here. Too many businesses view the establishment of their identity as the be-all and end-all, without realizing that they have provided promises to people that they have not yet fulfilled. In a relationship that fundamentally involves two parties (the brand and the people), having a singular focus creates the illusion of an inherently imbalanced power dynamic and signals to the people that their priorities are less important, pushing them away.
Yet, many brands today still invest most of their marketing efforts on and for themselves. This is seen through advertising: airing TV commercials or buying display ad placements that focus on self-promotion rather than crafting the customer experience - we call this Nonvertising.
We need to remember that brands do not operate in a vacuum. They live in a space that is consistently defined and redefined by their relationship with people. This relationship is not quantified by a straightforward count of brand-people interactions - because, in many cases, that's just a click. The real unit of measurement we should be looking at is the count of meaningful interactions between the brand and its people.
We presently exist in a digital-first age. Technology has given brands a global platform and the ability to interact with people at scale. It has fundamentally changed how people get information, communicate, and engage with one another. It has changed the relationship between brands and people.
Simple demographics are no longer enough in today’s complex marketing environment. Market researchers and consumer experts are now delivering more than just numbers. They are analyzing giant data sets on behavior patterns, product usage and trend-forecasting, to provide information that can be acted upon by all company divisions that interact with customers and prospects. Artificial intelligence and machine learning are also being leveraged to provide critical insights and opportunities.
We should now realize that the old adage, "information is power," is no longer the singular truth. Information is power only when it is interpreted and used to understand people so there can be a closer relationship with them. Through this understanding, brands have the potential and capability to create something magical and accessible.
Today’s winning brands are those that achieve zero degrees of separation with a customer, by incorporating the brand into the person’s lifestyle and daily routine without being perceived as intrusive.
Instead of just spending dollars seeking new customers and focusing on campaigns shouting about how great your brand is, start by nurturing your existing relationships. Brands spend so much money on acquisition of new customers but rarely consider the experience they offer afterwards. When people take a chance on your brand, don't take that for granted. Don't impose your brand on people's lives. Rather, give people reasons to want your brand to be a part of their lives.
Remember that you can’t authentically entangle with everyone but identifying those with whom you can is critical. The data and insights you gain from your current customer interactions will also enable you to reach out to new customers intelligently and meaningfully.
Learn about your existing customers, care about them, and invest in them. They will become your brand's strongest ambassadors and their experience will define your brand's finest moments. The best part is they are already here for you. All you have to do is reach out and do good by them.
Can you have a meaningful relationship with a brand?
Smart marketers recognize that there will be a distinct “before” and “after” in consumer behavior as a result of the pandemic. You must start now to create the digital tools needed to embed your brand in the customer’s post-COVID life.