The coronavirus may be ravaging the economy, but retailers’ creativity, agility and compassion mean they won’t suffer forever. Brands and businesses are flexing new and old muscles to take on this challenge. Below are four steps retailers can take right now to gain and retain customers, insights and loyalty:
1. Delve into data.
The pandemic is having a significant impact on the values, attitudes and brand perceptions of the general population. As weeks tick by, companies that mine consumer data for insights and then leverage that data will be at a distinct advantage as markets recover. Retailers can differentiate their own marketing efforts by digging into data to best address the needs of their most loyal and highest-potential customers. Consider these ideas:
- Take a look at recent loyalty program sign-ups. While enrollments may be down, are clusters of new customers emerging that are worth cultivating? Are new members more likely to shop online these days? If so, consider creating look-alike groups to target in acquisition efforts.
- Research whether members are reactivating during this crisis. Do they share commonalities that could give clues on how to keep them during the recovery and beyond?
- Build foundational tracking reports. To ensure prioritized views are at your fingertips, take time now to automate multiple cuts of data. Doing so allows you to respond quickly as the recovery unfolds — most likely, in an unpredictable way. For example, let’s say your business serves customers across the country; then consider chunks of data, such as (in order of priority) regional; existing customer segments; and new customer segments, including at-risk populations (e.g., people over age 60).
2. Scrutinize all marketing.
As external situations quickly evolve, customers could misinterpret your well-intended messaging. KFC, for example, pulled its most recent finger-licking TV commercial, which was out of step with today’s environment. Keep in mind that other messages’ insensitivity might be more subtle. On an ongoing basis, audit all of your brand marketing, removing images, copy and offers that could be perceived as opportunistic or tone deaf.
3. Leverage social media tools.
Aim to understand themes of your customers’ concerns and expectations, and then communicate. HBO Now, for example, increased its social media ad buys, guessing that a housebound audience might be more inclined to watch its offerings, and saw increased day-over-day ad impressions on YouTube, Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. Is it time to boost your social media usage? In addition, really listen to your customers on social media; their communications could inform near-term marketing messages.
4. Begin (re)planning your brand’s next six months.
- Localize your marketing. The recovery in New York City will differ from the one in Salt Lake City — and they’ll occur on different timelines. Watch and learn how your customers behave in the early rebound regions. Doing so will help your brand apply these lessons to the rest of the country (if your brand is national) and to the world (if your brand is international).
- Begin scenario plans for COVID-19 recurrences. One forecast suggests up to two more major infection waves. Another hypothesis says micro outbreaks will require regions to shut down quickly in hopes of containment. Regardless of what happens, ensure that your engagement tactics reflect your customers various situations.
Retailers, this crisis is likely the biggest test in our lifetimes. But you’ve always been up for a challenge. Continue to invest in building connections with your customers. Doing so will set the foundation for long-lasting customer relationships and preferred retailer status.
Matt Marakovitz is vice president of strategic services at The Lacek Group, a Minneapolis-based national leader in loyalty and customer engagement.
Matt Marakovitz is vice president of strategic services at The Lacek Group, a Minneapolis-based national leader in loyalty and customer engagement. The Lacek Group works with the world’s most respected brands, including Marriott, Carnival Cruise Line, U.S. Bank, Enterprise Holdings (National Car Rental, Alamo Rent a Car, Enterprise Rent-A-Car), United Airlines, Ford Motor Company, The Home Depot and Dunkin’ Brands.