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4 Things Brands Can Do Now in the Time of COVID-19

April 9, 2020

Coronavirus is one of the biggest challenges our global economy has faced, and its full impact is yet to be realized. In these unprecedented times, many brands have asked us what they can be doing in the short term to continue relationship building with (and sometimes more importantly, retaining) their customers. Here are some quick wins in using what you easily have in your arsenal to navigate the current challenging environment.

#1 – Use Your Assets for Good

More than ever, with the current global pandemic, customers are looking for businesses that make a difference. Customers want to align with brands that are helping to speed up the recovery and health of our communities, while also acknowledging that times are hard. Our advice is to get creative on how your brand can leverage its current core business assets and their loyalty program benefits. We are absolutely in awe of those brands that have risen to the occasion and offered help to the community. Starbucks is offering free coffee to front-line responders because if anyone needs caffeine right now, it’s essential workers. The Four Seasons hotels are providing free rooms to Coronavirus doctors while Ford has employees round-the-clock making facemasks for first responders. Other brands are directly contributing to the cause: Ralph Lauren, New Balance and Walmart are sending much needed monetary relief. And don’t forget the personal and human aspects that your business assets can bring – Hallmark’s 2 Million Card campaign is all about spreading the goodwill and connecting during a time of physical distancing. What unique business assets do you have that you can use for the greater good in this time?

#2 – Examine How Flexible Your Loyalty Program Can Be

While certain industries are doing well due to high, “panic-buying” demand, other industries are taking a beating as customers re-examine how they spend their money and are even limited to what they can do, and where they can go. With non-essential travel bans in place, airlines, hotels and car rental agencies are especially impacted. This is the time for brands to show love and leniency to their loyal customers. We recommend analyzing your data thoroughly before making any long-term changes to your program. Evaluate your current customer behaviors and determine how they’re shifting, and most importantly, how will behaviors stabilize long term.

In the near future, across industries, brands should evaluate how their loyalty program can anchor long-term loyalty vs. short-term purchasing, and determine how to make small modifications to ensure customer motivation and engagement:

  1. Point expiration extensions – Can you give your customers a reasonable time period to still be motivated by growing their point banks, while also balancing your overall business objectives?
  2. Tiering extensions – We’ve seen a number of customers inquire about how to hold on to their status while shopping and travel limits are in place. Brands should be flexible with tiering to show their long-term appreciation to their most valuable customers.
  3. Ongoing purchase incentives – Most brands are going to see a significant drop in basket size and frequency. By continuing to reward purchases, customers will keep coming back as the brand is incorporated into this current “new” lifestyle.

#3 – Keep Your Members Engaged

As COVID-19 really took hold globally, initial communications centered around the brand’s seemingly templated response to how they were addressing the crisis, often followed by sales – the messaging of which were likely lost among the seemingly endless sales campaigns. Now that we’re coming out of that initial phase, it’s time to strengthen your strategic approach and focus on you customer relationships.

  1. Continue to grow community – Lululemon is offering online sweat classes to keep its loyal customers engaged. Likewise, Nike is giving members free access to their community of personal trainers and inspiration.
  2. Future thinking – Times will be good again, so get people thinking of the future. Use digital channels like Instagram or Pinterest to offer contests or ways for customers to envision their future travel or lifestyle plan for what they will do when physical distancing becomes a thing of the past: What places will they fly to? What outfits will they wear to events? Will we all be trying to get our haircuts/brow waxes/manicures the day the salons open back up?
  3. Be hopeful and conscientious in your messaging – Looking back at #1 in this article, show your customers what you’re doing for them and for people most affected by this crisis. Your goodwill during this time will be remembered and valued when things are better.

#4 – Prepare to be Real-Time and Omni-Channel

It’s important for brands to use the “craziness of now” to prepare for the future. As customers shift their traditional shopping behaviors, many brands are wondering what the residual effects may be. Prior to COVID-19, the consumer life moved seamlessly between locations: work, grocery, restaurants, gyms, schools, malls and movies. In the week ending March 22, online traffic in the supermarket segment increased by 161.4 percent compared to the reference period in January and February 2020. Online visits in the tourism sector decreased by 57.3 percent during the measured period. With this shift to digital, brands have the opportunity to examine their customer experience by focusing on personalization and ease of purchase, which customers will expect more of than ever before. We suggest that brands use this time to analyze their data to identify behavior patterns (and shifts) to truly understand who their customers are and what they need. They may have found that their eCommerce experience isn’t what it should be or flexible pickup options not competitive – recognize this and look at opportunities to digitally transform.

  1. Anticipate the needs of your customer and respond in real-time. As current consumers experience loneliness, stress and boredom, it will become more critical for brands to focus on meeting the needs of the individual. Use the actions of today (browsing, open rates, downloads, purchases, etc.) to give real-time responses and recommendations. To prepare for the future, invest in your customer journeys to create a multifaceted approach.
  2. While focusing on the individual, make sure that you also enable the world of community. Consumers crave connection, and the brands that will stand out post-COVID-19 will be those that find ways to connect the individual needs to the masses of society. We anticipate that omni-channel personalization will be more important than ever; now is the time to start investing.

Use this time to really know and understand key customer segments and what the optimal journeys would be to help make their lives easier and keep them coming back to your brand. We obviously don’t know the definitive end to the current crisis, but we do know that things will be different on the other side. We’re hopeful that when customers return to stores, dine at a restaurant again with friends, and go on their next trip that brands, just like our communities, will see each other as people and not just transactions. It’s time to make business personal… for real.

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