It’s no secret, times are changing. The past several months have brought significant anxiety and volatility amidst a full-blown pandemic; many people are forced to adjust to the changes and wondering what the new normal will look like once the dust has settled. Likewise, many brands have experienced similar disruptions and are equally trying to navigate change, all while finding new ways to engage their evolving customer base. With only the guarantee of more change on the horizon, many brands are beginning to sound the same in their approach to customer engagement. Here is a quick guide to creating and delivering proactive, effective communications that will maintain customer loyalty in and after these times of uncertainty.
By: Aaron Li, Research Analyst, Aimia
With COVID-19 driving less consumer spending and straining corporate budgets, many businesses are wondering if pulling or pausing their advertising spend makes sense. Consumers are still willing to listen, but are not looking to hear tone-deaf, promotion-based content. 71% of consumers say they will lose trust in a brand forever if they perceive it to put profit above people. Instead, brands should seek to better understand how their customer’s lifestyle and behavior have shifted and provide them with relevant, useful information. Consumers agree too, with 77% saying advertisements should seek to inform how brands are helpful in the new everyday life and demonstrate efforts to face the situation. COVID-19 has shined a spotlight on brands, and it is up to them to play a part in addressing newfound societal challenges.
To accomplish this, Aimia has identified four key pillars of effective loyalty campaigns that not only provide consumers with solutions to cope with pandemic-related challenges, but also account for a communication roadmap to continue building trust with consumers as the economy slowly reopens:
- Authenticity is Key
- Contribution Over Conversion
- Optimism Without Overpromise
- Flexibility Through Omnichannel Experiences
1. AUTHENTICITY IS KEY
Brands are under a microscope right now and consumers have made it clear that they will judge responses with their wallets. Offer genuine support to care for your customers and focus on making your business visible and accessible to those who need it, while also using your resources and creativity to make a difference. It’s not about capitalizing on the current climate, it’s about coming together and committing to make changes that benefit everyone. For companies that choose not to take this approach, backlash can be strong, with 33% saying they have already convinced other people to stop using a brand that they felt was not acting appropriately in response to the pandemic. It’s important to remember that many people have been significantly impacted by this virus; empathy and sensitivity will go a long way.
2. CONTRIBUTION OVER CONVERSION
Regardless of whether your business is non-essential with respect to COVID-19, there are still ways to help. Focus on providing meaningful value to your customers rather than trying to generate more business through promotion-heavy campaigns. This can include information detailing how to stay safe and healthy, or innovative social challenges designed to foster a sense of community and bring people together. In fact, 37% of consumers say they have recently started using a new brand because of the innovative or compassionate way they have responded to COVID-19.
3. OPTIMISM WITHOUT OVERPROMISE
From what we’ve seen during the pandemic so far, it’s clear that even expert predictions come with varying degrees of accuracy, as there is still much to learn about this virus. With net optimism regarding a quick economic recovery post-COVID-19 remaining relatively low, brands should avoid overextending on their predictions and promises to customers. 60% of customers are turning to brands that they are absolutely sure they can trust; the last thing you want to do is provide inaccurate information and come across as careless and untrustworthy. What you can promise is your commitment to serve customers as best you can and keep them informed on any key updates as they relate to your brand. Use your loyalty program as a tool to remind and deliver on your brand’s trust.
4. FLEXIBILITY THROUGH OMNICHANNEL EXPERIENCES
In today’s rapidly evolving environment, flexibility is critical for brands looking to keep up with paradigm shifts in consumer behavior. With e-commerce spend up 77% YoY and 54% of consumers saying they have made purchases from “brands that were new to them”, consumers have demonstrated they are willing to adapt their behavior to ensure their needs are still met; arguably making flexibility one of the most important communication pillars. When incorporating flexibility into your strategy, make sure to leverage available brand assets. Remember, no asset is too large or too small; for example, 40% of retail respondents reported that they adjusted their return policies during the coronavirus pandemic, with a further 27% of retailers considering changes to their existing policy. When changing the flexibility of an asset, keep the omnichannel experience top of mind. 69% of customers expect connected experiences; it is important to ensure a seamless transition between touchpoints. Communicate your brand’s flexibility to show that you have your customer’s best interests at heart.
While all pillars likely have merit with your customers, Aimia suggests prioritizing specific pillars to complement your business objectives.
By incorporating these pillars into your strategy, you will be set up to achieve your business objectives, while also demonstrating you take your customer’s interests to heart and communicate in a compassionate and empathetic manner. Let’s get started:
1. Protecting Your Best Customers
This objective is focused on immediate steps your business can take to protect the health of your top customers. Demonstrate that you care about their needs and continue to invest in the customer experience. This can range from offering educational resources to investing in channel enhancements for your customers to still access your products or services safely and conveniently. This stage is critical, with 85% of consumers expecting brands to use their power to educate and 88% wanting to know how and if they can still purchase from you. During this time, focus on improvements that will enhance the overall customer experience; 84% of customers say the experience a company provides is as important as its products and services. To make sure that you’re investing appropriately, take time to reach out and gather feedback from your customers via survey. Show your customers that you care about their feedback by empowering them with an active voice in determining change in your business. Not only are your survey results likely to be more robust since more people are at home and in front of a computer, but consumers will appreciate it too, with 43% finding it reassuring to hear from brands they know and trust during these uncertain times.
2. Maintaining Engagement
This next objective is geared toward flexible offers and purchase options that encourage continued member interaction to drive program growth and prevent customer attrition. Remember that your customers may be engaging in different ways; dial up your data analysis to ensure you understand your customer’s behavior and meet them where they are today. For example, knowing that in-store visits are causing some customers anxiety, a retailer could offer BOPIS incentives with additional upsell opportunities once customers arrive at the store; customers could earn an extra bonus on items they buy at the location. Offering additional discounts to healthcare workers and others on the frontlines is another way to help, with 89% of consumers agreeing this reflects positively on a brand. Additionally, special financing, flexible payment terms, and lower interests are appealing to consumers, with 88% interested in these benefits.
3. Re-Engaging Customers
The last objective is centered around long-term re-engagement of your members to prevent customer churn. Since many individuals have stated that COVID-19 has significantly altered their shopping behavior, it is important for brands to pivot their messaging and promotions to meet customers where they will be shopping long-term. For individuals that prefer to shop in store, a welcome back bonus or incentive could be added to their account upon first in-store purchase. While targeted promotions should help mitigate customer churn, it is important to continue and build upon hygienic business practices for physical locations or travel implemented during COVID-19. With 80% of customers still wary to resume regular out-of-home activities and 31% citing cleaning and sanitation as the top criteria when choosing where to visit, it is critical for businesses to continue to reassure and show members tangible safety measures put in place to keep them safe.
To ensure your messaging resonates, optimized delivery with effective targeting is key; a segmented approach rather than a one-size-fits-all approach to messaging allows you to provide relevant content to each one of your unique customers. Aimia has developed key insights that can help businesses in Retail, CPG, Travel & Hospitality and Banking think through what a comprehensive COVID-19 strategy may look like. Regardless of your industry, personalization is critical — with the attributable data from loyalty members, you can analyze how consumer behavior has shifted by the day, week and month. From this holistic data view, you can trigger the Next Best Experience for your customer. Any messages, offers or promotions during this time should feed directly to your customer’s wants and needs. Brands who are able to innovate their customer experience while acting with compassion and empathy will build stronger relationships that last well beyond COVID-19’s passing.