August 5, 2020 8 min read
Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.
The global crisis has permanently altered our world. Universities that do not go online while still engaging students will go bankrupt; many small businesses will struggle and collapse; some even say this is the end of the U.S. economic power. On the positive side, skies are bluer, we have all learned to practice better hygiene and appreciate infectious diseases, and we have learned to connect on a deeper level. Large groups of workers will never return to physical office space, allowing better cost efficiencies and a greater work-life balance, and higher education may become more affordable.
Marketing, too, will forever change. Marketers who embrace these changes will be able to grow their brands, even if the economic downturn lasts for years and becomes a depression. Seventy-six percent of people have picked up new habits, and 89 percent of these people plan to keep their new habits. Thirty-six percent of consumers plan to stay loyal to new brands they have used during the crisis.
Peloton is the perfect example of how a company can create new loyal customers amid disaster. As gyms around the world shut down, there was an ideal opportunity for regular exercisers to join an online and at-home exercise brand. People who exercise regularly tend to be “addicted” to working out. It is not something that can be stopped cold turkey (like Starbucks coffee). Here, there is a brand loyalty level and engagement level beyond what happens when people are loyal to a brand of clothing. Peloton fits into a category like Apple. The product filters into everyday life and becomes part of who a person is. Peloton instructors even name the users “Peloton.” Most workouts start with “Let’s go Peloton.” Through a combination of great hiring, great programming and the inherent nature of the product, customers become more and more loyal to the point where canceling the subscription is never an option. During the first few months of economic shutdowns, Peloton subscriptions jumped 94 percent, Q2 sales were up 66 percent and the stationary bikes temporarily sold out. Twenty-five percent of Americans never plan to go back to the gym. Peloton will keep most of these new customers.
Consumer behavior in the fitness market and other industries has changed – permanently. Some industries will see smaller changes than others, but all will see changes. It is up to the marketer to understand how their industries are changing (rapidly!), adapt to these changes, be agile with marketing strategies and implement marketing strategies to attract new customers and make them brand loyal.
Marketing has been moving online for a couple of decades now. The global crisis has pushed this change even further, almost at warp speed. Internet usage is up by 50 to 70 percent. Mobile data traffic went up 380 percent in March 2020. TV spending dropped by 25 percent in Q2 of 2020, and experiential and sponsorship spending was cut by 75 percent as live sporting and entertainment events were canceled. Our screen time has never been higher and will stay that way.
Person-to-person sales had already transitioned to roughly 90 percent online. It will now be 95 percent or more online. Companies that rely heavily on a sales force must understand how to create value-focused, engaging sales calls when consumers and salespeople are not physically together. These companies must embrace technology and utilize AI to aid with all stages of the sales process. From prospecting to negotiating, AI can be the workhorse to develop relationships, increase efficiency and create loyal customers. In the same regard, it is hard to imagine trade shows operating in the same capacity in the future. Sales reps will need to communicate with the marketing department as leads will come more and more from marketing efforts and, most likely, content marketing.
Even as screen time increases, direct-to-consumer marketing of all types may have some resurgence as more customers stay home and as more retailers close physical locations. Catalogs were already enjoying a resurgence. Catalog response rates have increased by 170 percent from 2004 to 2018. Catalogs excite millennials. They were not adults during the peak of direct mail and did not become “burned out” on it to the same degree as older Americans. Catalogs enable consumers to see the product vividly. Email campaigns, coupled with catalogs, increase the average sale by 15 percent, higher for loyal customers.
An essential part of an Internet promotional strategy is content marketing, but it is even more critical now. A recent study found that a customer’s No. 1 determining factor now when choosing between brands is the company’s ability to provide useful information in content strategies. Content marketing creates powerful online connections and builds credibility. Doctors in a healthcare system can write about various medical conditions, drawing customers to their brand, increasing credibility and helping customers ease health concerns, especially if page visits have a follow-up strategy. Through content marketing, you are establishing an ongoing conversation to create meaningful relationships. Video content marketing is just as important. Instead of experts merely writing an article or blog, they can bring their expertise and exciting content to life. Different demographic groups prefer various forms of media. Providing content in multiple types enables companies to reach a variety of both segments and disabilities. Engagement should be the goal of most marketing strategies. The single best way to engage consumers is through content.
Socially responsible marketing
A 2018 study found that 73 percent of customers consider a company’s social responsibility efforts when making purchase decisions. A study done in March 2020 found that 83 percent of customers care about CSR. Consumers are looking for companies to give to charity, help with local health initiatives and support the Black Lives Matter movement. Having a socially responsible marketing strategy does not imply running a string of “We’re all in this together ads” that seem cheap and forced. It also certainly does not mean using the words “unprecedented times” repeatedly. Having a socially responsible marketing strategy means that your company does good work for the community. Starbucks continued to pay wages for workers even when they could not work. Many healthcare systems have provided free healthcare. Old Navy donated $30 million worth of clothes to those in need. These types of actions endear customers to a brand and promote brand loyalty.
Customer service has always mattered but matters now more than ever. Quick, reliable home delivery matters more. Efficient customer service matters more when the customer does not have a physical storefront to visit. The global crisis has pinpointed how rapidly a company’s phones can become bogged down. Customers will only try so many times before giving up. One of the most important things to change in a company to impact customer service is to break down silos and make sure that every aspect of a company provides the same message. Marketing must say the same thing as sales; hourly workers must understand the core mission and communicate it the way the owner envisioned it to be. Every customer touch point must have the same message. Seventy-five percent of consumers expect consistent interactions across all touch points. Customer service blueprinting can make sure these interactions are positive.
Of course, the health crisis has made consumers think more about health, healthcare, infectious diseases, cleanliness and hygiene. This interest will likely decline some in the future, but it will remain a heightened concern. People will never think about a dirty environment the same way. A handshake will never be offered again without people cringing at the thought of germs. Businesses must detail their cleaning programs and commitment to health. But these new values go beyond simple cleaning. A survey found out that new concerns for consumers are hygienic packaging, care for the health and safety of employees and the company’s overall mission towards health and safety. Restaurants will forever need an even greater focus on cleanliness; hospitals will need to thoroughly convince patients that it is safe to return for checkups and routine care. Referring to Peloton, those brands that already focus on health and improved quality of life have an advantage. Those that can shift their marketing messages in that regard will be able to grow.
Customers tend to be more loyal to companies after a service failure has been resolved properly than they would be to companies where nothing particularly wrong happened. Likewise, going through trauma together makes people stay loyal. Many brands will fail. Marketing will be different. But those companies that can rapidly adjust to changing needs and environments will grow and thrive from this momentous time in history. Companies must meet or exceed customer expectations, analyze data to understand customer needs and use data to produce high-quality content marketing. Messaging must focus on social responsibility and health. Companies must integrate all departments and personnel to provide a consistent message and offer a high level of customer service, which will contribute to brand-loyal consumers.