Consumers are expecting more of brands now and in the future
Consumer relationships with brands have had their ups and downs over the past few decades. From the brash confidence of the corporate world in the second half of the 20th century, to the burst bubble of the 2008 financial crisis, social media takedowns, and growing corporate social responsibility, the way we relate to and interact with large organisations is always changing.
But in this coronavirus world, most normal economic activity has been put on ice. Companies such as Debenhams – already in trouble before the advent of the pandemic – have joined the likes of Thomas Cook in the list of well-known names shutting their doors for good.
If large organisations can’t find a way of successfully migrating their business to a remote setting, and serving the needs of their customers in both covid and post-covid life, then there will be more sharp exits to come.
Fit to burst
The current circumstances might be good news for supermarkets, seeds suppliers, and electrical goods manufacturers, but other companies need to find ways of staying relevant to their customers. As ever, this involves two broad theoretical concepts: 1) Understand the needs of your consumer; and 2) Find a way to meet them.
In such unprecedented times, that’s easier said than done.
John Auckland, founder of TribeFirst, helps established brands to engage with their customers through crowdfunding, and believes that the pandemic will change our buying habits for good.
“As consumers we’re now developing new habits,” he says. “According to a 2009 UCL study, it takes an average of 66 days for a new subconscious habit to form. It’s likely the lockdown will last at least this long, and the continued disruption much longer. We will become digital-first, rather than digitally enabled, consumers, and legacy brands will need to change their relationship with their customer or die.”
For an illustration of this, think about the things you’d normally do that have now been replaced with virtual alternatives. Some, like the Zoom pub quiz with your friends, probably won’t have much of a place in a post-lockdown setting. Others, however, have more staying power.
The gym class is a case in point. If exercise (and not, say, human contact) is the aim, then it’s far easier to live stream at home than head out to a gym or sports centre, especially when the journey there probably takes just as much time as the session itself.
“Fitness streaming platforms like TV.FIT are currently thriving,” he says, “and will continue to do so after isolation. The major gym chains who are unable or unwilling to pivot to a digital-first model will die off.”
Stand and deliver
E-commerce is another area which has seen an unprecedented rate of change, with restrictions on movement forcing consumers to buy online. Coping with this demand hasn’t been easy for retailers – Amazon recently had to hire an additional 175,000 staff, and supermarkets are struggling with a boom in home deliveries, which usually account for only 7 per cent of grocery sales in normal times.
For those who have never felt the desire to try online shopping before, particularly older generations, the need to self-isolate has opened up new horizons. These will persist when the threat of the virus is gone.
As Steven Van Belleghem, a customer experience expert, says: “Many people who never trusted e-commerce are trying it out for the first time and are having a positive experience. That barrier is down forever. When the virus was at its peak in China, it caused a boost in autonomous delivery bots from the likes of retail giants JD.com and Meituan, allowing people to safely order food and products from quarantine. Now that China is moving into post-lockdown mode, e-commerce and food delivery are still booming.”
All change, please
If coronavirus really does cause society to change forever, then the question remains as to what the business of the future will look like.
Comprehensive, holistic digital business models and customer convenience being the new normal, brands will have to find other ways of making themselves stand out from the crowd. Van Belleghem believes that companies need to play the long game by nurturing their reputations with consumers.
“In my opinion, the best strategy going forward is to invest in your brand by building long-term relationships with customers,” Van Belleghem says. “Playing the long-term game means investing in trust and in your reputation. Trust and reputation don’t come from traditional marketing messages; they are built by doing the right thing for both your customers and society. At this moment in time, people are worried about two things: their own situation and the state of the world. Figuring out a way to add value to both concerns will help you build a stronger relationship.”
As we look to the likes of our banks, our telecoms providers, and our supermarkets to support us through these tough times, we expect them to put other values ahead of pure profit. Brands should therefore maintain a focus on the environmental and social concerns held by their customers, even in a post-covid world.
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