Midnight on 26 March. The exact hour when foot traffic through doors of 90% of brands we love simply evaporated. Profits and employment in some instances freeze dried, instantly.
It is the biggest hard stop to commerce the free trade world had ever experienced. And like the average gobsmacked man on the street, brands have lingered in various stages of shock and disbelieve since the COVID-19 pandemic caused the temporary death of sales and plummeting of profits.
Apart from masked shopping trips to grocery stores and pharmacies for essential goods, we all miss a leisurely shopping trip to stock up on fashionable Winter apparel. Or going out to get your hands on the latest tech gadget. We miss going out for date nights. Children everywhere are growing out of last season’s shoes and clothing. And who does not reminisce about being forced to add the latest Paw Patrol figurine or a shiny Hot Wheels toy car to the shopping basking as reward for good behaviour?
Lockdown will be eased gradually and in a carefully measured manner from May onwards, but (rightly so) business owners and brands are worried that the impact of social distancing will be so much deeper and longer lasting than ever anticipated.
As a result, brands in every industry should be looking for ways in which to keep their customers loyal during the Coronavirus lockdown. Beyond the lifting of the strictest lockdown phase they should be looking at penetrating new markets and scouting for new customers to make up for loss of profits.
Get busier than ever
During a recent National Small Business Chamber webinar (because get-togethers via video are a thing right now!), Mark Keating CEO of SalesGuru shared that now is the time for brands to get busier than ever. Keating, an authority on sales, is working with companies and salespeople on strategies to survive and grow during this time.
“Your customers want to know that you are positive. What you do now will define the way your customers think of your brand forever after,” he predicted during the webinar.
“An uptick in sales is the big thing right now for any business. It is the only way to increase revenue in the next ninety days and beyond. It is also the only way in which to stimulate the economy. The benefit of this focus is clear – when you have cash flow derived through sales it gives you the freedom to fix anything in your business,” said Keating.
That time when talking is enough
Many brands are unable to move goods from shelves or warehouses. But Keating’s words made us think here at Hatch. There is one thing brands can do, and that is to keep the connection between their customer or clients alive and honest. Keep telling that story!
The audience is all but dead, they are just at home – for now. Slowly they will be making their way back to economic comfort levels, and with that, products and services they need or love.
Here are a few ways in which brands can keep customers loyal, and prospect a new fanbase:
- Strategise deliberately
During this time, it is wise to curate your brand strategy in such a way that allows you to get busy with what you actually CAN do at the moment. Lower your goals, but don’t stop setting goals. The choices you make and what you do now is important.
- Show humanity
Customers want to be inspired. They want to hear that their favourite brands are sharing their journey through tough times. However, they want to see their brands’ authentic self as part of a confident and resilient personality. They don’t expect anyone to have all the answers but they need brands to be there, and to be patiently waiting until they can click the ‘pay now’ button, set foot in stores again and frequent their favourite experiences again.
- Look after loyal customers
Brands should not stay quiet on platforms where their fans are patiently waiting. Regularly share updates on any social media platforms where your customers are active. Brands work hard to become top of mind, and now is the worst time to lay low. The number one thing to remember is to be aware of the current state of mind fans are finding themselves in as to never lose that authentic tone of voice!
Think like a customer. What would you appreciate right now if you were in their shoes? Run competitions to reward loyal followers on social media channels. Offer vouchers for sale to use at a later date. And never forget the simple fact that loyal customers will return again and again when you discount prices now when they need it the most. It shows brands care.
- Brave new frontiers
Customers need to hear that brands have a handle on the situation and that they can think out of the box by fulfilling new needs arising out of the crisis, using skillsets that these companies already have. Case in point was during total lockdown when certain products, services and contents were in high demand, e.g. hand sanitisers, masks, home exercise content, and recipes.
As the phases of social distancing progress, new demands will come to light. Sustainable brands are able to stay that way when they meet customer demands with a firm handshake grounded in their why, or their reason for being.
- Fix problems like a doctor
There is always an opportunity moonlighting as a silver lining behind the clouds. Think like a doctor or pharmacist and devise a strategy to take people’s pain points away with innovative products. Be the oasis in the dessert for thirsty sand dwellers. Selling ice to Eskimos will not work.
Think of the many experiences that might change forever in format as the impact of COVID-19 stays fresh within the minds of consumers hereafter, such as crowd and hygiene control at conferences, sporting events, restaurants or during public transport.
- Love employees as much as fans
The public is watching closely how brands are treating their own, their employees. They will be relentless on social platforms in how they scrutinise brands who are not protecting their workers from contracting and spreading possible infection.
Brands should avoid possible public zig-zagging and appearing to be making hasty, impulsive decisions during this time which has the possibility to reflect badly on the brand. Brands should stay informed by closely following credible health sources in line with government’s plans. This is not the time to lock themselves into a public stance that can be damaging or become irrelevant as is often the case in an evolving narrative.
- Make an impact
Customers are also watching closely what brands are doing to help. Brands should now, more than ever, share how they care about what’s going on, and what they’re doing to help improve the sustainability of the planet and its people. But, again, this should be done in an authentic way. Fans stay loyal to a good and authentic story. Years from now the public will look back at the impact that was made, and how it set the good apart from the bad.