While COVID-19 is with us for the immediate future, you may already be trying to anticipate its long-term effects on your business. What will the recovery look like? Will your customers change their shopping behaviors? What about their expectations?
The fact is that the outbreak and its aftermath will continue to be unpredictable and how customers respond will also be difficult to forecast. Some shoppers will change their habits and spending patterns due to unemployment, others due to fear of a recession and still others due to shifting personal priorities.
Long story short, each customer will have their own individual path to recovery. The brands that can adapt to this reality with customer-centric, personalized experiences will rebound the fastest, while those that rely on one-size-fits-all marketing may continue to struggle. You’ll want to make sure your brand lands in the former group, not the latter.
Being customer-centric simply means placing the customer’s needs and preferences at the center of your marketing strategies. Sounds simple enough, but it takes significant data and insights to do it well, making it challenging at organizations where that data is owned by teams outside of marketing.
Nonetheless, a customer-centric strategy is now an absolute must for your brand. Consumers may even react negatively if your communications are not relevant to them—consider how out-of-touch companies seem now when you encounter their pre-coronavirus ad campaigns. On the other hand, brands who show empathy and understanding for each customer’s situation will strengthen their customer relationships no matter what lies ahead.
By learning about your customers at an individual level and connecting with each one accordingly, you can increase engagement, improve loyalty and better prepare for market changes and the eventual rebound. We've put together the six key steps you should take to implement a customer-centric marketing approach:
#1 – Accept and Embrace Change
The shift toward customer-centric marketing was already underway before COVID-19, but the added uncertainty makes it more critical for your brand to get on board. With so many different circumstances affecting people nationwide, there’s just no way to predict what will resonate with each customer unless you can learn about them at the individual level. Embrace that as a goal and start equipping your team with tools to achieve it.
#2 – Build a Strong Foundation With Customer Data
Customer data is the key building block for your customer-centric strategy. Loyalty programs and data platforms can help you gather it, but that alone isn’t enough. You need to analyze it to learn how customers are interacting with your brand. When you understand each customer’s preferences and buying habits, you’ll be able to create personalized communications and offers that elicit a positive response and increase brand affinity.
#3 – Focus on Developing Relationships
Rather than concentrating on acquisitions and sales, focus on building lasting relationships with existing and new customers. Use your data to gain insights into what your customers want and expect, and what’s motivating them right now—as those motivations change, you can update your offers and messaging to stay relevant to their needs during this uncertain time.
#4 – Create a Single View of Your Customers
Unify customer data across all of your internal systems to create a real-time single customer view (SCV). By capturing each individual's activities across all channels in real-time, you can use the information to seamlessly engage with each customer through all touchpoints for an exceptional customer experience.
#5 – Shift from Segmentation to 1:1 Personalization
Segmentation (or even microsegmentation) can lead to one-size-fits-all communications and offers that are irrelevant to your customer. These messages also run the risk of causing a breakdown in trust. For example, let’s say segment research tells you that a “stock up” promotion would be effective for moms with young children. But if you were to send that offer to a mom who just lost her job, it suddenly looks quite insensitive. This is why we recommend you personalize your offers to each individual customer—1:1 personalization helps you avoid creating negative sentiments and strengthens your customer relationships. (Learn more in our white paper “Where Segmentation Falls Short.”)
#6 – Scale with Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning
True 1:1 personalization is not scalable without the help of technology. The best solutions incorporate artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) to support hyper personalization. These technologies are especially relevant now because they can help your marketing team do more with less at a time when budget cuts are a genuine concern. Because these technologies are automated, they allow your resources to stretch further and your offer campaigns to be executed up to 10x more quickly.
Plus, AI and ML technologies enable you to continually fine-tune with every customer interaction, so you can deliver the customer-centric experience that these times demand. This will also help you optimize your loyalty and offer spend to make the most of your budget.
Some psychological theories posit that people can better deal with a situation when they accept it without assigning it a positive or negative value. This is a helpful perspective to take on the COVID-19 recovery. Things won’t go back to the way they were before, but you can move forward from where they are now.
By learning about your customers on an individual level, and using that knowledge to create a customer-centric marketing strategy, you’ll ensure that you’re serving customer needs in the current climate, and building relationships to sustain your business beyond the rebound.