Published in Nov-Dec 2020
The year 2020 has been brutal to say the least. Even some of the biggest brands took a major hit and many are still being kicked while they are down. As the year comes to a close, everyone is wondering whether 2021 is going to be any better. However, instead of helplessly gazing into the abyss, there is much that brands can (and should) learn from this tumultuous year. If there is anything positive we can take away from 2020, it is a new perspective of how quickly things can change and how imperative it is for brands to step outside their comfort zones, adapt to rapidly changing climates and evolve to survive. Although no one can predict what has yet to come, here are some suggestions to keep your brand ready for 2021.
Embrace Digital Transformation or Be Forgotten: Unless you have been living under a moon rock, chances are your brand was already somewhere in the process of going digital before 2020 struck. But what you do online from this point on is what will make all the difference. Firstly, don’t stop creating exciting and engaging content. The world may be in a state of limbo but it doesn’t mean your brand has to be too. Posting regular content (particularly video-based) on major platforms, such as Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn and YouTube keeps customers connected and lets them know that your brand is alive and well. Blogs, vlogs and online communities are also an effective way to involve your brand in more organic discussions and allows you to establish a more in-depth two-way communication with customers. Secondly, beef up your e-commerce. Since the ‘new normal’ means spending more time at home, customers are increasingly receptive to online shopping, especially for brands and services that they may have never considered buying online before. A seamless e-commerce experience ensures your brand is always accessible and conditions customers to expect new products and offerings. Brands are also integrating new types of online shopping experiences, such as ‘shop-streaming’ – a combination of online shopping and live-streaming – where influencers test, review and recommend products while customers watch and purchase in real-time. These new and emerging forms of digital retail therapy are quickly gaining popularity and transforming the way customers shop. Thirdly, start exploring advanced digital platforms such as gaming and augmented reality to deliver a more immersive virtual brand experience. With no end in sight to the pandemic, such technologies are invaluable in keeping customers engaged and interacting with your brand despite quarantines and lockdowns. Also, if you have not already, make sure that your website UX (user experience), SEO optimisation and chatbots are firing on all cylinders. This ensures that customers are able to easily find you online and are catered to effectively once they do.
Walk Like You Talk: It was obvious how many brands saw Covid-19 as nothing more than a marketing opportunity and did everything they could to profit from it. Some went down the pseudo-empathetic route, claiming how much they ‘cared about their customers’ but did so without offering any concessions whatsoever. Others blatantly tried to push products while making it seem like they were somehow selflessly doing humanity a favour. Let me be clear: if your brand was not caring to begin with, no one is going to believe it became so overnight (especially not just by saying it). Customers are increasingly distrustful of brands, so insincere communication during times of adversity can backfire and cause irreparable damage to a brand’s reputation. If you are going to communicate, always make sure that your content is thoughtful, relevant and genuine. More importantly, make sure it sounds like something your brand would say. Back your campaigns with tangible action. Support a cause. Repurpose a product or service for relief efforts. Donate money or supplies. Actions speak louder than words and what you do in 2021 is going to matter much more than what you say. So do first and talk later.
Times Are Tough for Everyone. Not Just You: Before you try to counter declining sales by hiking up prices, remember that everyone is in the same boat as you are – especially your customers. Times are tough and people are going to be much more cautious about how they spend in 2021. Customers that once saw your brand as a must-have may now see it as a luxury they need to forgo. You need to remind them why they need to stick with you and offer them attractive incentives to keep them coming back. Deals and discounts are a great way to retain customers and encourage sales; instalment plans help lower up-front costs and provide customers with flexible payment options. Also, be sure to regularly reward your loyal customers; they now have more compelling reasons to move. You need to give them better reasons to stay. This is also why customer service will play a pivotal role in 2021. With customer expectations on the rise, brands are going to have to work that much harder to keep customers satisfied. Start by ensuring that your omni-channel support is active. This means allowing customers to get in touch with you via a single-click through multiple channels such as Facebook Messenger, Skype, SMS, WhatsApp, live chat and so on. Social media is one of the best ways to connect with customers, not only because it’s quick and cost-effective, it also allows you to start a personal dialogue which is not always possible via traditional channels. As renowned author and marketer Seth Godin said: “You can use social media to turn strangers into friends, friends into customers and customers into salespeople.” Secondly, ensure your support team is mobile-ready. Launch a free call-back option and if need be, gear your staff to guide customers via video calls. This form of personal interaction is not only more effective, it allows you to build a better rapport with customers. Most of all, exercise compassion in your interactions; people have been impacted by the previous year in many ways, so it pays to be understanding and supportive. Avoid robotic responses and always show your brand’s human side. Make them feel valued and assure them that you will go the extra mile when the time comes.
Things Will Improve. Hang in There: As bleak as things may seem, it is important to remember that economies have bounced back from recessions in the past and will do so again. What matters now is how brands reflect on this past year and apply their learnings to the future. If you were slow about transitioning to digital, speed it up. If your communication was lacking substance, start making it more meaningful. If you were falling out of touch with your customers, now is the time to bridge the gap. There will always be times of adversity, just like there will always be times of opportunity. How quickly you assess, react and respond is what will keep you afloat in 2021. And above all else, always remember, as bad as things get, it’s not the end of the world. Not yet, anyway.
Taimur Tajik is Creative Head, Interwood.