Most industries are currently suffering from the Corona crisis. It struck hard and unexpectedly. We were not prepared for this. Around the world, companies are wondering how to proceed. Many are struggling to survive. I wonder every day how long the world can handle a crisis like this. Hopefully we can all work together to fight this global invisible enemy.
In the meantime, the question is: what to do with our customer experience and marketing strategy? A couple of days ago, Amazon announced that they are hiring some 100,000 additional employees. Around the world, restrictions of movement are pushing consumers towards e-commerce. Many people who never trusted e-commerce are now trying it out for the first time and are having a positive first experience. That barrier is down forever. When the virus was at its peak in China, it caused even a boost in autonomous delivery bots. The second largest Chinese e-tailer, JD, launched a fleet of self-driving delivery bots. This innovation allowed people to safely order food and products. After just a few days, the number of orders doubled to 600,000 per day. Now that China is moving into post-lockdown mode, e-commerce and food delivery are still booming. Many people don’t want to go to a restaurant, so delivery is the only option to get restaurant food.
Social isolation is pushing people to use more digital tools than ever. Online meetings, virtual board meetings and digital education have become the norm in just a few days’ time. This is the largest digital education program the world has ever seen. More and more people are discovering the power and the convenience of digital tools. It’s very likely that big tech players like JD, Alibaba, Shopify and Amazon will benefit from this crisis. Every industry will have no other choice than to have a digital infrastructure up and running.
The bad news: even if you have good working digital interfaces, I don’t believe that will be a differentiator for your business in the long run. Not anymore. User convenience has become the norm, it’s a commodity. Five years ago, companies could differentiate on convenience, today it has become a hygiene factor. If you have convenient interfaces, consumers see it as the most normal thing in the world; if you don’t have them, you lose.
Once the lockdown is over, the temptation will be huge to launch as many short-term sales promotions as possible to boost consumption. But what if price levels on tech platforms are also low? I guess most companies will benefit from avoiding a race to the bottom. Will a sales promotion be enough to differentiate yourself from others and will it help you to protect the business? Will you create a lasting relationship with this promotion? Probably not, so while you may make money in the short run, your company will lose leverage with its customers in the long term. On the other hand, maybe the most responsible thing to do is a price increase. If you see the current financial limitations of large airlines, it shows the negative effects of price competition on the financial strength of that industry. Maybe the margins were just too low and there will be no other choice than to charge more for airline tickets?
In my opinion, the best strategy forward is to invest in your brand by building long-term relationships with customers. The fact is that many companies are currently experience a massive decline in revenue and this will be the case for the next few weeks or even months. So trying to push sales at a time like this is pretty useless and it may even come across as opportunistic. Playing the long-term game means investing in trust and in your reputation. Trust and reputation don’t come from traditional marketing messages; it is 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.
Everyone’s first priority is their own personal health and that of friends and family. This is everyone’s primary concern. The second concern for many people is their personal financials. And if you are lucky not having to worry about those two, maybe you worry about your upcoming holiday or maybe you are scared that your children will not study enough this year. Question is: how can you become a life partner for these customers? How can you help to ease their worries and guide them through this process? TV stations that are offering educational programs for children of different ages are a smart way to help parents with the education of their children. Financial service companies that proactively discuss potential financial worries with their customers. Travel agents that proactively communicate and offer real solutions for their clients. Securing them things will be OK. Call them before they have to call you. Helping them address their potential worries will strengthen your relationship. It will build trust.
In the next few months transactional convenience – an efficient mobile platform – will be the norm; emotional convenience – relieving worries and reviving dreams – will become a differentiator. Try to understand the worries of your customers and proactively solve them. Understand their current emotions and find a way to lower their worries.
The second priority is the world at large. Many people worry about the impact of the current crisis on the global economy. Will the virus strike again in the fall? When will we have a vaccine? When will borders open up again? Will there be enough food if these lockdowns last for several months? It is pretty easy to describe how people feel these days. As a brand, this creates a huge opportunity to do the right thing. The marketing buzzword of the past 10 years was ‘authenticity’, I believe the new buzzword will be ‘responsibility’. Doing the right thing is what customers remember and appreciate. It is so fantastic to see how companies in different industries are delving deep into their capabilities to help the world. Materialize, a leading 3D printing company, shared a free design to print out a tool enabling you to turn door handles without using your hands. Belgian lingerie company Van De Velde is now making mouth masks for nurses and doctors out of bras. LVMH, the company that owns brands like Louis Vuitton, Givenchy and Fendi, is converting perfume manufacturing to the production of hand sanitizer. So many companies are showing responsibility and creating value for society as a whole. People around the world see this and appreciate these efforts. That’s how you build a reputation.
I truly believe this is the time to invest in a long-term relationship with your customers. Help them with their personal worries. Become a partner in their life. Offer them emotional convenience. At the same time, understand their worries about society and find the opportunity to leverage your core strengths to add value to the world.
In fact, it almost feels like going back to the basics of marketing: gain a better understanding of what customers are feeling and offer relevant value.