The new world we’re living in is uncharted territory for consumers and brands. Consumers are cautious and scared, looking for advice but only getting short-term ‘guidelines’ and brands are scrambling around in the dark trying to do the right thing – but have no understanding of their new environment: who their customers are, how to talk to them, how to address their fears and logistically serve them safely.
The first problem is trust: every brand made the right noises as the pandemic struck, reassuring their customers that that they were doing the right thing, offering words of support. We’re beyond that stage and those customers now want to see that support delivered, they want tangible action. Can consumers trust a retailer to protect their health when they shop in-store, can they really trust a bank to accept their vital loan application? Brands need to deliver on the marketing platitudes, if they want to maintain their customers’ trust.
The second problem is uncertainty: consumers don’t know when they’ll be able to start spending, go on holiday They don’t know how much disposable income they have and whether it’s safe to go to the shops/eat out etc. With over 60% of people saying that the government guidelines on lockdown are unclear, this does not help the businesses trying to second guess their behaviour. What’s more, people are different, they respond to new (and difficult) situations in very different ways.
Where they live is important and this will impact their behaviour. Understanding these differences, in a post-Covid world, is vitally important and can help provide the backdrop for well thought out business decisions. David Goodhart, author of the book ‘The Road to Somewhere’ highlighted the fact that 60% of us are ‘somewheres’ (people who live within 20 miles of where they grew up, whilst 25% are ‘anywheres’ (people who are more attached to achievements than people or places).
This starts to help us understand some of the fundamental differences in different groups of people. The perceived threat from Covid-19 was greatest in the more rural parts of the UK and it is clear from YouGov research that rural areas are also going to be most concerned about returning to the high street. These groups will rely on online shopping, click and collect and food delivery for longer than others, so budget spent on digital media to target them, would be well spent.
The same research tells us that it’s good news for restaurants in London and Yorkshire, where people say they will visit restaurants more often than they did before lockdown. The logistics of ensuring that customers and staff are safe and social distancing is maintained is key within these regions. Serving personalised offers to specific audiences within high performing postcode sectors would make sense and there are a multitude of media opportunities that can deliver this effectively.
There are universal behaviours that brands need to display and the most important of these is agility, not easy for the bigger more established brands who have inflexible infrastructures and are so ingrained in largely predictable ways of working that they would rather replicate normality than find innovative ways of working.
Some big brands have succeeded over the last few months and are seeing the benefit: restaurants offering home delivery have contributed to the takeaway boom with sales up 250% year on year. Companies with a strong ecommerce offering have also seen rich rewards. However, the companies that have thrived over the last few months, more through luck than judgement, are the local shops and retailers, where sales have increased by 63%. Many of these have shown agility by increasing their product range, changing their opening hours, offering home delivery and becoming a trusted and reliable stronghold for the community they serve.
Retailers must earn trust and offer reassurance to their customers on safety, but they can also enhance the retail experience. A retailer’s app which allows customers to check on the status of queues outside stores and easily book appointment times to visit stores would be welcomed by shoppers. These apps should extend beyond this to offer inspirational content, allow customers to check on stock availability and serve personalised discounts to encourage repeat purchase. The actual in-store experience also needs to be enhanced beyond a transactional purchase to optimise brand engagement and turn every customer into a brand ambassador.
These are changes that should have started before lockdown, before the start of the demise of the high street. Perhaps now is the time to turn things around. It’s not going to be easy, but by being agile, innovative and entrepreneurial, companies can quickly stand out against their competitors and show that they genuinely care about their customers.
Rachel Hall is media director of hyper-local media and marketing agency Pintarget.