Where Are They Now?

Reaching customers during these times of change requires creativity, sensitivity and a
willingness to understand their life all over again.

On a recent beautiful fall weekday evening, I was walking through my favorite local park. Normally on weekdays, it’s quiet and calm with some joggers and families making their rounds. Craving a calm evening, I went for the same serenity that I experienced in the past.

However, as I arrived, I was met with a site that has probably become much more common all over the world: The park was packed full of people of all ages not only walking, but also playing volleyball, having dinner and wine in the grass, playing guitar and lawn games, reading and writing. It felt like the coolest bar/restaurant/house party in town had sprung up in this urban oasis.

And as I was walking along admiring the changing leaves, I noticed a plane flying overhead, the kind of plane you see at a major sports game advertising car insurance. It’s an old school marketing tactic but still used nonetheless to reach large audiences. However, this time it was advertising grocery delivery, over a city park, on a Thursday evening.

There was something about that moment that felt like a changed new world had emerged. With people spending much more time gathering outdoors due to COVID, in a city park or on their neighbor’s patio, rather than in bars/restaurants/living rooms/football games, a park on a weeknight has become a prime option for reaching customers.

 

A sign of now or things to come?

How much of this will remain? It’s clear that the COVID-19 pandemic has forced organizations to rethink how they engage with their customers, through advertising and beyond. People have new ways of working, shopping, eating, travelling, connecting with family and friends, much of which has migrated to the virtual world.

And along with these, new spending habits emerge. According to Ernst & Young’s Future Consumer Index, they are evolving at lightning speed in response to COVID-19’s forcing changing circumstances, and they are likely to keep shifting. Yes, vaccines are on the horizon but mid- and long-term ripple effects are hard to foresee.

What is certain is that nothing is certain. There is hardly a business that wasn’t forced to adapt dramatically, even the onces lucky enough to be in higher demand. Whether the priority is to survive or to use the opportunity for growth, inaction and lethargy is pretty much out of the question. Not just now, but from now onwards as seismic, rapid change may become the new norm.

How can businesses large and small connect with customers in meaningful ways amid continuous and rapidly accelerating change? Here are some things to keep in mind amid current and future change:

 

Be relevant

Restaurants offering meal kits and Instagram cooking lessons, a platform that brings the local shopping experience online, virtual cosmetic try-ons, diagnostics and teleconsultations from a beauty giant. There are ample examples of businesses that have pivoted their business models, from small to large degrees, to meet the changing needs of their customers and remain relevant during this time of change.

Think about what challenges you’re experiencing in your business. Where are customers now? What new channels have you not explored? How can you pivot now? In three months, six months, a year? McKinsey offers seven helpful suggestions to examine how your company can shift operations in a time of change and crisis.

 

Be a good listener

The coming months will bring instability and struggle to many households around the world. According to McKinsey, “the global contractions resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic have far exceeded those of the Great Recession that ended in 2009 and have occurred at a much faster rate, hitting all sectors and many of the world’s largest employers”.

This means not only spending behavior will change, but attitudes and sensitivities. What worked before with your customers very likely may not work now. Being out of touch with the challenges your customer is facing and the new world we’re living threatens to create distance between businesses and once loyal customers.

To avoid alienating your customers, it’s important to listen to them. We need to pay attention to how customers are engaging with brands on social media. What is their life like? What are they asking for?

With richer customer data at hand, adapting your marketing strategy is key to maintaining a positive image and connection with your customers through stormy times. Even if they aren’t buying your product, showing that you’re in-tune with the challenges they’re living will help your brand remain on their radar and could lead to renewed business down the road.

 

Be creative

Once you understand the evolving customer landscape, how can you catch their eye and resonate in new, creative ways?

Put yourself in your customers shoes at look at your brand/product/offering. Southwest Airlines, the world’s leading low-cost carrier based in Texas, USA, flexed their creative muscles in a simple way. Keeping in mind that much of their customer base is now working from home, the company didn’t send out the typical “low fares to xx destination!” email; rather, a recent marketing campaign email featured “Wanna better office view? One-way as low as $49” with a photo of the beach. Simple, creative, and effective.

There are opportunities that weren’t there before. For example, the USA National Football League no longer has fans in the stadiums during games out of COVID precautions. In a smart move to catch attention as well as pitch in to society, the Tennessee Titans partnered with Mars Petcare and filled 200 stadium seats with large cutouts of adoptable pets, encouraging viewers to visit the adoption website if interested in the animals. This unique partnership is a creative way to turn a devastating situation for players and viewers, an empty stadium, into a positive situation for players and viewers. Creating a moving connection between pets and an NFL team – that’s certainly a surprising angle.

There are fantastic ideas that demonstrate ingenious thinking outside the box that inspire us to cultivate a “turning lemons into lemonade” mindset.

To embrace change is obviously a requisite but beware of activism driven solely from within the company. We’ve all changed. We need to meet our customers afresh. In their homes, in their new lives, in parks.

 

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