Interviews, insight & analysis on digital media & marketing

Crisis marketing: how can brands come out safe…and winning

James Manderson, GM Braze EMEA

Shopper trends are always evolving but the COVID-19 crisis has brought about an abrupt and unprecedented, shift in how consumers are behaving. Some brands are forced to rethink how to market products without an in-store experience or how they remain relevant in the current climate. Take fitness brand Sweaty Betty for example. Leggings are no longer just an exercise staple – they are the new work from home uniform!

Building strong customer engagement always, and especially during this crisis, relies on human, timely and tactful customer communications.

Retaining, and even expanding, a customer base is a challenge in this context, forcing brands to reconsider their relationship with customers and the role marketing plays. An additional challenge is that brands have to ensure they’re not taking advantage of the crisis and offering distasteful communication.

Social media is the moral barometer and consumers are, rightfully, the biggest critics – holding brands publicly accountable for what they say and do. Getting it right is crucial.

Creativity and agility are key to winning at customer communications. We all know the 2013 “you can still dunk in the dark” Super Bowl ad from Oreo which played when the stadium lights failed mid-game. It is still heralded as genius marketing decision for its speed and relevance. Today, seven years on, brands can achieve spot-on communications – on a much bigger scale and better – if they have the right technology and teams in place.

Being on point is crucial

It’s no longer good enough for brands to share ‘spray and pray’ emails to stale customer segments, with no regard for customer’s individual context, channel preference, or their interactions with the brand, and hope it works. 

Recent March and April data from Braze highlights that email unique open rates have more than doubled comparatively to April of last year, while push total open rates have decreased by 34.69% over the same period. This shows that consumers are responding, more than usual, to longer form communications right now, rather than more direct messaging channels like push. This trend is understandable, since most aren’t on the move in lockdown. It’s intel like this that brands should be looking for to spot trends and deliver on point communications.

An agile customer engagement platform, free from channel and data siloes, allows brands to jump on communication trends quickly and be prepared for the next. Putting all eggs into one basket such as focusing on just email or mobile communications is risky business. If brands want to win at customer engagement, they must be able to connect with their customers across multiple touchpoints on the channel they most prefer.

But serving on the right channel is only part of the puzzle. The rest includes communications being timely – a hugely important aspect when looking to connect with consumers in the moments that matter. In addition to this, sharing personalised and ‘human’ communications is key for brands to show they truly understand consumers – especially at this tough time. This is all possible when brands leverage data-led creative.

The creative advantage

Accessing consumer data and understanding trends is crucial for brands to be relevant at scale, but technology on its own is not a communications winner. Humans are needed to inject creativity, personalisation and empathy.

One of the best examples of brands using data to get close to their customers in a crisis lies within the travel industry – arguably one of the worst-hit by the crisis. It was difficult to imagine how tourism and travel companies would continue to keep consumers engaged, yet Skyscanner managed to do just that.

The travel company conducted a survey of its customers’ attitudes towards travelling and the lockdown, and used the data to adapt its marketing and customer engagement strategy, with the goal of sticking by people and providing hope and information as they work through difficult lockdown-related feelings. As a result, Skyscanner saw an uptick in customer interest for late 2020 flights.

Weathering the storm

The current crisis is like one we’ve never experienced before. It’s key always for brands and retailers to be agile and creative in their communications with customers. It’s time, if they haven’t already, to partner with marketing platforms that help them meet communication demands – platforms built for the multiple touchpoint, real-time world – not just email like legacy platforms are. Those that are combining man and (agile) machines will weather this storm and any others ahead.