Interviews, insight & analysis on digital media & marketing

The pandemic – a steep learning curve for brands

By James Manderson, General Manager Braze EMEA

The pandemic has caused upheaval for brands and retailers, and some of the changes that are taking place will be permanent. While some brands have thrived in a digital-first shopping world, others have crumbled. The state of their digital transformation has been the differentiator.

While brands have had to deal with changing customer behaviour in the last few months, they have also been closely monitored by consumers, and rightly so, on their response to movements like Black Lives Matter and their support in pride month for the LBGTQ+ community.  

The need for a digital presence and increased scrutiny from customers has revealed the importance of brands being prepared for evolving consumer behaviour and the necessity for robust communications strategies.

Although change has hit brands fast and hard, that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. While many brands weren’t prepared for what 2020 threw at them, it may just have been the push they needed to wake up. There are now some key considerations brands must acknowledge, as we head further into unknown waters…

Staying relevant

Customer preferences are always changing, and the pandemic has simply accelerated this. Lockdown is easing in the UK, but customers remain predictably unpredictable. No one knows what habits they will carry forward from the lockdown, and which they will leave behind. For instance, many consumers will continue to shop online rather than go back to stores, for safety but also for convenience. On the other hand, the UK government is encouraging people to go out again and visit stores and restaurants to help boost the economy.

To stay relevant, whatever the scenario, it’s key that brands continue to analyse insights and their communications strategies, asking themselves important questions like: are we taking individual customers’ preferences into account? Is there too much, or conversely too little communication with customers? Are efforts being focused on the right channel? If brands aren’t putting their customers at the heart of their strategy and using insight to understand them, how can they hope to form long term relationships?

Those brands that have invested in a platform that offers real-time insights and action will undoubtedly be more prepared to quickly adjust, and therefore stay relevant whatever the rest of 2020 has in store.

The power of now

Brands that embrace innovation and agile technology are able to connect with consumers on a level that those using legacy technology cannot. They are able to be timely and engage customers at scale – delivering powerful communications across any channel.

Legacy platforms were built in the email-only era and in many cases before the launch of the smartphone, that’s a long way from the multi-channel, multi-device reality we live in now. Brands still relying on such outdated technology will surely feel the burden. Agile engagement platforms which work in real-time, helping brands engage customers with the right messages, on the right channel, to the right device, in the moments that matter. 

The ability to quickly set up comprehensive, multi-step, and joined-up cross-channel journeys significantly reduces campaign launch time and accelerates speed to optimisation – a must to meet customers’ increasingly changeable expectations.

Being human

The pandemic highlighted the need for brands to be personalised and empathetic. Customers have seen through impersonal updates like the ubiquitous “we’re here for you at this time” messages that have often appeared opportunistic and crass. In our complex world, it’s key that brands don’t fall into that trap again. Lessons need to be learned from bad practice and changes must be made to enable brands to communicate with customers as individuals, rather than mass marketing to groups.

Bloom & Wild, a Braze customer that champions ‘humanising’ communications recently created the Thoughtful Marketing Movement. The Thoughtful Marketing Movement asks brands to commit to giving customers the option to opt-out of communications concerning possibly sensitive occasions such as Mother’s Day and Father’s Day. It’s not a campaign about making more money, it’s about showing customers they care. With the right tech that’s easy to achieve, honouring preferences seamlessly in every communications channel.

However, while technology is important, to avoid messages lacking empathy, it must be used alongside human teams that understand how to employ valuable insights to engage customers. With the right platform, partnerships and team, brands can be ‘human’ at scale – connecting, growing audiences and building loyalty.

The pandemic has shone a light on the brands that weren’t prepared with robust customer engagement strategies for a digital world. For those that haven’t implemented agile technology already, doing so will be key to prepare for whatever lies ahead. Combining this with teams that understand the insights and can act on them in a ‘human’ way will allow brands to stay relevant and engaging post-COVID-19.