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Strengthening customer relationships during times of economic uncertainty

During times of economic uncertainty, consumer spending inevitably slows. While most companies feel the direct impact, these changes in behavior can present new opportunities for brands to strengthen relationships with their existing customers, and forge new ones by understanding how their brand, products, or services can bring comfort and reassurance to consumers in need.

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In these turbulant times, none of us have all the answers. But we believe it's just as important as ever to lean into fundamental marketing principals when thinking of solutions to these new and unexpected challenges. We've put together a few thoughts that might help you nurture meaningful connections with your customers and find ways to continue to grow your brand.

Reflect consumers' motivations in your messaging

Consumers are viewing their buying patterns from a strategic point of view. The transactions they're making right now are likely related to health and wellness, nutrition, home essentials, and entertainment. These purchases probably aren't frivolous — they serve a purpose.

Consumers most likely want to add value to their lives now that they're cooped up at home. Ask yourself: How does your brand and messaging bring comfort into your customer's home? How does it help with potential cabin fever? Does it keep them comfortable? Busy? Intellectually stimulated? Take some things off their to-do list around the house? Ease their financial situation?

Consider the answers to these questions and incorporate them into your engagement initiatives. Your messaging should be empathetic and show that your brand recognizes why a consumer's purchasing behavior may be changing during this crisis.

A report published by the 4A's looked at the reception of brands' messaging around the coronavirus, finding that younger generations resonate with messaging that focuses on how the brand is supporting its community, while older generations are more interested in ads that speak to how the brand is keeping its customers safe.

Monitor changes in your customer base

Understanding how your customer base is evolving is critical to making sure your messaging continues to resonate with them, and enables you to make smarter decisions about where you should allocate your resources. This is particularly appropriate now as consumers turn to e-commerce to fulfill their shopping needs and brands try to optimize ad spend, messaging, and discounting strategies for both new and existing customer groups.

While this tactic will help short term sales and keep businesses going through what will be a financially challenging time for many, it's important to continue to track changes in your customer base to help meet long term sales goals. Forbes interviewed Kathy Bachmann, GM of Americas with the consultancy Analytic Partners Inc., and on the topic of what businesses can do to adjust plans for long-term projections she noted, “Some expect that consumers may not return exactly to their prior habits when the outbreak has passed … We recommend leveraging advanced analytics to support decisioning and reduce risk that can be run against a number of possible scenarios.”

Consider the systems your team has in place to monitor and engage your customer base. Can you react quickly to small changes happening now that will affect your business at a larger scale? Are you leveraging consumer insights to serve your customer base the way they expect you to?

Meet consumers where they are

With safety and quarantine measures being put in place globally to slow the spread of COVID-19, clearly event-based initiatives and physical retail are off the table. But this doesn't mean your brand needs to slow its advertising efforts.

Despite a significant drop in digital spend, marketers should still meet their customers where they are: online. Over the past few weeks, Facebook has reported a 50% increase in messaging usage as consumers look to their site for connection and news. Similarly, Pinterest reported that it saw an “all-time high around the world with more saves and searches on the platform than any other weekend in [its] history” as consumers turn to the platform for ideas of how they can spend their time at home. When consumers visit these platforms, your brand should be there too.

An argument against increasing digital spend — or even maintaining it — is that we are in the beginning of an economic downturn; consumers aren't buying enough to compel advertisers to spend the money to get in front of them. However, there is an upside to a decrease in the number of advertisers on social media, especially auction-based platforms where ad prices are likely to drop — you're more likely to land in front of your intended audience. The brands that are pulling back on digital spend are likely to lose traction with their customers as competitors replace their ad space.

Forbes reports that during past economic recessions, brands "that maintained or grew their ad spending increased sales and market share during the recession and afterwards." But you don't need to limit your ad spend to digital. Direct mail is still an option, and a good one. Forbes continues, “Studies have shown that direct mail advertising, which can provide greater short-term sales growth, increases during a recession.” And with a captive "at-home audience," getting into someone's mailbox may never be more effective.

All this being said, the analytics side of your strategy is just as important as the messaging and platforms you use. You should make sure your team has the appropriate systems in place so you can track how your ads are performing across various platforms and audiences.

Be intelligent about special promotions

With consumer spending slowing, many brands are offering widespread discounts. You can frame these offers in ways that shows your brand is trying to make its products accessible to consumers in an economically restricted time.

That being said, some brands are approaching it in a more utilitarian way, as they realize they have to sell their product in order to survive. Reflecting that honestly in their messaging, they're offering steep discounts site-wide.

As your own brand considers a strategy around discounting, consider your audience. What sort of products are they likely to gravitate toward right now? What would serve them best, while still allowing you to succeed?

Partner with like-minded brands

Everyone loves a good Instagram giveaway. Particularly now, large and small businesses alike are using giveaways as an opportunity for consumers to further explore their brands. Promoting giveaways — especially when partnering with like-minded businesses — increases brand awareness and audience engagement on social media platforms. This has potential to increase short term sales and introduce new customers to your products.

While this isn't a new strategy by any means, during this crisis community is of the utmost importance. Brands can contribute to their online communities by engaging their audiences and boosting morale through the positive messaging normally associated with giveaways.

Humanize your brand

Everyone is experiencing some level of fear, anxiety, and grief right now. There is comfort in knowing that there are real people on the other side of your brand's web page or Instagram feed. Humanize your brand and talk about the people who are working hard to bring your products to consumers.

Many companies have already addressed health-related safety measures their teams are taking to ship out orders to limit the possibility of exposure to the coronavirus. Not only does talking about these new processes reassure customers ordering products online, but it also reminds consumers that we're all having to make changes in our routines. We're all having to adjust to a new normal. There is an inherent level of community in that sentiment, bringing consumers closer to the brands they're relying on right now.