Building Post-COVID Brand Relationships with Consumers
Just as humans adapt and evolve, so must brands.
In today’s fallout from COVID-19, consumers have had to adapt to a variety of potentially traumatic losses that have reshaped consumer behavior and will certainly have long-lasting effects. According to a recent PwC survey,50% of respondents are trying new brands/products, 28% are picking up new hobbies, and 51% are spending significantly more time watching entertainment/media. As consumers are changing how they live and work, this in turn impacts what and how they buy.
At this juncture in time, consumers are experiencing a significant loss in their once cherished activities, from grabbing a cup of coffee with a colleague and having a family dinner at their favorite restaurant, to watching a newly released movie at the local theater. This sense of loss creates a gap in the lives of many individuals who seek to either find what was lost or discover a suitable surrogate.
Businesses can take the following three steps to ensure their brand both meets the needs of today’s modern customer, and ensure messaging flexibility that endures long after the pandemic is over.
Understanding the Consumer’s Brand Relationship
At the heart of brand loyalty are the experiences that are associated and fuel the customer’s enduring relationship with the company. For instance, loyal Disneyland fans may smile at magical memories encompassing a variety of experiences, from the excitement of entering the park with family or friends, to smiling when a child starts running around with a churro, and to even just sitting on a bench on Main Street with a loved one and taking in the sights and sounds around them. None of these experiences in and of themselves are entirely unique to Disneyland. So, what is the difference that keeps families coming back to this specific brand again and again?
Ultimately, the customer experiences add the authentic narrative of establishing the mythos of their cherished relationship with the brand. To successfully unravel the story, brands need to understand the consumer’s experience, as did Disneyland. Disney has made emotional imprints on people’s lives and uses the consumer’s emotions and nostalgia as a marketing technique for their brand. Disney’s brand creates a sense of happiness, for all ages, and makes each movie, theme park, and product relevant to their customer. Brands should consider proactively listening to their customers and when necessary, conducting formal in-depth qualitative research. Connecting with customers provides insight into the customer’s cherished experiences integral to an innovative iterative process.
Innovation and Testing
Upon unraveling the consumer’s cherished brand relationship, the brand is then tasked with innovatively converting the customer’s experiences into something new that will yield a meaningful surrogate for that once cherished by the customer. An example of a brand that connects emotionally with consumers is Coca-Cola. In 2015, the globally known brand replaced it’s “share a coke” campaign with a new “Choose Happiness” promotion. Coca-Cola’s “Choose Happiness” campaign is a great case study on how a brand uses emotion to connect with the public, and in turn build up brand loyalty.
These innovative ideas, while well-conceived and based on the customer’s perception, need to be concept tested before implementation to ensure they truly resonate as intended with the target market. Testing will likely uncover some unseen insight that will help refine the concept for maximum success.
Ongoing Tracking and Tweaking
As 2020 made very clear, companies should never assume that their concept of “normalcy” will endure forever. Tracking the evolution of consumer perceptions and behavior on an ongoing basis is absolutely essential to the success of brand relevance. Commonplace marketing metrics in today’s world, such as “impressions” and “click thru rates,” meant nothing only a short time ago, and will likely be replaced by other cutting-edge measures just as quickly as they emerged. Determining the best measures to gain insights into customer behaviors, needs, and desires provides a brand the opportunity to respond in a timely manner to gradual changes.
Consumers are also increasingly demanding that brands take stands on social and political issues. As part of any company’s tracking and tweaking, understanding what is going on in the consumer’s world and ensuring the brand’s message doesn’t come off as tone deaf is a critical tweak that companies must stay on top of. Brands must walk the fine line with understanding their customer bases in real time so they can react quickly and maintain (and grow) loyalty.
Now is an ideal opportunity for brands to generate demand through creating brand relationships that delight and meet the needs of the modern customer. By seeking to understand the significant aspects of the customer’s brand relationships that harken back to the once-cherished brand experience, businesses can innovate outside of the box, market test innovative concepts intended to reinvigorate these brand relationships, and continually assess the customer’s perception of their brand experience to persistently remain relevant and cherished.
Stephen Rapier, PhD, Assistant Professor of Marketing at Pepperdine Graziadio Business School.