Balancing Brand Adaptability and Authenticity
'In these uncertain times'''
'For over 60 years, we have been with you''
'We will still be here for you...'
Upon first viewings, this kind of ad campaign tugged at our collective heartstrings. The much-needed message of unity and reassurance resonated with a population grasping for normalcy and stability. However, consumer sentiment quickly turned as this cookie-cutter advertising template began popping up across numerous industries and from multiple brands. At its core, the intentions were good: show customers how the company is adapting, provide reassurance, and connect in a time of isolation. Few people would have adverse reactions to the goals of these campaigns. So how and why did this message, with all its good intentions, quickly become a parody of itself?
To say things have changed in recent months is an understatement in every sense of the word. We have witnessed numerous companies who managed to K.E.E.P. Their Customers Happy by successfully adapting to an ever-evolving situation. Flexibility and adaptability come with a need to strike a balance to remain authentic to a brand's DNA. How can brands keep their adaptation strategies authentic and prevent them from becoming Twitter meme fodder?
Adapt in a way that resonates with your customers
While much of the strategy pivoting we have witnessed was necessary at the time, they may not be relevant to incorporate into a brand's long-term loyalty marketing strategies. As brands start to P.L.A.N. Their Next Move, they can use this impromptu test and learn period to determine what changes impacted customers the most and balance that against what is fiscally sustainable. Benefits such as free shipping became table-stakes when online shopping was the only option, but that may not be a viable long-term solution from a financial perspective. However, incorporating free shipping as a tiered benefit could be a way to scale back costs while still taking care of top-tier members and valuable customers.
As brands adapt and figure out how to navigate the new normal (I couldn't resist), they should not let perfect be the enemy of good. Take, for example, the makeshift buy online, pick up curbside options that have popped up. At Brierley, we have worked with numerous clients who have grappled with setting up the necessary infrastructure to execute this functionality flawlessly. Yet, in recent months, when push came to shove, many brands rolled up their sleeves and figured out how to make this work. While these temporary workarounds will need to be streamlined and operationalized, ultimately, they were a stopgap measure that met customers' immediate needs. Brands need to maintain that spirit of 'making it work' to show customers their willingness to do what it takes to make things more accessible, easy to use, and safe.
Reassure customers that it is not just about the bottom line
When it comes to reassuring customers, many brands have equated this with communications about cleaning stores regularly and employees washing their hands (I sincerely hope that has always been the case). Instead, reassure customers by not taking advantage of recent events to help a struggling bottom line. Understandably, consumers have shifted to more frugal mindsets. While some opportunistic consumers are out looking for the best deals, they are not the ones brands want to retain and nurture. Reacting and going after short-term gains via heavy discounting, sales, promotional emails, and bonus point offers might be an initial reaction to offset the loss of sales. However, this is a temporary solution that could easily register as insincere, and one that your best customers might not even want. Instead, highlight the extra steps the business is taking to provide flexibility in payments, extending return policies, points expiry and reward expiry, maintaining tier status, and easing tier requalification criteria. If some of these strategy changes need to be scaled back, find ways to incorporate other benefits that add value, and show support.
Strengthen connection with customers
The most significant opportunity for brands is to shift focus from transactional encounters to more meaningful relationships. At a time when people are craving feeling pampered, cared for, and connected, loyalty programs are in a prime position to surprise and delight their members. As customers tighten budgets and cut out treats and extras, brands can leverage loyalty rewards and benefits to give members back some of what they are missing and deepen emotional loyalty. An upgrade to the morning coffee, a free sample in an online order, priority customer service lines, these are all small but meaningful ways for customers to feel pampered and special.
As these loyalty marketing strategies and changes are incorporated, it is critical to solicit customer feedback and to put effort into maintaining the feedback loop. Customer feedback can be an early warning that new features and offerings are not working as expected and could have adverse results. Facilitating a two-way dialogue also ensures the strategy pivots and adaptations are meeting customers' changing needs.
Making customers feel important, seen, and heard is nothing new, but now more than ever, brands need to make sure their customers feel like we are all in this together.