Driving brand loyalty, customer engagement post COVID-19: Why digital marketing, omnichannel execution is essential

Marty Armstrong, founder and CEO of Strong Arm Advisory Services, shares insight on critical digital marketing and omnichannel execution considerations, that are key to retail success, as the industry adapts to a very different world from the one it existed in prior to the pandemic outbreak.

With the number of global COVID-19 case numbers topping 10 million (as reported by the World Health Organization), the novel coronavirus pandemic has severely disrupted the retail sector. The current health crisis — outlined by stay-at-home orders and social distancing — is fundamentally changing the way consumers shopping behaviors, purchasing patterns and purchasing needs, bringing about distinct challenges (and opportunities) for retail marketers.

Since the U.S. lockdown mandate on March 23, shoppers have increasingly adopted a ‘digital-only’ way of life and the Internet has become almost every consumer’s new and constant companion. What seemed like an overnight shift to at-home-everything (work, school, exercise etc.), ushered in a significant accelerant for the retail e-commerce industry. Mass consumer migration to online shopping and reliance on reduced-contact (or ‘contactless’) channels to procure goods and services has become the new commerce ‘normal’ — at least for now.

Moreover, in a post COVID-19 environment that has only helped accelerate the change of consumer behavior, brand loyalty and customer engagement is more vulnerable and retail marketers must reinvent and redesign their approach to digital marketing and omni channel execution — now an essential lifeline for retail.

The following are critical digital marketing and omnichannel execution considerations key to retail success as the industry adapts to a very different world from the one it existed in prior to the pandemic outbreak.

Diversified strategy with direct communication lines to consumers

Knowledge is power — know your audience (addressable market)! Understanding who your products and services resonate with based on thought-out customer personas helps to create a virtual dialog that is tailored, relevant and valuable. Otherwise, you are flying blind.

The ability to execute against it is key — so once you know your audience, make every effort to be relevant to them in a time where people are facing health, social and economic impacts. Why should they care about you? How can your products and services either help their situation, or distract from it in a positive way?

Deliver targeted and personalized experiences (both mobile and large-screen experiences) tailored to your audience. Leverage intelligent mix of social, mobile, online search, email and digital broadcast to increase/solidify customer engagement with your target audience.

Now more than ever, businesses need to be data-driven — spend where/when data indicates maximum results (provided the where/when is appropriate for your brand).

Be authentic and socially conscious

The prevailing thought is socially conscious/socially sensitive brands win with brand loyalty amid COVID-19. While this may very well be true in many cases, it is very easy to overdo it.

Be socially conscious of the impacts felt by your audience but be authentic in relation to your brand. Consumers can identify when a brand is being opportunistically inauthentic. If there are values your brand holds sincerely, convey them and share why and how you address them — especially if these are consistent with pre-COVID marketing efforts. Don’t suddenly become a marketing champion of a social cause in the hunt for customers if it isn’t really what your brand stands for or how it operates. Be sensitive but be authentic and stay true to your brand.

Omnichannel execution

Know your customers! Once you’ve spent the time to market most effectively, it is imperative to understand who your newly acquired customers are, as not all customers are created equal. Are they price-driven, quality-driven, convenience-driven, brand loyalists? What are your customer segments? What does it take to acquire them, and what steps can you take to maximize lifetime value? This is at least as important as how you target and acquire new customers, if not more so.

The challenge to motivate customers to visit a physical store to interact in-person is greater (especially for non-essentials). It is absolutely imperative to open virtual gateways (social, email, chat, call centers) and provide maximum flexibility (customizable shipping options, ability to schedule delivery, BOPIS, easy mail-in or remote returns) to win in today’s challenging environment.

Stop me if this sounds familiar – but data and your brand’s ability to execute against it is key. Similar to knowing your audience (addressable market), and your customer — it is critical to know the state of your inventory and supply chain, in relation to demand, at all times. Consistently use and leverage data –— data is critical to success. Data, data, data.

Manage inventory, supply chain, orders and reverse logistics to maximize customer satisfaction without unnecessarily eating into critical margin to keep the business stable during this time. Balance customer convenience and service with cost-effective measures to maintain financial objectives. As an example, not all shipping needs to be fast or free.

A changing world

Since COVID-19 lockdown measures were set in place on March 23 the world has operated in unprecedented times. Today’s new commerce reality requires retail marketers to be situationally aware, authentic and data-driven to provide a more personalized, high touchpoint and interactive approach with consumers to maintain brand loyalty and meaningful customer engagement — all while maintaining efficient operations and financial viability. Brands who are highly adaptable, flexible and open to the new reality will have the market edge as the industry comes out of the global COVID crisis.

Keep in mind, the last few months have been a shock to the system for everyone — consumers and businesses alike — and while -ecommerce as a percentage of retail sales will likely pull back a bit from these current levels post-pandemic, I think it is safe to say going back to an industry average of 15% of retail is highly unlikely.

Good luck out there.

Marty Armstrong is founder and CEO of Strong Arm Advisory Services.

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