In the spirit of self-reflection and growth, I’ve been challenging my own assumptions, biases and convictions in the wake of the pandemic, especially regarding my work in marketing. It’s made me wonder: Do we always have to “put a stake in the ground” and set exactly what we stand for, or can we grow into it? Can we make the brand a “living” thing that evolves into a precise and accurate point of view as consumers interact and tell us what they prefer when it comes to retail transactions?
Look at a brand like Amazon, which purposefully stayed agile and flexible as it grew and became established, using consumer feedback to naturally evolve to be highly useful to its users. Plenty of others in the brick-and-mortar retail space have done so in the wake of the pandemic, like restaurants that transitioned to mini-grocery stores virtually overnight.
The new order to brand-building is conducive to a more powerful brand-consumer dynamic. For retailers that want to continue evolving alongside this new paradigm, here are a few action items to consider:
1. Give consumers a collection of ideas that let them make the brand ‘their own.’
Nothing is more important in a relationship than trust. That goes for interpersonal relationships as well as those with businesses and brands. After the pandemic shook the world and seemingly upended all the old rules, brands need to prioritize building and maintaining that trust more than ever.
An interesting early-pandemic example that comes to mind is Red Roof Inn offering day rates for people working from home who needed a safe space to escape to for a handful of hours. Red Roof charged as low as $29 for a makeshift workspace featuring high-speed internet access, free coffee, the companionship of one household pet and, most importantly, a quiet atmosphere to get work done.
Those businesses that work to develop a truly customer-centric business model that’s responsive and reactive to their needs and desires will be the brands that thrive moving forward.
2. Take advantage of available data to create personalized, useful experiences.
Retailers have plenty of data on their customers, but do they know how to best utilize it? Some do. The best brands employ data to stay present and in the moment with their users’ needs and aspirations. Those successful brands always seem to be a step ahead (because they are) and understand that a brand should be a “living” thing and never static. Zero- and first-party data, and the insights they provide, are the keys to unlocking tremendous personalization opportunities for customers — that elusive right solution at the right place at the right time.
Take Sephora as an example. The makeup retailer has created a “personalized customer journey“ thanks to its utilization of rich customer data, which allows it to suggest various skincare and makeup solutions and send reminders to customers about products they might need to reorder.
3. Treat users like collaborative co-participants with an active voice.
The more involved your audience is, the better the relationship will be. A passive customer base is not part of a successful recipe for growth (or survival), so brands would be wise to find new and innovative ways to foster constant contact and communication. When people feel like they have a say in the product or service you provide, they’re more apt to provide valuable feedback that can shed light on exactly what they want and need out of the relationship with your brand.
The surge in contactless and curbside pickup options at myriad retailers reflects the importance of listening to your customers. Once the practice proved popular, intrepid retailers began using customer feedback to push the envelope and meet more needs. Target and Nordstrom, for example, now facilitate curbside returns so shoppers don’t have to leave their cars when their purchases don’t pan out.
4. Prioritize diversity and inclusion in all interactions.
The social and civil unrest of 2020 was a long-overdue wake-up call for brands in every sector: How do you promote equity and stand up for marginalized people in your work? You want to make sure the message and the mission fit, celebrate and align with a new world of diversity and inclusion.
Equity and inclusion are increasingly important among wide swaths of consumers, so audit your marketing behaviors and make sure they are indeed inclusive and resonate with different backgrounds. When people see themselves reflected and feel they belong in your brand, they’ll be more inclined to align with it.
There are certainly more, but the above suggestions are solid considerations for where to start rebuilding a brand that resonates with today’s consumers. Ultimately, there’s no denying that a more open and varied approach is desperately needed and should be surfaced. It’s time for marketers and retailers to challenge the typical “command and control” approach built on persuasion with more reciprocal and collaborative approaches. It’s the only true way forward in this new world order.
As Global Chief Strategy Officer at OPMG, Nelson Freitas is responsible for leading integrated digital strategy across several agencies, including RAPP, Critical Mass and Targetbase. Freitas specializes in partnering with strategic leads at agencies to drive innovation and create scalable strategies for OPMG clients.