As companies rush to shore up business during the COVID-19 crisis, the great unknown lies ahead. How will marketing be impacted by the changes in consumer behavior that are occurring now? Many business owners are facing the reality that things may never be the same.

As the United States reaches its peak with the mortality rate of the coronavirus, buyers have been shocked by widespread job losses and long periods of being at home. The new behaviors and sacrifices made during this time will have a long-lasting impact on how people shop, what they buy, and how they do it.

As marketers, we already see how the landscape has changed for companies trying to convert buyers and gain brand loyalty. New challenges exist to get Americans to spend money during what seems like an extended period of uncertainty. However, where there is danger, there is also great opportunity in this new reality.

Doing More with Less

My grandparents lived during the Great Depression. That experience made them more self-reliant and careful with their money. As consumers, they exemplified the phrase “reduce, reuse, recycle” long before the notion of environmentalism ever existed. They bought very little. They wasted nothing. Their garage contained jars with anything that could be used reused. Bread ties, buttons, you name it.

By the time the COVID-19 crisis passes, Americans will have spent many months in relative isolation surviving with less money and the prospect of a grim future. During this time, they will have learned how to get by with less money and a little ingenuity. Much like the generation who survived the Great Depression, new habits are being formed and a whole new way of thinking is developing.

Yes, Americans will start traveling, buying and eating out again. Yet, it’s safe to say that the COVID-19 crisis has forced them to reexamine their spending habits. They’ve begrudgingly learned how to cook for themselves, and along the way they’ve discovered that their $13 daily breakfast they once enjoyed at a restaurant really only costs about $4 when made at home. Some have learned new skills like sewing, home repair, home improvement, and how to shop online for the cheapest deals possible.

For marketers, getting Americans to eagerly spend money on superfluous incidentals will require more work. The upside is that with more competitors going out of business, the cost to advertise will go down. The downside is you’ll have to make a more compelling case to justify your prices.

Brands Will Matter More Than Ever Before

We’ve seen the stories of large corporations benefitting from the economic disaster assistance meant for small businesses. It’s not only a bad look for those companies, the negative perception will persist after the COVID-19 crisis has passed. The loss of brand equity will leave a lasting impression.

Consumers buy from companies that embody their beliefs. Those companies who have tarnished their brands with tone deaf advertising and poor customer service should expect to cede market share to competitors who demonstrate empathy and good corporate behavior.

Additionally, in times of crisis, consumers gravitate to brands who offer reliable goods and services at an affordable price. Habits crystalize after a period of 66 days – just over two months. As Americans hunker down for multiple months with no end in sight, they’ve learned to accept and even enjoy entirely new brands that meet their current needs. If it took a global pandemic to inspire them to make this change, how hard do you think it will be to pull them away?

Companies must work harder to earn the trust and patronage of Americans once they reemerge from quarantine. Brands must demonstrate their worthiness and be irresistible. Storytelling and brand positioning must align with the needs of these buyers if companies hope to succeed in a post COVID-19 world.

Engage Instead of Convince

As consumers start buying again, they will be looking to companies who directly appeal to their most pressing needs. There will be tremendous opportunities to engage buyers in more meaningful ways than simply pitching products. Tools already exist to do this. Savvy marketers who understand personalized marketing tactics will have the upper hand.

By utilizing data-driven techniques, companies can accurately pin point which Americans are most likely to buy. Motivating buyers to act will require a sophisticated, buyer-centric approach. This will be new territory for many companies. For many years they’ve gotten by with cute messaging, slick packaging, and a well-crafted campaign.

It’s not that buyers will be cynical of good marketing. Instead, what passes as good marketing is going to change. Companies need to modify their strategies from a one size fits all approach to something that is tailored to smaller groups of people who are aligned by less obvious affinities.

The best way for companies to adapt to this new paradigm is to engage buyers on the brand level with values, use behavior-based marketing automation, and orchestrate a process that treats buyers as partners rather than transactions.

Be Lean and Agile

The tech industry embraced Lean and Agile methodologies ages ago. It’s high time for marketers to do the same.

The term Lean references the lean manufacturing model of Toyota from the 1930s, which espoused the practice of minimizing waste while maximizing productivity.

Like consumers themselves in the post COVID-19 world, companies will have to do more with less. In order to embrace a scrappy and nimble approach to marketing, quick decision making and multidisciplinary teams will be vital.

The term Agile references the software development model whereby technical solutions evolve through the collaborative effort of software engineers and the end user via a feedback loop that improves the product over the course of multiple short iterations.

Marketers will be forced to drive growth by focusing their efforts on the activities that provide the most value to customers.

Putting this in layman’s terms, as feedback from buyers happens in real time, companies must move fast and adjust their marketing strategies without sacrificing the core brand values that attracted their buyers to begin with. In other words, ditch the decision by committee and let buyers guide your strategy.

It’s not enough to use a “set it and forget it” approach to broad marketing campaigns. That won’t work. With more self-reliant, cautious and cash-strapped consumers reentering the market in a post COVID-19 world, marketers must embrace a strategy of empathetic brand messaging supported by regular data analysis, tests, and quicker optimizations.

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