Three Strategies for Building Brand Reputation During a Downturn
By Cara Sloman, executive vice president, Nadel Phelan Inc.
Even in challenging times, possibilities abound for those trained to see them. Some companies may halt their communications efforts and wait out the storm. Others may proactively help their customers solve the problems that the crisis has introduced. After all, companies exist to solve customer problems. The bigger the problem – and the more reassuring and authentic your communication with customers – the more likely you are to cultivate loyal relationships.
History shows us that courageous and astute companies flourish in the wake of downturns. In fact, according to analysis of the Profit Impact of Marketing Strategies database, organizations that increase their marketing budget during recessions achieve greater returns and earn larger percentages of market share when the economy rebounds.
The New Customer Journey
The customer journey is always evolving, but it’s undergone significant change since the COVID-19 crisis began. Companies are experiencing longer sales cycles and an increased reliance on digital channels. As McKinsey & Company noted recently, customers have dramatically increased their preference for digitally enabled sales interactions when finding products. Suppliers’ mobile apps and online or social media communities are showing a sharp increase, too. These changes mark a fundamental shift that puts empathy and personalization at the forefront of the new customer experience.
Brand Reputation in the Time of COVID-19
Companies that want to use these changes as catalysts for both short- and long-term success can employ these three strategies:
1. Customer priorities come first. Businesses need to address customers’ most pressing pain points and frustrations to deliver outstanding digital experiences and encourage loyalty. Find ways to build an emotional connection with your prospective buyers through storytelling.
2. Revisit customers’ journeys. Ask these three pivotal questions: One, what is their persona? Two, what’s their current journey, and how is it different than before? And three, what’s the most cost-effective way to interact with them along the way?
If you pause to empathize with the needs of your customers, you will understand the pain points they’re trying to overcome along their customer journey and through to the final purchase. Use your data to analyze where they look to address those pain points. With this information in hand, you can feel confident about creating a marketing plan that appeals to customers in a highly personalized way.
3. Build measurable relationships. The business-to-business marketing landscape, in particular, has radically transformed due to the pandemic. Traditional marketing investment focused on tradeshows, events and in–person meetings has been completely upended. With now-elongated sales cycles, a shift to measurable relationship–building strategies is essential.
Communications need to shift from salesy promotions to sharing helpful information through newsletters, articles and other content that include softer-sell messaging, using more subtle and friendly language. Building a two-way communication channel will demonstrate that you understand where your customers and prospects are coming from. This will help build a sense of kinship with your company.
Ask for feedback through your website and e-newsletters, send customer surveys (online or offline) and provide online message boards or blogs. Use every tool and opportunity to create interaction. While face-to-face time is off the table currently, one-on-one discussions over video or phone with customers and prospects can help to powerfully personalize your relationship-building plan, in which the customer feels uniquely valued. Along the way, use your CRM tools to track and analyze efforts.
In times of plenty and of want, agility is a hallmark of success. Marketers must be ready to quickly change tactics and strategies, always focusing on branding that meets and exceeds customer needs.
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