How to engage customers when you can’t sell to them

CRM should pivot to building brand loyalty during the lockdown.

by Nick Beevors
Last Updated: 15 Apr 2020

Many businesses are either closed for business, offering a very limited service or are so busy that people can’t get hold of them, which will have significant consequences for how they should engage with customers during the lockdown.

Here’s how.

Flip the funnel

We generally spend more time talking in practical terms with our clients, but the theory is important here. The awareness–action funnel, with broadcast channels at the top filtering down to direct-response channels at the bottom, has been flipped. People are still looking to TV and print but, with customer behaviour changing completely, these media don’t have their former roles and, likewise, cinema and outdoor advertising can’t work in the same way.

Meanwhile, we know that email and online are where people are finding their news and information (internet use has doubled in the two weeks, according to Openreach data). Email, in particular, is a key channel, not only because it allows you to talk directly to customers but because you can be relevant and flexible right up until you send. Those communications at the sharp end of the funnel are now much more vital as people read and digest information. There’s an opportunity here to use CRM in broader ways. 

Usually in CRM (customer relationship management) we talk about balancing lifetime brand loyalty with next-time brand loyalty, with the weight stacked in favour of the latter. We now need to reverse this, with either no or fewer occasions to trigger the next-time purchase. Every communication needs to create and build brand affinity.

What to say?

This shouldn’t be the time to scramble around for content or look for hooks. The starting point should be the essence of the brand. What does it stand for? Establish what this means even if the product is taken out of the equation. 

How can the brand deliver its message to the customer, over and above putting the product in their hands or allowing them to experience it in the normal way? Be creative and ensure the answer is relevant to the channel, brand and customer. There’s a big opportunity here to do this right.

How to communicate and how often?

The power of communications channels lies in personalisation and relevance. Generic welcome messages on apps and in email programmes should have been the first thing to change as they will most likely not work at the moment, and certain types of communications need to be mothballed completely. We’ve seen a general shift to weekly communications that resonate. 

Also, think about the level of personalisation now – if you’ve built good brand affinity then keep everything human and personalised (and if you haven’t built a good brand affinity, should you even be emailing this audience in the first place?). Everyone’s craving human interaction in our new socially distanced world. When before have you even considering getting together with your old uni mates for a game of Quick Draw? Meanwhile, the official notices are still needed and need to be in news style and centred on hard facts.

Tangible examples

We’ve reviewed a lot of recent communications from our makeshift desks. The ones not working are the ones that carry on regardless, for example, the travel brand giving us 'a bit of travel inspiration’. Not what we want or need to see at the moment.

The winners, meanwhile, are those doing things a bit differently. For example, in the same category, the brand sending older travellers a quiz or a puzzle to do. It might not be right for all but the company has adapted - it’s being more relevant to its customers and their new home-based lifestyle.

How is your business responding?

More than a million of us came out on to our doorsteps to applaud NHS workers. Burberry is making masks. Dyson is producing ventilators. This is all great news and brilliant to know. There’s extra visibility for these kinds of initiatives at the moment. Think about your customers, your brand but also the wider world, which is increasingly relevant.  

On the flipside, don’t make the mistake of navel gazing. I’ve seen communications from luxury brands asking their customers to buy vouchers to support them in the future. We all like paying it forward for a local business we love and have an affinity with, not so much for a multi-million-pound luxury retailer.

Done right, companies have a part to play in the overall recovery and CRM during this time could actually help brands forge stronger, longer-term bonds with people, without any product changing hands.

This article first appeared in our sister title Campaign. Nick Beevors is a senior strategist at Armadillo

Image credit: Ollie Millington/Getty Images

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