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7 min read

Ideas for Navigating the COVID Crisis

By Hilary Fagan

Nearly every business on the planet is rethinking their strategy right now (including us). As consumers hunker down, doors shutter, and commerce declines across the board, there's unfortunately no silver bullet.

But while the disruption is at a scale we don’t usually encounter, this isn't the first crisis to hit consumer brands. We put together some best practices we’ve learned from prior downturns and from talking with our customers to help you weather this storm and set up for a stronger recovery.


Lead with empathy

Your customers deserve to know how you’re taking care of them and your employees. But consider tailoring your message based on customer segments — someone who hasn’t shopped with you for several years may not care about your in-store cleanliness, but would likely appreciate the fact that your organization has committed to paying hourly employees who can’t come in to work.

Some Considerations:

  • If your stores are still open, how are you ensuring that your business is upping standards for cleanliness and safety? How are you making experiences better for customers who are at risk or immunocompromised, for community members on the front-line?

  • If stores are closed, how are you prioritizing the health and wellness of employees that help fulfill deliveries? Are you paying furloughed employees? How is your brand supporting the communities in which they operate?

One note to the overly cautious: while we’ve seen some customers complain about inbox overflow as brands reach out, we firmly believe that tailored messages are worth the unsubscribe risk. Customers who opt out likely weren’t active to begin with, and although your mailing list may shrink a bit your deliverability rates will thank you later.


Focus on connections, not consumption

Work on your long-term relationship with your customers. Many people aren’t shopping at all right now, or only focusing on necessities. That’s understandable. As long as they continue to feel connected to your brand, they will come back when they’re ready. In the meantime, you want to stay top of mind and meet them exactly where they are.

Some ideas:

  • In both your tone and content, evoke the things people need most: safety, reassurance, continuity. Then highlight, promote, and make it as easy as possible for customers to find and purchase critical items

  • Take the opportunity to invest in your dream digital experience. Always wanted to develop an app that lets customers try your product virtually? This could be the time to invest in the kind of experience that you (and your customers) have always wanted

Emphasize retention over acquisition

We all know it’s more efficient to retain an existing customer than to acquire a new one, and that’s even more pronounced in a crisis. Identify your known customers, only send them relevant messaging (don’t forget to re-evaluate, as their needs may have abruptly changed), and turn acquisition marketing down to a simmer until there are early signs of recovery.

Some ideas:

  • Get help from your analytics team to understand which customers are still shopping and the extent to which their buying patterns have changed. Are existing e-comm customers buying more casual clothes than usual? Try reaching inactive e-comm customers with similar messaging

  • Re-evaluate spending for each channel and segment, and cut costs for lower value segments and channels with less-than-stellar return-on-ad-spend


Take this opportunity for change management & strategic capital projects

One silver lining about stores in hibernation, postponed launches, and cancelled campaigns is that there’s time to work on projects that have been on the backburner. Now may be the opportunity to rally around some foundational challenges in your organization or handle in-store upgrades that would have otherwise had a negative impact on demand.

Some ideas:

  • Transition your data culture and reporting from store or channel-centric to customer-centric, so that you can know who your best, most valuable customers are and serve them accordingly

  • Fast-track capital upgrade projects, prioritizing locations that have proven to be more resilient in prior market downturns or those which tend to serve your most valuable customers


Resist the temptation to discount everything for everyone on your website

As stores close, customers are abruptly shifting to online channels. In order to retain as much revenue as possible, many brands are offering blanket discounts on everything to everyone (even those who already prefer to shop online), and some may find it hard to wean customers away from lower prices when the market improves.

Instead:

  • Consider offering steeper discounts only to discount-sensitive customers or existing customers who have never shopped online

  • Use promotions and messaging that don’t set expectations for long-term discounts - for example, instead of 20% off everything try something category-specific by week, or a special flat-price promotion within a category (20% off Jeans)

  • Experiment, experiment, experiment. Try different messaging for different groups, and make note of what works best


Avoid overspending on paid marketing channels

The return on investment upside of investing in paid marketing during this time of upheaval is limited, and that budget — which is becoming more precious by the day — may be going to waste if it’s not allocated wisely. Remember: it’s expensive to chase after lower-value customers while their priorities are rapidly shifting and new challenges are taking up their attention.

Instead:

  • Optimize your spend by targeting paid marketing campaigns to the customers that matter most to your business - and who aren’t shifting online

  • Use this opportunity to build brand equity with your customers. Share updates on community efforts or donation-matching, keep messaging content-focused, highlight products that meet your customers’ new needs, or advertise restricted hours

  • Where possible, shift to owned channels — like emailing your best customers about a new curbside pickup option


Double down on owned, first-party solutions

As customers move to online channels and in-store pickup, use this as an opportunity to serve them directly rather than relying on third-party vendors for last-mile services. Not only does this approach help you better personalize experiences for your customers later, it ensures that your brand maintains ownership of the customer relationship after you reopen your doors.

Some ideas:

  • Point customers to existing owned processes for To Go orders or curbside pickup, and be sure they know how to use them
  • Be creative with your digital solutions — consider providing a service to customers that meets their current needs, or extend premium subscriptions that will engender loyalty among your best customers
  • Make sure that you use the new data customers provide (email addresses, phone numbers, etc.) to better personalize experiences for them later