Brands must get ready to open for (e)business

South Africans seem to have found a bit of a rhythm to lockdown – it’s said that it takes 21 days to create or change a habit, which is probably why.

Brands must get ready to open for (e)business

We’re beginning to come to terms with the fact that the world has irretrievably altered. As brands try to make sense of what marketing will look like in the future, there’s no ignoring that e-commerce features. A lot.

We all know that consumers have turned to online platforms for shopping, information and entertainment. Content engagement is at an all-time high as customers spend more time than ever online.

This is evident in click-through rates and cost-per-clicks on Facebook, which were stronger in March than they were in December and January, highlighting the performance of digital ads since COVID-19. Other formats like display video and search engine marketing have also seen consistent results.

The online trend seems set to continue even when lockdown is lifted. People are likely to be wary of being out in public, at least until their health and safety are more secure. By all accounts, that could be a year or two away.

This means you should be accelerating digital transformation and developing an e-commerce strategy now. Even if you don’t have essential goods or services to offer during lockdown, you can, and should, ­­­­meet your customers online as you prepare to make your offering digitally available, and put measures in place to integrate into this new normal.

Showing up in customers’ lives

Think about how you can show up as a brand in customers’ lives beyond sales. What other value can you provide and how can you remain relevant? Consider enhancing content around product use, such as how-to videos or infographics. Or if you have a children’s brand, this is a very good time to offers activities that help parents keep their children absorbed. Entertainment has a lot of value now too, especially if it provides authentic engagement.

If you sell non-essential goods, think about whether you could expand into new territories right now. For instance, could you partner with sectors that are in demand and under pressure? Or could you incorporate new products in high demand categories?

We’ve seen factories pivot their production to making personal protection equipment and sanitisers. You could also adapt by supporting sectors that are under strain – is there potential to form healthcare partnerships? We’ve seen companies that usually supply to businesses adapt by delivering essential goods to the general public. For instance, fruit and vegetables that used to be delivered to restaurants are now going directly to consumers.

If you’re fortunate enough to still be trading, our advice is to err on the side of over-communication:

  • Detail the measures you’re taking to safeguard the health and safety of staff and customers.
  • Communicate along the entire customer journey to help customers feel confident about choosing your brand.
  • Ramp up customer care – customers have a lot of questions and higher stakes.
  • Reassure customers about the quality of your products.
  • Things are bound to go wrong in the early days of introducing a new business model. Remember that problems don’t matter as much as your response to them and how you fix them.

It is important to be tone-sensitive in your e-commerce strategy. Covid-19 is a massive shock that will reverberate throughout the world for a long time to come and it needs to be acknowledged. Market research agency Kantar recently examined brand expectations and found that the way companies deal with the crisis now may influence future consumers. People are taking note of how brands behave and whether they treat their own with care.

If you’re creating content around your CSI involvement to keep customers engaged while they are not purchasing, remember that authenticity is everything now. Kantar’s research showed that only 2% of consumers are averse to advertising during this time, but its crucial that messaging is relevant and sensitive to the current reality.

This is certainly the time to be seen to be doing good. But it’s also the time to start thinking about the new normal for your brand and customers. As the world slowly returns to a daily routine there’s no denying that e-commerce will remain, so this is also the time to get your e-strategy right.

Germari (Gem) Steenkamp is head of UX Design at VMLY&R South Africa. She started her career in digital in 2010 after completing a degree in BA Communications (Graphic Design) at the North-West University. Immediately thrown into the practice of User Centred Design as a junior digital designer at Origin Interactive, she left print design behind and never looked back.

Published on The Media Online