In a relatively short amount of time, the COVID-19 pandemic has completely turned our world upside down. Concerns about health, safety and the state of the economy have left many of us feeling anxious and scared. Plus, stay-at-home orders and social distancing measures, though necessary, have resulted in widespread feelings of loneliness and isolation.
It’s been a challenging time for brands and retailers. Brick-and-mortar stores have closed. Unemployment has hit record levels, which means more consumers are closely watching their spending. And it’s become extremely difficult for brands selling essential products -- like toilet paper and hand sanitizer -- to keep up with demand.
Despite these challenges, there are countless examples of brands stepping up to the plate -- whether it’s by donating personal protective equipment (PPE) to healthcare workers or simply bringing a bit of joy to customers during an otherwise dark time. These brands are doing what they can to help, and as a result, they’re strengthening their reputations and fostering relationships with shoppers. According to research from Edelman, 65% of consumers say that a brand’s response to a crisis will have a huge impact on their likelihood of purchasing from the brand in the future.
Consumers are understandably distracted, and many aren’t actively shopping for non-essential product categories. But it’s still possible (and important) for brands to find ways to authentically engage with them. Not sure how? Here are five key ways to foster customer relationships and build your brand in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.
1. Acknowledge What’s Happening
We’re living in strange times. It’s no longer an option to pretend like it’s not happening.
Instead, a brand must acknowledge the situation and empathize with its audience’s struggles. The same Edelman research mentioned above found that 83% of consumers want brand messaging that “communicates empathy and support with the struggles they face.”
This acknowledgement should go beyond the standard “our response to COVID-19” banner that appears on just about every eCommerce site. Brands must also revisit their planned communications and campaigns to ensure they’re still appropriate and acknowledge the tough time we’re facing. And any new campaigns should reflect our current circumstances. For example, in this Instagram post from Radio Flyer, the company acknowledges that spending time with grandparents looks a lot different now than it did just a few months ago. Though the children are likely riding in a Radio Flyer wagon, the post isn’t trying to sell anything. It simply acknowledges that this is a challenging time.
2. Communicate with Your Customers
In the midst of this crisis, out-of-stock items and delayed shipping times have become the norm -- especially for product categories that are in high demand. A survey from Yotpo found that a third of Amazon shoppers couldn’t get everything they needed from Amazon. Even Amazon is struggling to keep up.
The important thing is to be upfront with shoppers so they know what to expect. For example, Thrive Market makes it clear right on their homepage that customers should expect shipping times to be delayed up to three weeks. That way, shoppers can decide whether to make the purchase or search for products elsewhere.
When possible, explain the reasons behind your actions. For example, in a video on Walmart.com, the retailer explains that they’re closing stores earlier than normal to allow extra time for sanitation and restocking shelves -- as well as to give employees time to rest and recharge.
3. Be Part of the Solution
It’s inspiring to see the many ways businesses -- both large and small -- are finding ways to help during the COVID-19 pandemic. Ford is producing ventilators. New Balance is making masks for healthcare workers. Salesforce has started a fund for those affected by COVID-19 in San Francisco. And that’s just a few examples.
You don’t have to have a big budget to make a difference. Look for small -- but impactful -- ways you can support your employees, and those in your community. Edelman found that the majority of consumers want brands to “do everything they can to protect the well-being and financial security of their employees and suppliers.”
4. Respond to Reviews
With the surge in eCommerce spending, product reviews have become more important than ever. Reviews help shoppers make informed purchase decisions, especially when they can’t see and touch a product in person. Unlike retail shopping, the online shopping experience is saturated with product ratings and reviews.
A PowerReviews analysis found that at the end of March, consumers were engaging with online reviews at nearly double the rate as a month before. Brands that are able to respond to consumer-generated content have a great opportunity to engage with shoppers during a time when they might be feeling isolated. When someone leaves a positive review, thank them for their feedback and let them know you appreciate them being a customer. If someone leaves a negative review, acknowledge their concerns, and explain what your teams are doing to make it right. If someone asks a question in a Q&A forum about shipping times or product features, give them an accurate answer as quickly as possible.
5. Find Ways to Bring Joy
We’re living in an uncertain, stressful time. Many things are out of our control, and it’s hard to determine when (if ever) things will go back to the way they were.
Of course, there’s no way to flip a switch to return things to normal. However, there is an opportunity to find ways to bring a bit of joy into the lives of consumers. DoubleTree by Hilton released the recipe for their famous chocolate chip cookies so consumers can bake them at home when they’re not able to travel. Crayola is offering free, virtual sing-a-longs with Lisa Loeb. Lingerie company Pepper has created a Google Doc that allows people to write inspiring messages for others, organized by emotion.
Ready to Spark Joy and Engage Consumers in New Ways?
It’s a challenging time for everyone. Brands that go out of their way to authentically connect with shoppers will strengthen their reputations and foster relationships that will continue long after the pandemic is over.
If you’d like to learn more about the importance of managing your online reputation, check out these free resources:
On behalf of the entire Reputation Studio team, stay safe and healthy. If there’s anything we can do to help as you navigate this challenging, unprecedented time, please contact us.