Social distancing and Australia's entrance into a recession has driven a process of rapid digital adaptation. Relevance and utility are now more important than ever before and as brands struggle to keep up with the changing market it has become crystal-clear how important the need for speed is, both in times of crisis and business as usual - whatever that may be.
Brands are facing new pressure to understand how customer attitudes and behaviours are changing, so they can develop products, services and business models that meet those shifting needs, and take them to market quickly - without compromising when it comes to empathy, integrity or brand consistency.
New customer expectations
The past few months has seen a rapid shift to online, evidenced by a marked increase in the amount of online traffic, which grew by an additional 500 million sessions from April to May, according to data from SimilarWeb.
Paid search traffic costs have risen by an average of 52% and according to Australia Post, ecommerce deliveries rose 80% in the 2 months to May.
Australians are spending at 17% above normal levels across all industries, closely linked to government stimulus levels - except in Victoria as it undergoes a second COVID-19-induced lockdown.
Major industries are coping with significant levels of change.
Lockdown has sped up branch closures and increased the use of online banking, causing financial services brands to shift their focus to their website and user experience.
At the same time, high unemployment has put home loan and small business customers under stress.
Online traffic in the education sector almost tripled during Australia’s initial lockdown period, as the sector struggled to adapt to the need to offer courses and services online in a matter of weeks.
Meanwhile the loss of international student revenue and tens of thousands of jobs lost in research and administrative roles has left institutions pivoting their marketing towards the domestic market with reduced resources.
eCommerce has reached near-Christmas levels since June, which itself saw a year-on-year monthly increase of 8%.
While some brands have achieved better results online than from a traditional bricks-and-mortar business model, retail continues to be complicated by social distancing measures, mandated closures as well as the need to keep improving the online customer experience.
Values and spending go back to basics
Consumer attitudes have meanwhile shifted to embrace more simple pleasures, with less expenditure on fast fashion and entertainment experiences, and increased spending on homewares, home offices and home gyms.
Values have shifted as people spend more time with family and have come to appreciate brands that mean something. They’re looking inwards to family and community and are willing to pay more for locally sourced, good-quality products and groceries.
Having a relevant brand position and tone of voice is essential as consumers rate personalisation, integrity, time and effort more highly.
Media consumption habits are changing
Paid search, email and direct online traffic have been the fastest growing channels during the lockdowns and changed business conditions sparked by the Coronavirus pandemic.
Meanwhile social media has emerged as being an essential channel for keeping customers informed, while delivering customer care and nurturing the relationship.
Brands in sectors from financial services to education to retail and beyond need to meet the market quickly, developing new products and services at speed as well as finding new ways of delivering them safely.
They need to know how people’s communication and media consumption habits are changing. And they need to move quickly to communicate the right message to customers and prospects using the right channels.
To succeed amid so much disruption, brands need to be faster than everyone else in the market.
And all of this is happening while marketers are working from home in decentralised environments.
Gathering actionable customer data
First-party data that brands own - such as customer email addresses, phone numbers and so on - will become more important as Google phases out third-party data based on web browsing behaviour used for dynamic retargeting.
Brands that can create the value exchange that will cause customers to provide their email address will be ahead of the competition.
Free online tools such as Google Trends can offer great insights into consumer trends. For example, ‘best’ tops ‘cheap’ as a shopping term in the UK, the US and Australia as consumers seek long-lasting, more sustainable products.
Tools such as Similarweb provide data on the industry sectors that are performing well online, among other things, while tools such as Ahrefs and SEMrush offer great search-based competitor insights.
Monitoring your search traffic, bounce rate and web page traffic can provide great insights into the changing consumer landscape, along with email open and click-through rates.
Managing brands at speed
If the last few months have taught us anything, it’s that nothing is certain. For businesses and brands, that means being able to pivot, and always being ready to support those pivots with technology and process.
COVID-19 has been an unwelcome testing ground when it comes to brand responsiveness, with social distancing, changing government regulations and global human rights movements all happening at the same time.
“The need to get on-brand messaging into the market as quickly as possible is vital.”
In the words of Tourism Australia CMO Susan Coghill, “Gone are the days of 12-month planning and 6-month production. We’re going to be far more agile and nimble”.
The power of brand automation
Responsive brands have the ability to connect with customers through their channels of choice within hours rather than days.
Anyone within the organisation is empowered to execute, and marketing activity is not reliant on any individual or external production resource.
Brand automation powers responsiveness by eliminating the repetitive yet predictable work all marketing teams need to do to communicate across channels, empowering stakeholders to execute marketing activity safely with the confines of pre-approved guidelines and templates.
Why is it so important? In the current pandemic, every piece of content that’s going out needs to be on message and on brand.
And while industry sectors, business models, consumers and marketing budgets are under stress, brand automation offers organisations the ability to execute marketing quickly so brands can test and learn at speed - while reducing production costs and risk.
The path to customer centricity
Continuing to advertise and talk to the market more broadly will be crucial in the coming months.
Brands that invested during the last recession achieved a three-times higher return for shareholders than those that didn’t, according to McKinsey - beginning as soon as their competitors cut spending.
In times of crisis, a customer’s interactions with a brand can trigger an immediate and lingering effect on their trust and loyalty.
Keeping a finger on the real-time pulse of changing customer preferences and rapidly innovating will be key.
Right now, people need extra information, guidance and support to navigate current challenges. But what will they need next?