The pandemic has thrown so much of what we thought we knew about consumer behaviour out of the window. A major shift to online shopping across the world has created a distinct new buyer behaviour; that of product-centrism. For now at least, consumers, presented with the infinite choice of the virtual shopping experience (and patchy availability at times), the potential to switch brands is greater than ever before.
For marketeers this presents a significant challenge to overcome this Christmas; how can our most trusted brands continue to build the loyalty of their customer base and what needs to change for chief marketing officers (CMOs) to be successful? In a recent survey by the CMO Club and Catalina, 47 per cent of CMOs view loyalty as one of their key performance indicators, and one they are not willing to let slide.
The Power of Comfort in a Crisis
It turns out consumers’ have sought to create some familiarity and comfort during the crisis by holding their favourite brands even closer to their heart. 64 per cent of CMOs surveyed found consumers are returning what they know and love, and this is something that businesses have had to respond to. It’s also about creating future loyalty too, with 68 per cent of CMOs employing strategies to target millennials and Gen Z consumers. However, 78 per cent don’t think their most loyal age group will change in the next 12 months.
Creating an Emotional Connection
The comfort of the familiar is all about creating and sustaining a strong emotional connection. We all have those fond memories of a brand our parents bought, whether that was breakfasts comprised of big bowls of Kellogg’s cereal or that heady waft of Comfort fabric conditioner. It is this precise emotional connection that marketers want to build on. And it’s not just retail brands, restaurants and bars also want to maintain this connection, especially once the lockdown is over.
Conversations at the Heart of Customer Relationships
The CMO Club’s research found that whilst for many businesses the pandemic has caused a decline in the number engagements and leads they’ve seen, the interactions that did come through were 40 per cent more communicative. People have more time and are searching for greater connection. The opportunity here lies in brands’ ability to foster the communities around them, maintaining and growing customer conversations.
Targeting Loyalty this Christmas & Beyond
One way to maximise increasing consumer conversations and quality of engagement this Christmas is to ensure that communication plans focus on what matters most to people. Loyalty programmes are an effective way of doing this, and one that CMOs are ramping up to ensure that loyalty survives the pandemic. 56 per cent of the CMOs surveyed say they are planning to shift positioning of their communication plan to focus brands’ towards this latent customer sentiment for comforting brands. Interestingly, the research indicated that 67 per cent of marketers find ‘advocacy and education to be the most valuable loyalty programmes’. This is significantly higher than the more traditional loyalty programmes, like sponsored events (22 per cent), VIP programs (14 per cent) and reward cards (9 per cent).
Although some companies who rely on loyalty reward cards have seen some success. Starbucks’ 90-day active members in their loyalty programme fell to 16.3 million at the start of the lockdown, but by late September, it was back up to 19.3 million, nearly back to 2020 first-quarter level of 19.4 million.
Listening to Feedback
The other benefit of increasing emotional connection and conversation is that it means more feedback from customers. For the CMOs surveyed this is an opportunity not to miss, and that now more than ever brands need to be listening to what their loyal customers have to say. The research outlined that 63 per cent found surveys to be most effective, 43 per cent customer/user groups and 40 per cent found reviews the most effective tool.
Part of listening to feedback is using it to respond to a changing market, and from the survey, The CMO Club found a number of stand-out tips for navigating customer loyalty right now:
1. Take the time to reflect and reset
2. Dial-up your use of real-time data
3. Let your customers take the lead
For many CMOs now is the time to be flexible and responsive to change, and allow plans to adapt to meet the fluctuating market and environment we find ourselves in. A lesson that extends beyond the world of marketing, perhaps too.