By Emma Mulcahy, Staff writer

June 9, 2020 | 7 min read

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The pandemic has had a significant impact on businesses and how they are now communicating with their customers. Braze and The Drum hosted a discussion with a panel of industry experts to look at how brands are dealing with the crisis and reframing their thinking to engage better with their consumers.

Braze round table

Watch key take outs from our speakers to hear their summary of findings from this fascinating discussion

Moderated by The Drum’s consulting editor Sonoo Singh, the panel looked at brands that are humanising themselves to ensure long-term consumer engagement. And how brands are showing up in remarkable ways in the moments that matter for the customers.

Humanity in action

Remaining conscious of the massive cultural and economic is advised, but fundamentally changing your business’ behaviour is not, said Marie Stafford, European director, Innovation Group at Wunderman Thompson UK. “Your message during this time must be in line with your brand; stepping out of your lane will feel jarring for your customers.”

Reward for brand consistency is seen through the performance of one of UK high street’s favourites – Pret A Manger. Marketing director, Julia Monro added “the company values are fundamental to how we run our business.” Its response to the pandemic has already earned much admiration from the British public. It has donated surplus food to homeless shelters, donated to charity partners and hospitals and reopened the doors of its shops based near hospitals.

Remaining faithful to your founding brand values is key across all sectors. As Chad West, director of marketing and communications at Revolut explained. “As a finance start-up, Revolut didn’t initially have any real budget or specified teams, so all of our marketing had to be community-based.” Bringing their customers into the business, making them investors and taking on board their suggestions helped create this community.

“As we scale, we know it is fundamental that we don’t lose sight of those values and become another corporate company.”

Exploring new channels in order to meet consumer needs

Meanwhile, lockdown restrictions have led many businesses to rapidly pivot to ecommerce. The panel discussed that while e-commerce businesses are seeing a spike in revenue, they’re also experiencing their own fresh set of challenges. These businesses will need to be agile and adaptable for a rapidly changing future, according to James Manderson, GM & VP success at Braze.

“For instance, if you’re a food delivery service, you need to increase the refresh rate of your data that provides the status of restaurants; when your food order has been received by the restaurant, where it is in the queue and when it is estimated to be ready. Ensuring this data is updated quickly, keeps the customer informed and ensures that your messaging hits the mark.”

The role of data during the crisis

At the heart of any brilliant marketing strategy there is always data, but brilliant customer experiences are not made possible by data alone.

The panel agreed that data driven insights help to track consumers and allow brands to remain nimble, responding to changes in behaviour and searches. But to be truly effective, personalised marketing strategies have to move beyond simply collecting data.

Magith Noohukhan, evangelist at Braze talked about the the theory of “the rise of necessity” in influencing consumer behaviour. He argued that consumers’ needs change on a daily basis, depending on what they or their family or their job requires at that time. This theory shapes the understanding of consumer needs and allows businesses to act and anticipate behaviour quickly. Real life observations can also be amplified using sites like Google Trends to gain greater insights.

“Capturing customer behavior data and analytics in real-time is really crucial to brilliant customer engagement, and personalization is key,” said Noohukhan. Knowing what your consumer wants now, and in the future, ensures that their needs are always met - boosting brand perception and the likelihood of consumers returning.

“A good relationship is built on understanding behaviours- not digging for more information. To be effective as brands, we need to converse with people in a manner that stimulates their emotions, added Stafford.

Getting to the heart of the matter

The Braze Brand Humanity Index is based on research identifying what attributes make a brand feel human to customers, as well as the business impact of that brand humanity.

The research highlights how businesses must strive to cultivate authentic relationships with customers to inform their communications strategy. Manderson warned brands to steer clear from what he called “forced humanity”. Noohukhan added: “We see that when successful brands communicate with their customers, it’s like a conversation between friends.” This guarantees a positive experience, naturally resulting in the customer acting as a brand advocate within their network.

But, as Chad pointed out, brand humanity needs to be more than skin deep. For instance, when Revolut decided to support Pride, that show of solidarity needed to be backed up with real action. “It cannot be just about waving a flag. We used one of our product features in conjunction with the Revolut Rainbow cards, with the permission of our customers, and donated our customers’ spare change to an LGBTQ+ support organisations.”

What can businesses do internally to humanise their brand?

According to the panel, COVID-19 has had a profound impact on all of our working circumstances, and in some cases has brought the dispersed teams into greater contact.

“Working from home has forced teams of people who wouldn't normally work together to collaborate,” admitted Monro. “This has allowed us [Pret A Manger] to come up with more creative solutions and initiatives to answer customer needs.”

The panel supported active listening from brands to help make smart strategic decisions. As Spyer suggested, what businesses need to ask themselves at all times, especially when navigating the new normal is the following:

“When is it right to serve? When is it right to sell? And when is it right to just be quiet?”

Marsden concluded it takes the right mix of actionable data, best-in-class technology, forward-looking strategy and teamwork to make it all possible, but it is critical to remember that the best brand experiences are always going to be personal, relevant and timely.

To learn more about how brands can successfully personalize their customer experiences, access Braze’s report here.

Customer Experience Brand Purpose Coronavirus

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