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Topics include: Direct to consumer / E-commerce / Data & privacy / Martech

Creating a customer experience for the future

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The pandemic has forced brands to adapt with record pace and flexibility. Changing consumer behaviour and limited resources have called for fresh approaches to traditional marketing tactics. With the trajectory for 2021 remaining uncertain, marketers across industries should continue to take innovative approaches to their long-term strategies.

The pandemic has permanently changed consumer shopping habits. When the first lockdown hit in March last year, order volumes rocketed in sectors including food and drink, home and garden, and gifts. More consumers than ever shopped online, including baby boomers and traditionalists who had previously only shopped in-store.

Our annual Customer Advocacy report highlights this, revealing that groceries saw the biggest shift in buying behaviour. In 2020, 47% of consumers bought more groceries online; 11% for the first time. Interestingly, across sectors, men were most likely to have bought online for the first time. Even once shops reopened, the new in-store experience, complete with one-way systems and social distancing, meant many continued to buy online. 40% of those who have shopped in-store post-lockdown reported finding the experience less enjoyable than before Covid.

Creating attention

Many businesses have responded to this change by hastily pivoting their marketing strategies to focus on digital channels. Brick-and-mortar retailers that previously only had a physical presence, such as supermarket giant Aldi, are now experimenting with online offerings to capture market share. But an online presence alone isn’t enough. To secure consumer attention (and spend), multichannel retailers must reimagine their customer experience.

There are many different ways to achieve this. Underpinning them all is data. The sudden increase in online traffic means marketers have a wealth of information at their fingertips. This data should be analysed and used to create strategic customer segments that support overarching business objectives. By serving customers highly targeted content based on attributes such as order number, frequency and/or value, retailers can drive desired actions – be that buying again, giving NPS feedback, or referring friends – that build lifetime value.

This targeted approach to customer engagement should be implemented at every touchpoint through the customer journey. All too often, marketers are so focussed on customer acquisition that they forget to nurture their customers post-purchase. But this risks missing out on significant long-term revenue. Instead, businesses should continue to build brand affinity through means such as loyalty programmes, educational content, and social media interactions. 37% of the consumers we surveyed for our Customer Advocacy report cited a loyalty programme as the best way a business could persuade them to return.

Experimenting with technologies is another way to enhance the customer experience. The pandemic prompted many retailers to trial virtual technology that mimics the experience of trying on items in-store. In some cases, these technologies have gone further than in-store ever could, such as virtually placing furniture in our homes via our mobiles. Meanwhile, real-time systems support product discovery, promoting available stock based on shopping behaviour. As the world increasingly becomes digital-first, innovations are set to rapidly get more sophisticated.

But rapidly evolving technology shouldn’t lead retailers to entirely overlook the human touch. Responsive customer service and conversational interactions on social media are instrumental to building brand trust. 65% of respondents in our research cited a brand being trustworthy as the most important quality for brand referral.

In our continuously changing climate, retailers should embrace the opportunity to build brand affinity with shoppers in new ways. Instead of simply replicating the in-store experience online, they should reimagine how they can connect with their target audiences in new and creative ways.

Building brand trust

The pandemic has placed a magnifying glass over brand trust. 70% of consumers believe it’s more important now than in the past. When times get tough, they want brands they can rely on. To find these brands, people turn to their friends. 51% trust their friend or partner’s recommendation more than any other advertising (for comparison, just 3% trust an influencer’s recommendation).

Alongside online orders, referrals soared for many businesses in lockdown. People weren’t just buying for themselves. They were telling loved ones about the businesses that could make their lives that bit easier in an unsettling time. 82% of consumers have recommended a brand over the past year.

Underpinning this brand trust is purpose. Consumers are increasingly conscious of the wider implications of their buying decisions. They want brands they can be proud to shop with and tell others about; not ones underpaying workers or harming the planet. This became particularly prevalent last year, as brands came under scrutiny for their response to the pandemic. Three quarters of respondents in our survey cited ‘how well brands responded to Covid as important’.

Rather than fluffy brand-building, actions like donating to the NHS or producing hand sanitiser, built powerful brand affinity that continues to drive revenue.

Over the coming year, we’ll be working closely with our clients to navigate this unfolding digital landscape. It’s clear that traditional marketing tactics can no longer be relied upon to deliver. But instead of feeling daunted by the uncertainty ahead, marketers should embrace the opportunity. Now is the time to try new approaches, test new ideas, and step out into the unknown. By remaining adaptive and flexible, retailers can build loyal customer bases that drive long-term value – in tough times and beyond.

Abi Wendt, client director at Mention Me

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