It’s fair to say that the pandemic changed many Americans’ daily behaviors (hand sanitizer and home schooling, anyone?)
Beyond these initial “how do we stay safe?” shifts, multiple research studies confirm that consumers have adopted significantly different behaviors over the past several months — particularly when it comes to making a purchase. Data from global consulting giant McKinsey, for example, shows that 75 percent of U.S. consumers changed their shopping behavior due to the pandemic:
- 40 percent are more mindful of where and how they spend
- 36 percent tried a new brand
- 73 percent expect to stay with that new brand for the foreseeable future
Research of global consumers by EY takes it one step further, finding that half of consumers worldwide expect their lives to change significantly in the long term. EY’s research also identified five behavioral drivers that should be of significant interest to brand marketers:
- Affordability first. Concerned about long-term effects on income, 30 percent of people are committed to living within their financial means.
- Health first. Fifty-seven percent say they are paying greater attention to the health benefits of their purchases.
- Planet first. With 17% of survey respondents willing to pay higher prices for ethically sourced and sustainable items, these buyers are most likely to try new brands that align with their eco-conscious thinking.
- Society first. Of this group, 73% are making changes in their lives to support the greater good.
- Experience first. Least concerned about their health or finances, 11 percent of consumers are focused on living in the moment.
Whether these behavioral shifts were driven by supply chain disruption, convenience or simply uncertainty, it appears they may be here to stay. For example, the majority of spending categories experienced 10%+ growth in online shopping. As brick & mortar stores have reopened, 83% of consumers intend to shop online the same amount or more.
So the question becomes, how do brands nurture new customers’ loyalty in a post-COVID world?
Capitalizing on new buying behaviors will require a significant shift in thinking for many brand marketers — traditionalists and digital natives alike. Tactics such as data-driven marketing, predictive analytics and personalization are more critical than ever in the quest to deliver relevant messaging and engender a sense of buyer loyalty.
Below are some thoughts on how to succeed in the rapidly evolving buying environment.
Eliminate dated expectations
Brand marketers have long relied on a familiar shopping cadence, specifically around holidays. However, elevated online shopping levels due to the pandemic are muting the traditional spikes seen during holidays.
How much have buying patterns changed? The latest data from the Adobe Digital Economy Index points to the number of multibillion-dollar sales days now occurring outside of holiday periods. Between January and August 2020, 130 days reached $2 billion+ in sales — including every day in May and June — compared to just two days in 2019.
What’s more, in-store traffic on Black Friday 2020 was cut in half, according to Coresight Research, while a National Retail Federation survey showed a 44% year-over-year increase in online-only shopping.
Rather than basing marketing efforts on dated assumptions, marketers must have in place the tools and technology to offer omnichannel buying options, communicate via consumers’ preferred channels and quickly capture, analyze and react to campaigns’ performance data.
Expand your models
Remember those new customers who tried your product for the first time? They may not fit the buyer persona you’re used to.
Here’s your opportunity to use their data to uncover and test new lookalike audiences, run cross-sell/upsell models or use trigger modeling for customer retention and loyalty building.
Know your target audiences
Research shows that generational buying considerations vary more widely than ever.
Forty-five percent of Gen Z say price is the top factor in deciding on a retailer, compared to less than a third of Millennials (28%), Gen X (29%) and Boomers (30%). When it comes to buying loyalty, 43% of Millennials are extremely/very likely to drop a brand based on its response to the COVID crisis, in contrast to Gen Z (35%), 34% of Gen X (34%) and just 20% of Boomers.
No longer can we assume intent, channel preferences or pain points, which makes current, accessible data and transparent reporting more critical than ever.
Develop a loyalty-building strategy
With new customers discovering your brand for the first time, loyalty-building communications are paramount to keep the momentum going.
Now’s the time to review every touchpoint through the lens of the customer experience. Is your welcome email reflective of the current environment? How easy is it to locate shipping information, track a purchase or connect with a live human for assistance? Should your website include a bot or chat feature? What about text communications for customers who prefer that channel?
Once you’ve completed your CX due diligence, it’s time to surprise and delight with birthday offers, “Friends & Family” discounts and other loyalty-building tactics that demonstrate you know and appreciate buyers as individuals.
Consider integrating direct mail into your strategy, such as a welcome mailer instead of an email. For the stuck-at-home consumer, this tactile communication can provide a break from the daily barrage of emails and fatiguing screen time.
A robust social media strategy can also boost loyalty by encouraging regular interaction with your brand as well as its fellow fans.
Make direct mail a go-to channel
As noted above, postal mail can be a welcome change from digital-only communications. And there’s no doubt it stands out. According to DMA data, 42.2% of direct mail recipients view what brands send. Further, USPS research finds that direct mail recipients purchased 28% more items and spent 28% more money than people who didn’t get that piece of direct mail.
Add direct mail to your marketing program for incremental lift that adds up. For example, you can use it to retarget non-converting online shoppers or upsell new buyers on complementary products, which increases revenue, maximizes ROI and heightens customer lifetime value.
Recognize that efficiency is now part of the shopping experience
According to the Association of National Advertisers, “one of the most pronounced effects of the pandemic has been the change in how people shop at brick-and-mortar stores: They have become more deliberate in their behavior, focused on keeping within budgets, making fewer visits, and getting in and out as fast as possible.”
Brands and retailers that have yet to embrace e-commerce as well as omnichannel options (buy online, pick up in store) are at a clear disadvantage as shoppers maintain their new behaviors post-pandemic.
When you’re conducting the touchpoint review noted above, be sure it includes processes that may have been cobbled together in haste, such as curbside pickup, to see if they can be streamlined to increase efficiency and reduce costs.
Leveraging changing behaviors to benefit your brand
There’s no doubt that the COVID-19 crisis created countless obstacles for brands and consumers alike — but those obstacles also represent opportunities for marketers.
If your brand’s ability to tap into data, execute an effective loyalty-building strategy and manage the customer journey (whatever it looks like) isn’t up to the task, now’s the time to implement solutions to get it where it needs to be.
We know change isn’t easy, but we’re here to help. Let the LS Direct client success team help you map out the best strategy to build loyalty with your newest buyers — and keep them coming back for more.