As a society, we are in uncharted waters. During this COVID-19 outbreak, every business, every industry and, frankly, every consumer is trying to navigate through a barrage of information. People are anxious not only about their health and well-being but their finances as well, including short-term and long-term business prospects. The building industry has an opportunity, perhaps a responsibility, to stay connected with customers. But how? What’s the right tone and what’s the right medium?
What seems to be breaking through the noise are those entities offering guidance, reassurance, and a message of camaraderie. This is not the time for a hard sell; that would seem tone deaf. Rather, an effort to keep your brand name top-of-mind in a positive way, acknowledging the situation while offering concrete ideas, assistance and a message of “we’re all in this together,” appears to be the approach marketing professionals should be taking. Doing so on behalf of their brands, whether through social media posts, sponsored content, email updates, virtual training or digital advertising touts a message of empathy and helpfulness.
Here are a few key pieces of advice to help building industry professionals communicate with customers and promote brand loyalty during this difficult time…and beyond:
Rise up and be a brand leader. You may need to pivot or adjust your brand’s current sales and marketing efforts during this health crisis; normal product promotion might not be appropriate and can seem insensitive. But that doesn’t mean brand/product promotion has to come to a complete standstill. As an effective brand leader, you realize that now is the time to communicate with the market and be there for your customers. It is important to review your current plans and messaging, and to evaluate how it might be received given the current situation. Khoros, a leader in digital customer engagement, suggests the following: Review and refine your content calendar, leverage social listening to inform your strategy, and “iterate,” meaning that, given the continually evolving situation, it is critical to evaluate the content you’re putting out on an ongoing basis.
The building industry is moving forward even in these difficult times—builders and remodelers need your brand. There are some lessons to be learned from how consumer brands have adjusted their go-to-market plans—the national retailer that reminds shoppers they will remain open so consumers can buy needed goods, the rental car company that is offering discounted rates to help stranded travelers get home, the major car brand that is offering at home delivery and 120-day delayed payments on new cars, or the major drink brand that launches a campaign about how “staying apart brings us together.” All of these are examples of staying in front of the customer and offering assistance or reassurance. The key to doing this successfully is understanding what the best tact is for now and then thinking ahead to what may be needed in a couple of months. As always, planning for the future is important. This disruption won’t last forever so brands need to be agile and keep key strategies moving forward to be “market-ready” when things return to normal.
Know your customer. Use the historical data collected by your brand to think through how your customers will be impacted by this disruption. That understanding will help you build a brand content strategy and promotion not only for this unprecedented time but into the future as well. Make sure to provide a means by which your customers can provide feedback, ask questions, and share ideas. Recent content put out by Gartner describes this concept of “Customer Experience (CX)” as a way of “knowing and responding to customer expectations and needs to improve customer satisfaction, loyalty and advocacy.” Continuing on, it was stated that without understanding the current customer experience and responding, brands run the risk of allowing the competition to rise up: “…with each passing week, brands will be made unequal based on their preparedness, communications, priorities and actions.”
How can your brand help your customers? While no one knows what will happen, it’s important to help your customers during this time. What does that look like for your customer: Free financing? Free shipping? Free training? Discounts on products? Virtual service? You want to let your customers know that you are their advocate in helping them do business when they are likely struggling, both personally and professionally. Can you help them get the products they need in a timely fashion or help mitigate supply chain glitches? Is your business in a position to offer advice or practical help to get people to a job site? Each company needs to evaluate its customers’ unique needs, but keep in mind the ultimate goal is to bring reassurance and relief.
Brand leaders should be looking to increase a sense of community with existing customers, while creating the building blocks for attracting new customers. The right offer at the right time will build brand loyalty.
Don’t go dark, go digital. Recent research from Gartner (as noted in a WARC article) explains that key learning from China during the height of the pandemic shows that “time spent online shot up 20% as people confined themselves to their homes. Social networking continued to be people’s favorite activity.”
With social distancing the new norm here in the U.S., there is an advantage to shifting to new digital platforms and other digital friendly formats, including webinars and chat rooms, video content, promotions that can be redeemed digitally, or messages that are amplified across websites and social media platforms. This could also be an opportune time for a brand to embrace a new digital content strategy—with near-term and longer-term topics.
Review and Reflect
Overall, the key at this difficult time is to think about how you can help your customers navigate through these challenging days while supporting your own brand. As a brand leader, make sure you are listening to your customers and that they hear you. Brands that stand out and are heard will emerge as leaders when this disruption is over. The options are as limitless as your imagination.