Re-connecting with customers in 2021
For the best part of three decades, commerce has increasingly been moving to online platforms. The early 2020s will probably be seen as the period when this process reached its zenith. Lockdowns and social distancing have meant that consumers who had previously been reluctant to buy online often have had no other option. The same dynamic has forced many companies, big and small, to up their online marketing game.
As a result, more customers than ever are used to having instant access to more information than they can possibly process. And they want to decide fast. In branding, as with news and music before it, information is now superabundant, while the time individuals have to consume it is ever more limited.
The result is that, in many markets, the rules of branding have changed. Today, the most important attributes in delivering an improved customer experience are ‘time’ and ‘connection’. When and how quickly you connect with customers – and how you build that connection – are the brand attributes that will underpin the future of customer experience.
This article explains what that means for your brand, and how it can win both time and connection in 2021 and beyond.
What customers are looking for is someone to really understand their problem, talk about it, and empathise with it.
The new paradigm
‘Time spent with your brand’ is the new metric for
“When you're a digital business, you're always connected,” says Edmond Mesrobian, CTO at global retailer, Nordstrom. “And, most importantly you are always measuring and predicting customer needs within very short timeframes.” That means rethinking marketing KPIs.
Alex MacAdam, vice president, head of global go-to-market at Fujitsu, argues that the most important marketing metric today is how long consumers spend thinking about your brand. “Time customers spend with your brand is at the centre of everything,” he says, “because the more time you get versus another brand [and the greater the connection you make], the more business you'll win.”
Customers are hungry for human connection in a disconnected world
Time spent with your brand is necessary but, alone, it isn’t sufficient to make an impression on the customer. The other necessary element is making sure that consumers form a positive connection with your brand.
“What customers are looking for is someone to really understand their problem, talk about it, and empathise with it,” says MacAdam. “There's a demand for a new relationship with the customer, a shift to a more personal, human, empathetic relationship than we have traditionally seen in B2B.”
As Mesrobian puts it, “Convenience is no longer a differentiator; it is table stakes now. The connection with our customers is the opportunity. It's not just about selling. It is also about how we wrap the experience and personalise it to each individual customer.”
How companies can maximise brand time and build connection
Putting ‘time’ and ‘connection’ at the centre of your marketing strategy is easier said than done. When customers are engaging with brands through so many channels and touchpoints – sometimes just for a few seconds at a time, as they see an Instagram story or an ad in their Google search results – how can brands connect and leave a lasting impression?
Go to where the customer is
First, says, Alex MacAdam, make sure your brand maximises its external validation touchpoints and appears where customers are looking these days. “That could mean discussion boards, Gartner Peer Insights, YouTube, trade magazines or elsewhere,” he says. Nordstrom, for example, added Livestream Shopping as another way to serve customers on their terms. This offering gives customers real-time access to Nordstrom employees and brand partners as well as experts in beauty, fashion and home categories for an engaging virtual shopping experience.
Convenience is no longer a differentiator; it is table stakes now. The connection with our customers is the opportunity.
Provide personalised service online
For Nordstrom, the key to differentiation is digital. “We don’t think of ourselves as just a bricks-and-mortar company. We are a digital-first platform,” says Mesrobian. “The foundation of our differentiation is being service-led.”
Personal styling was at the heart of its differentiation before the pandemic. “Our customer ethos is about services including styling,” he explains. “When our stores temporarily closed due to COVID, we created the tools to enable our stylists to continue to offer this service to customers.”
That provided the company with an opportunity to connect more meaningfully with its customers. “To be closer to you, our customer, we have to get to know you,” he says. “We need to anticipate your needs. The goal is to make it easier for you to find what you are looking for and recommend products that we think you will like.”
Show empathy with your customers
Companies can connect by showing customers they empathise with their concerns. MacAdam explains: “You want to talk in a way that says to the customer, ‘We get it, we know what you're going through. We understand your problem, we understand your challenge.’ That creates a warmth and builds trust.”
One way to do this is to demonstrate that your company has a strong social purpose. “If a customer is looking to work with you, they want to see you have certain social credentials, credibility and a sense of wider responsibility.” As an example, MacAdam points to Fujitsu’s work towards the UN Sustainable Development Goals.
Reimagine customer experiences
“As customers, we don't want to be sold to during a pandemic,” says MacAdam. “So, companies need to adopt different marketing tactics at every single touchpoint in the customer journey, to build a connection in the time customers spend with them.” The necessity for every part of the marketing machine to work seamlessly together is increasingly important.
The trends that the pandemic has accelerated are here to stay. To deliver a great customer experience in 2021 and beyond, companies must think about which of their qualities are most likely to connect with customers – which does not always mean discussion of their products and services – and then use that precious time won as effectively as possible. Those which do will succeed in the coming years.