Did you hear about what Zara was able to achieve?
Against all odds and a weakening global economy, leisure fashion brand, Zara, was able to increase its ecommerce revenue from their portal during the pandemic.
Zara’s online sales rose by 50% year-over-year during the first quarter of this year and were up by 95% YoY by April. Their online sales helped them overcome the losses incurred due to the 1200 store closures worldwide. With a $3 billion investment to expand their ecommerce operations, it’s clear that Zara sees it as a major part of their business strategy going forward.
What Zara essentially did was pivot their business strategy to put them back on the road to growth during a crisis. This pivot ended up saving their essential business while most retail stores closed down due to lockdown restrictions sweeping through the world.
Over the course of the lockdown months, I’ve observed some brands at cross-roads on what they should do next to survive this pandemic? While some decided to shrug at the crisis and continue the same business model, others didn’t think of a pivot and hoped that they would create a demand for the same products they were trying to sell pre-quarantine. It’s the reason why I received so many jeans and sneaker email campaigns during the lockdown. I couldn’t think of a worse time to sell these particular products, knowing we’d be stuck at home for the foreseeable future.
These brands failed to innovate, re-think, and re-analyze their marketing and business strategies to combat the pandemic.
What happened to these companies and establishments?
They disappeared by the time the economy reopened.
With all the changes and adjustments people have had to make in their everyday lives during 2020, every business will have to pivot in some way, shape, or form to adapt, as well. This could mean introducing a new business model, new products, new services, or a novel way to serve their customers.
The alternative? Pack up your business and shut down.
That’s not an option for most businesses.
Uncertain times like the pandemic crisis lead to the survival of the wittiest.
Here, we’ll be talking about pivoting your email program to connect effectively with your customers and mitigating the after-effects of the crisis.
The objective is simple: Provide solutions to current customer problems and get their business in return.
Our customer success team – Sudhaamshu M (Sr Manager, Customer Success & Marketing Automation) and Alok K (AVP – Customer Success) at Netcore Solutions share their insights on how brands have been adapting to new ways of communicating with their audience during uncertain times.
Let’s look at some of the factors influencing this pivoting behavior among brands…
Factors influencing the pivot in strategy:
- Dynamic shift in customer purchase habits
“These are tough times for everyone. The world economy is in the doldrums, people are getting laid off, so naturally, the spending power of the customer has slid down. In such a situation, people are opting for need-based shopping rather than want-based.” says Sudhaamshu.
Therefore, there has been a fundamental shift in the way a customer will shop and look at products. According to our survey of email habits during the lockdown, 19% of users opted for email communication on essential services to their doorstep, and 16.6% of users wanted more personalized communication catering to their needs.
Businesses who belong to non-essential products and services have had to think of new ways to connect with their customers.
“With this uncertain environment, with no forecasting available, businesses had to come up with pivot strategies to ensure that they don’t lose out on their existing set of customers. Many had to re-think strategies to bring up revenues from customers which can be used to avail services in the future.”, says Alok.
- Change in customer needs in the new normal
Brands from sectors like hospitality, leisure, food-delivery, travel have had to change their business plan overnight in order to cater to their customers in the new reality.
Sudhaamshu shares, “ People are more cautious now than ever before in terms of spending their money. Brands have to communicate carefully to get their point across. They ultimately need to persuade customers to go for the kind of products that satisfy their immediate needs. “
During the lockdown phase, it became a challenge for the brands to reach out effectively to their customers. Brands needed to focus on the requirements of the customers in home-isolation and then convince them that their product was the right for them.
He adds, “Rather than just sending a campaign with 50% off to your base, think on why the customer will need your product as it needs to connect with their requirement ”
“There was a sudden downfall in the number of orders for many of the companies and thus it was important that they give newer reasons for customers to transact with them.”, says Alok.
Make your product indispensable to the customer.
- Sluggish growth needed a jumpstart
One of the major factors influencing the pivot in strategy was that due to the number of months in lockdown, businesses had to develop new strategies to put them back on the road to growth. The losses for some sectors like travel and hospitality have been colossal.
This gave birth to some inter-industry collaborations like cab-hailing services like Lyft offering to deliver essential goods to the customers. Retail supermarkets had to start their home delivery services to satisfy their customers with curbside pickups.
Some transport services like Spicejet partnered with insurance companies to assure safety with their COVID-19 insurances. The quest for growth and overcoming the losses led to some major pivots in the industries.
During such uncertain times, bringing some semblance of growth and revenue to your firm is equally important to survive. A brand’s ability to harness such disruptions and still drive meaningful change will determine its success.
- Ensuring customer safety is the key to success
With the pandemic raging globally, brands have to provide additional assurances to a customer before selling and delivering their products/services.
Customers have to be catered to on every small detail now by the brands and that has overhauled the way they make, sell, and deliver the product/service.
Sudhaamshu says,”You have to gain trust from your users before making a sale. If it’s a travel portal, you should communicate the sanitation and hygiene of your transport vehicles. Visualization to your audience helps in this case, where you can give them a seating plan which follows social distancing rules.
If you are in the hospitality business, how are you ensuring the safety of the customers? Send them informational campaigns based on all the safety and hygiene points. This applies to other sectors like food-delivery, e-commerce, etc. In such crisis situations, an extra assurance to your customer can help you get the sale.“ he adds.
- Email marketing playbook has changed
Whatever business objectives, campaigns that were planned for the year, and revenue margins estimated had to be binned by the companies due to the pandemic crisis.
Desperate time calls for desperate measures.
Restaurants had to quickly think of ways to reach their customers via email with video and other interactive content. They sent recipe videos curated by their chefs for people stuck at home.
Airbnb had to offer virtual tours, art, and music therapy for modest fees online. They had to pivot their entire business model to suit the current times of zero travel and vacations.
So, in a way, all the strategies planned earlier for the year had to be scrapped and replaced by a new rule book. Email programs had to be created from scratch and all automated campaigns which didn’t suit the trend of 2020, had to be paused.
“We quickly realized that engagement was going to be the key driver for brands to ensure that their customers don’t forget them. When things become normal, they should be able to get the first choice as core customers. The type of email strategies we consulted brands on, dramatically changed from revenue to engagement and informational types.” says Alok.
Focus went back to retention-based marketing aka velvet rope marketing. Retaining your current users with your engaging content is the new play for email.
Retention is the new acquisition and helping is the new selling.
Sudhaamshu says “People are spending the majority of their time at home, they are naturally bored. So engagement based interactive campaigns will be appreciated by your audience. Use the power of user-generated content, run contests, other activities through your campaign content to provide them some relief from the ongoing stress. “
And Mcdonalds knows how to engage their customers with fun and games for their kids, that they can play from home and stay entertained.
Now that we know the factors influencing the pivot for many businesses, let’s have a look at the innovative strategies you can use to provide a better customer experience post COVID openings.
Email strategies to provide a better customer experience
1. Pick value-added content over revenue
According to research by Mckinsey, when brands get their personalization right, the marketing spend can deliver 5-8 times more ROI and boost sales by 10% or more.
This re-affirms the fact that if you deliver a better customer experience, it has a snowball effect on your revenue and sales generation.
The following points will help you deliver value-added content to your users:
- How can you show how your product/service can solve the needs of your customer?
- Content could be both informative and engaging, answering the needs of your customers.
- Your subject lines need to have an empathetic and understanding tone.
- Is your content standing out from your rival brands?
- Your content needs to change to reflect the current social environment.
- If you are sending an offer to your active customers, introduce some urgency to get them to transact quicker.
Users are hyper-aware of the kind of content brands are sending these days. It’s important to stay relevant and make their lives easier rather than focus on sales with every campaign.
Sudhaamshu reiterates “ Be sensitive in your communication with customers and avoid all the trappings of sounding tone-deaf. Be cautious of the kind of humor, if you are using any in your newsletters.“
“With the current climate, restrictions on business/leisure travel will be prevalent for a longer time. In such times, they had to stay connected with their customers. Example travel companies were talking to customers about coping up with lockdown stress by watching road trip movies or planning a future getaway. There was also a trend of hosting games, puzzles, contests for their users to make their communications two-way and build lasting impressions. ” adds Alok.
Example: Vacation rental website HomeAway engaged their users during the lockdown phase with games to create their virtual vacations online and dream of inspiring trips to take once the pandemic is over.
2. Be helpful to your customers
Don’t shy away from promoting your products but tailor them to the needs of the customer.
Suppose you are an online fashion brand but currently see no demand for your leisure products. Consider offering pandemic-necessities like masks and sanitizers to your store. This helps both you and your customers, giving them a reason to browse through your website and hopefully purchase your other products.
“When things are silent and going at a slow pace, consumers get more reasons to evaluate other options and look for better alternatives. It was crucial for brands to retain their customers and ensure that they are not moving away to a competitor.”, says Alok
Show the customers how your brand can help them during such uncertain times and see your brand equity rise inside their inbox.
Some e-fashion stores have taken to selling designer masks as a pivot to get sales. The campaign by Public Rec, which details the protectiveness of their masks and also contributes the purchase money to donate masks to an NGO.
3. Communicate your reopening policies
Due to the strict lockdowns globally, there is a shortage of inventory with brand stores and retail chains. Though the re-opening of the economy will be gradual, you will need to prepare beforehand for it.
Post-re-opening of the stores, if you are inundated with orders then you might find yourself in an awkward situation.
In such times, communicate honestly with your customers on the following:
- New shipping and return policies
- Changed order processing and delivery times
- Inventory of products
- Out-of-stock products
- New delivery guidelines (curbside pickups)
- Store opening and closing hours
- Online products policy
With the holiday season approaching, it will be prudent for the brand to set the right expectations with the customers to avoid disappointing them.
The campaign by Walgreens details the store opening and closing hours along with the new sanitization policies in-store. These provide an update to the customers on the physical stores and prepare them to go through safety checks. It also inspires confidence to shop in-stores.
4. Be proactive in list cleaning for post-lockdown mailing
As customer motivations and habits have changed during the pandemic, make sure you analyze your mailing lists to change the audiences you select for your promotions.
This includes verifying and validating users who may not use their email address anymore. This is a common occurrence with corporate ids where the users have either stopped working or have gotten laid off.
As a starting point in your post-lockdown audience management, remove duplicates and fake ids first.
Don’t stop looking after your most active customers, especially those that have stuck around since before the pandemic. They should be retained and looked after every week,
To re-engage your inactive subscribers, think of new, relevant content that could help bring them back.
If you ignore your inactive segments then you are leaving money on the table.
Refrain from sending your VIP offers to your inactive users and inspect all of your drip campaigns. Look for opportunities to optimize messaging and relevancy and maximize engagement.
AI-powered segmentation is another option but should be approached with caution. If you’ve segmented your users according to their price slabs, then these will have gone through considerable changes as spending power has declined. You may see changes in your VIP and loyalty points segmented lists because of a change in your customers’ behavior due to the pandemic.
Sudhaamshu chimes in “The world has not ended, so don’t stop your communication! The curbs are being eased and slowly but surely, the economy is re-opening. So go back to regular communication with your users but just be more cautious in your tone.”
The messaging by travel portal Skyscanner oozes empathy and a perfect touch of positivity during the tough times for travelers. Campaigns like these provide solidarity to the customers and reassure them that the good times are around the corner.
5. Flex your online muscle
One of the most interesting strategies we’ve seen brands pivot to was their necessity to go online. Since the people were stuck at home for an extended period of time, their online activity increased exponentially.
According to Gartner’s recent marketing survey, 60% of the surveyed consumers did not feel comfortable shopping inside a store. 40% needed strict sanitization and safety checks to be applied by the store staff to resume their in-store shopping activity.
From shopping to having an uninterrupted social media presence, people spent more time online. Brands had to pivot to maintain their online visibility.
Spotify decided to expand from streaming music and introduced podcasts into their platform. They went to the extent of offering Joe Rogan an unprecedented $100mn to make his podcast exclusive to Spotify. But the pivot worked out well, and today Spotify has gained more premium subscribers just for the podcasts they stream.
Several hospitality brands came up with user-generated contests to engage their customers during the quarantine. This technique kept the buzz going for the brand even when they weren’t able to make more revenue. Even with the hit to the bottom line, these companies could leverage these campaigns to increase brand loyalty with their customers, which will last well after the pandemic.
Some restaurants that were traditional in nature were not connected with the food-tech industry pre-pandemic. Post-lockdown, they had to connect with food-delivery services to facilitate takeout orders.
The travel industry had to engage their audiences by offering virtual museum tours, city walks, and creating a bucket list online for their future travel.
In short, going online and using social media is effective.
This campaign by fitness studio Barre3 takes their classes online with live streaming and on-demand exercise videos.
This campaign by Airbnb gives a new edge to online experiences with scheduling fitness workouts to cooking lessons from around the world. They also mention a cool guide on staying safe if you have COVID-19.
6. Support your vulnerable customers
A record 26 million Americans filed for unemployment benefits during the lockdown. India has recorded a 23.5% unemployment rate after a strict nationwide lockdown for 2 months. The pandemic has devastated the economy, and a reported 43% of Americans have at least 1 person in their family who has been laid off.
Those are grim numbers, and imagine how many of these people could be your customers in the pre-pandemic times? Naturally, some of them will not be able to afford your products at their current price categories.
In a practice that I like to call the “social pivot,” brands should be catering to their vulnerable customers. This will increase user affinity and can be mutually beneficial in the long term. Once these customers get back on their feet, they’ll remember what you did for them.
Marketers often need to remind themselves that there is a human on the other side of the device.
So what could you do to help them? Offer them after-pay options, EMI schemes.
Create a segment for such users after taking their feedback on their purchasing power.
Offer them some extra discounts, perhaps a different pricing structure for your more affordable products. Offer free shipping to their doorstep to help ease their wallet. With the holiday season, you can bet everyone will want to shop but at different price points.
Be empathetic in your tone and offer them support that they are not alone in this. If you make their lives easier, you can surely get a sale from them. It will also generate a lot of ‘word of mouth’ goodwill for your brand.
“Your content will be judged by a microscopic lens by the people. So see how you can be useful to your customers. How do you cater to the needs of the users, how do you visualize your campaign ideas and make them socially relevant? All these will count to generating your brand value during the crisis times. “, says Sudhaamshu.
The campaign by home decor/furniture brand Feather talks about staying at home but still being productive. The tone is cautious and talks about the new normal. The products are subtly promoted to be used by the customer, like a working desk and the chair in the image. Such campaigns can be of use to a stay-at-home parent grappling with their productivity. It is useful and at the same time relevant.
7. Cater to the work-from-home lifestyle
In Gartner’s recent consumer survey, 50% of the surveyed customers need a vaccine cure before they can resume non-essential activity. Until that time, they will be staying indoors and keeping themselves safe.
The coronavirus pandemic has also shifted the lens from office culture to working remotely with equal efficiency. Corporations around the world have made remote work possible for their employees wherever required.
As a result, one way to pivot your strategy will be to make your customers feel more at ease with their new ‘work from home’ life. This could also mean making your products designed for the people staying at home. e.g., sweatpants for video calls, tables for laptops, comfortable chairs for long meetings, etc. Even if your products weren’t made for the WFH life, you could make sure your messaging is.
The marketing team of Mattress company Purple realized that people needed better seat cushions to protect their backs during the long lockdowns. They started promoting the product on email and display advertising, and soon they were selling a lot of them! Their strategy to cater to the WFH lifestyle of their consumers paid dividends.
According to Sudhaamshu, “The pandemic has forced brands to re-evaluate their communication and business models. Earlier E-fashion stores used to send discounts and sales on clothes, accessories. Now they have changed their tactics to send decoration ideas for their work-from-home desk, DIY entertainment ideas for kids learning at home, work from home tips to increase their productivity etc.
“Consumer’s approach to buying has changed. You will have to first highlight what you are doing to help them from their house, and then they could check your other products on their website/app.”
“Work-from-home ideas are a huge pivot right now, as those will lead to building trust with your consumers. How do you cater to the needs of the users, will decide if you will be able to sustain your business for the longer term.”
For example, this campaign from Makemytrip asks the users to stay at home yet enjoy their time with different activities like watching road trip movies, planning their future getaway, fun indoor games, and travel book suggestions, etc. Campaigns like these engage the audience without making any sale and help them to trust your brand as you show genuine interest in their well-being.
8. Share your upcoming plans with your users
If your company is planning on making major decisions in the near future, find a way to communicate with your customers. Don’t keep them guessing.
Many brands had to navigate through the pandemic-related lockdowns with some hard decisions to survive and grow.
If your company has decided to close retail stores and instead move to an entirely online business model, you need to communicate that to your customers.
For example, some restaurants closed their business and shifted to cloud-based online delivery models since they couldn’t pay the rents of their brick and mortar establishments.
The more you communicate your business decisions to your customers, the better your overall relationship. They’ll have a better understanding as to why you made the decisions that you made and hopefully keep their loyalty to you.
Campaigns like these from Snap kitchen allow the customers more freedom in choosing their own meal plans and times. Cloud kitchens like these are preferred by singles living alone or in shared houses and with limited cooking skills. Doorstep delivery also helps to preserve the safety of the consumer and provide them healthy meals on time.
9. Build confidence by sharing safety protocols and sanitization checks
Practicing safe hygiene is extremely important right now and highlights your commitment to safety to your customers. You can send an information campaign detailing the safety protocols you’re employing to keep your customers and staff safe and healthy.
This also includes detailing your employee policy of sanitization and temperature checks inside your facility before they are allowed to work.
Sudhaamshu adds, “The way you cater to the needs of the users and visualize your campaign ideas and make them socially relevant, is crucial. You can run informational campaigns like ‘how to ensure safety for you and your loved ones’ and ‘why your products have gone through sanitization checks.’ Inclusion of such helpful communication and educative content will dispel the doubts about your safety measures and further purchase.”
Alok agrees, “Communicating with users and making them aware that their services are safe and have been sanitized enough, was an unmissable aspect of the email program of every brand we consulted with.”
Visualize the safety of your service to the audience. It will get them prepared to make a decision.
Example: These campaigns by online pharma brand 1mg provide an e-book for hygiene practices against COVID and illustrate how they safely deliver their products post sanitization checks. Several global authorities adopted the e-book in advising users to follow those practices. Such memorable campaigns that cater to the needs of their users make them your brand fans.
Example: Food-delivery services like Zomato also had to assure confidence in their users that the food packages they were delivering were going through complete hygiene and safety checks. If you can illustrate your campaign through such visual ideas, it will inspire your users’ trust, and they will continue their business with you.
Example: This campaign by ride-hailing app Uber leaves no stone unturned in providing details for the safety checks they are taking to ensure that every rider is safe. Laying out the sanitization and safety protocols that your brand is following will build your users’ confidence to use your service.
10. Leverage the power of AI and personalized conversations
According to our consumer survey report on COVID-19, 41% of the users have changed their email checking time during the lockdowns. This means that your engagement could fluctuate during this time. Your offer periods should also be longer to provide time for your user to respond.
AI-powered email delivery could optimize your campaigns for the maximum gains in engagement.
AI platforms like Netcore’s AI-powered delivery engine could help to raise inboxing rates up to 20-30%. Those are big numbers for any brand to gain more visibility into the inbox of their customers.
Use the power of send-time optimization (STO) which learns the opening patterns of the users and tweaks the delivery to match the exact times when each individual generally checks their emails. This leads to a better engagement and click rate. Will also increase your email ROI.
The power of personalization is underrated. According to our upcoming benchmark report, the brands which used a simple subject line personalization received doubled the engagement than those who didn’t. These personalized conversations need to be contextual to the user as well so as to make them individualized as much as possible.
This campaign by retail brand Forever21 is a personalized price drop email on a product that was added to cart. Such intelligent targeting in the form of cart abandonment emails can trigger purchases.
The economic landscape has shifted radically due to the COVID-19 crisis. In uncertain times, success for a brand will depend on their ability to harness such systemic disruptions and pivot their business strategy. These ‘pivots’ can help the digital players to survive and thrive in the new normal.
Going with the above-mentioned email strategies, marketers can view it as an opportunity and make the best out of it. Even though the economy reopens gradually, you need to be cautious in your communication and offer solutions to the customers and not mere pitches.
Distinguish your brand and stand out in the inbox by offering a superior customer experience rather than chase after your ROI targets. And last but not least, treat your customer like a human and not just an email metric.
Note: The campaign examples have been taken from our inbox and Reallygoodemails.