We’ll soon mark a year since the first Covid-19 lockdowns. It has been a year during which most of us have seen our social, work and family life shrink to fit inside the four walls of our home. As we’ve become accustomed to interacting with friends, family and even brands in new ways there has been a huge impact on all aspects of marketing, from channel mix to messaging, as businesses adapt to the changes in consumer needs, attitudes and demands brought about by this new home-bound way of life.
With this in mind, we’ve looked at some of the ways brands can use the lessons of the past 10 months to better engage consumers via home-bound marketing and capitalise on new trends in purchasing behaviours to help drive sales.
Life on the smallest screen
With physical stores closed, the ever-rising consumer appetite for e-commerce has climbed to new heights. Before brands even had a chance to pivot their strategies, from early April onwards e-commerce revenues started to spike by up to 50%, despite e-commerce marketing spend not trending upwards until early June. The retail sector suddenly lost its bricks-and-mortar channel and shopping now takes place virtually, no matter how big or small the purchase.
While many people were already familiar with the joys of late-night Asos or Amazon, consumers of all ages are now having to rely on virtual interactions with brands. This has served to highlight the critical importance of digital user experience and businesses considering all aspects of a customer’s interaction with them online, from the first click to managing returns and complaints remotely.
Brands that are able to fully understand and respond to the frustrations and barriers to purchase of all customers – not just the digital natives, but those who are finding themselves relying on e-commerce platforms during the pandemic for perhaps the first time – will reap the rewards when it comes to converting browsing to buying.
This new reliance on e-commerce has also seen a huge leap forward in digital technology to support the growing sector, as well as the emergence of some powerful new marketing tools designed to capitalise on the huge captive audience of at-home shoppers. A great example of this is the boom in livestream shopping which has been led by China over the past year but is now picking up pace across the rest of the world, as the combination of real-time product demonstrating and review alongside live chat functions and in-platform purchasing proves to be a huge hit for online retailers. It is predicted that livestream shopping could generate a revenue of more than 1tn yen ($150bn) in 2020, making it an attractive option for struggling high street retailers in particular.
Solving everyday customer challenges from afar
I think I speak for us all when I say that hairdressers have been among those most dearly missed during 2020 – sadly, there’s no ‘virtual’ way of replacing that feeling of a fresh head of highlights or a perfect new cut. Brands in the haircare sector have been quick to acknowledge this, while finding a clever way to still connect with their customers during lockdown by creating home styling tutorials and how-to content to help them attempt to recreate the salon look and feel in their own homes.
How-to videos and home tutorials that demonstrate products are of course not new in the marketing world, but with more time on our hands than before, increasing numbers took to apps such as TikTok to create and share snappy videos. By April 2020, the platform had been downloaded more than 2bn times. Teenagers and adults alike scroll through life-hacks and demos, and big-name brands like Nike, Lush and Gucci have jumped on the bandwagon as it’s become clear the app is shaping shopping behaviour.
But for businesses who traditionally rely more on in-store purchases, we have seen an acceleration in the adoption of new technology that offers a genuinely useful and valuable service to home-bound customers. For example, DIY and home decoration brands are offering sophisticated apps and tools that allow customers to see what a particular paint colour or kitchen layout would look like in their own homes by simply uploading pictures of their room or floorplan.
By providing practical, informative and helpful content which addresses some of the new challenges we are now faced with in our home-bound worlds, brands have the opportunity to not only convert more sales online, but also build a more meaningful connection with customers by offering something of benefit in return for their attention. This kind of campaign is increasingly impactful in an age where it’s all too easy for consumers to scroll on by, without really engaging. It is likely that we will see more brands positioning themselves through marketing content and campaigns as problem solvers/solution providers to consumers as 2021 continues.
Brand building through emotional connections
At the same time as companies are considering practical ways to engage with and offer value to customers through home-bound marketing, it’s critical not to forget about the importance of creating an emotional connection between brand and consumer. This is particularly pertinent in these unsettling times and research from the Data and Marketing Association showing 74% of brands now have a renewed focus towards being more compassionate with customers.
Faced with falling sales or high street closures, many brands may consider it wise to focus marketing budgets on direct sales or lead generation activities rather than brand building campaigns, but there has never been a better opportunity for brand building done well, as consumers are increasingly looking to engage with trusted, familiar and reliable brands.
The big supermarket chains and retailers were quick to recognise this opportunity around Christmas, during the traditional time of the big budget festive campaigns. Rather than changing tactics and focusing hard on product and sales messaging, most chose to continue to build their emotional relationship to customers by producing ads that reflected the collective challenges we are all facing, whilst offering a moment of comfort and/or nostalgia. According to System 1’s Christmas ad league table the top three ads from Coca-Cola, Aldi and DFS all featured characters and scenarios that consumers were familiar with, as well as an emotional narrative.
As the end of lockdown remains a bright glimmer in the (hopefully) not too distant future, there is still plenty of scope for brands to adapt their marketing plans to reflect the many changes in consumer behaviours and requirements. The winners will be those which identify and utilise the opportunities presented by home-bound marketing to build relationships with their customers which will last, no matter what the year ahead brings.
Cat Davis, group marketing director, Mission Group and Krow Group