October 30, 2020

The Path Out Of COVID: Building Brand-Customer Relationships

We are in one of the most unique holiday shopping periods Australia has ever seen. 

Recently released data from Pureprofile has indicated that Australians are shying away from big-budget shopping after a year of bushfires, drought, floods and a pandemic. According to their survey, only 20% of Australians are planning on spending $500 on gifts this year (down from 30% last year), and a further 10% have said they won’t buy any gifts at all (up from 6%). 

Recent market research from Toluna also indicates that 23% per cent of Australians are worried about being able to afford the Christmas season altogether.

The economic pressures of COVID are causing customers to look for discounts and value, support local businesses, and seek out brands with purpose – all at the same time.

As customers become more discerning, what should marketers be doing right now to build strong brand-customer relationships and influence their audiences effectively?

1. Understand how people really make choices.

Marketers often fall into the trap of thinking that customers make purely rational decisions and design campaigns that appeal to logic. But there are years of research into behavioural economics that beg to differ.

According to Dan Monheit, the co-founder of Hardhat, ‘most of the time our decisions are influenced by bias and emotion, and the context within which we’re making the decision. Once you understand how the majority of our decisions are made, we can start building brands, campaigns, and ideas around it.

In essence, we have dedicated our careers to influencing choices, without necessarily understanding how choices are made.  Years of existing behavioural economics research shows that there are hard biases and heuristics that humans are prone to. 

These are consistent, predictable quirks that shape our decision making and influence us to do things that otherwise, would in no way be considered rational. 

We are sure you’re familiar with the cruel irony of loving to have choice and the overwhelming feeling of too many options to choose from (commonly known as the choice paradox). So, you went to the gym this morning, yes, you deserve a side of chips for lunch (aka. the licensing effect). You would much rather wait in line for a busy restaurant than sit down at an empty one – because social proof suggests you are going to have a better meal with the rest of the crowd. Remember the one that got away? You didn’t know what you had until it was gone? That is what many behavioural economists and psychologists would call loss aversion. 

From trigger to purchase, shoppers will explore and evaluate their options across a huge array of online sources, such as search engines, social media, aggregators, and review websites. As they go through the expansive research and reductive evaluative phases of their decision making process, it’s important for marketers to study, understand, and influence the unique quirks of being a human – just trying to make the right choices in a complex world.  

When marketers realise that customers make choices based on their own beliefs, which are imperfect models of the world – they can craft influential creative, content, and messaging. 

2. Live in the moment but don’t lose site of the future.

In the early 2000’s short term, ROI focussed performance marketing gained in popularity. The appeal of quick, measurable results and short-term success is real, especially for brands that are new to market and operating in uncertain times, when it is crucial to make every marketing dollar work as hard as it possibly can. 

However, in recent years, ‘long termism’ has regained popularity, especially with business leaders who agree that balancing the short and long term is essential in driving sustainable commercial performance. 

As Peter Drucker explains logically, ‘long term results cannot be achieved by piling short-term results on short-term results.

Brand marketing has broad reach, creates mental brand equity with emotional priming, and influences future sales and long-term growth. On the other hand, performance marketing is tightly targeted, exploits existing brand equity, and generates sales now with persuasive messaging. 

While both are different, their success depends on one another. Without leveraging the customer relationships and intent created by brand marketing, performance marketing’s fate becomes closely tied to consumer spending and economic activity.  When brand and performance marketing are separated, they can do the business a disservice, especially when the economy is suffering.  

Les Binet, Group of Effectiveness, Adam&EveDDB also advocates for a balanced approach and a diversified channel mix. ‘Smart marketing these days involves having the bulk of your budget typically devoted to brand building. TV is still worth having in the mix but supplemented with newer digital brand building. Paid search is the digital activation medium power excellence. If I had three media to use, I would use TV, online video, and paid search.’

Brand marketing can achieve broad reach emotion at scale and should be supplemented with performance marketing to drive activation and business outcomes. 

3. Stop playing hard to get and just commit.

Looping back to decision biases: the exposure effect occurs when exposure to a repeated stimulus causes us to ultimately favour it. This type of priming is a crucial part of creating mental availability – or brand salience, a concept coined by Sharp in his book, ‘How Brands Grow’. Sharp defines mental availability as ‘the probability that a buyer will notice, recognise, and/or think of a brand in buying situations.’ 

Repetition, exposure, salience, relevance, and distinctiveness build the quality and quantity of memory structures related to a brand. 

‘The easier a brand is to access in memory, in more buying situations, for more consumers, the higher the overall mental availability.’

The relationship between a brand and a consumer is also a lot like the relationship between two humans. ‘When brands court consumers, it is a lot like dating – jumping out at someone on the street with a proposal is unlikely to get you anywhere.’ Without a series of positive interactions, such a proposal would leave customers feeling bewildered. 

According to Mark Ritson, ‘when deciding where to invest your time and energy, the more avenues for reaching customers, the better.’ 

‘You need a certain amount of reinforcement. That’s why we see different channels adding a higher ROI. Depending on your goals, some channels make more sense than others. But there’s no arguing that integrated multichannel campaigns will maximise your ROI.’

Paul Sinkinson, Managing Director – Analytics Partners

Like any healthy relationship, the needs and well-being of your customer also need to come first. 

Roberto Khoury explains that we now have more understanding than ever before as to what those needs actually are. We’ve moved from the static insights gained from focus groups and surveys, to the continuous and contextual data provided by social listening, search terms, user ratings and reviews, engagement rates, and A/B testing. Emerging channels, like social media and chatbots have also advanced marketing’s role in satisfying real-time consumer needs and relationship building. 

Marketers need to show a little heart and put customer needs at the centre of everything they do, by keeping their offerings, placement, and messaging responsive. 

Like any relationship, the one between customers and brands is fragile. The breadth of offers now available means that customers can easily find another offer. To find the path out of COVID, it’s essential for marketers to listen, understand, and respond to customers effectively. 

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