Desires give way to making conscious decisions
Jessica is the founder of Ethical Brand Marketing and has been a marketing strategist since 1991 after receiving her degree at the University of South Carolina. She led teams in the advertising, IT and travel sectors in the USA and Germany where she currently resides.
With her marketing expertise, sie supports environmental causes and guides social entrepreneurs in creating and implementing ethical marketing strategies.
For Manager News, she shared her impressions and tips for communicating with consumers during an emergency that affected more than half of the population on this planet.
What is currently changing in user behavior during the COVID-19 pandemic? How can brands adapt to these changes?
Last year, with Fridays for Future and XR demonstrations, the topic of climate change was on the news almost every single day. Because people were becoming aware of our bleak future, I noticed a big change in consumer behavior.
Families started to reduce their plastic use, use public transportation more, reuse, repair and recycle, make their own household and body care products, look at labels to find eco-friendly materials, boycott ethical brands and boycott what they deemed ‘non-ethical’, etc.
This year, the focus is on COVID-19, and for the first time in our history, many people are just trying to survive. Be it physically, financially and/or emotionally.
We’re now seeing hoarding and prepping out of fear. Since many consumers have more time on their hands and some fear job loss, they’re becoming more conscious about life in general. They’re making more conscious and less automatic decisions based on their needs, not their wants.
They’re also purchasing more online than in store, including food and other items they normally wouldn’t buy online.
Online streaming of movies and radio stations have also increased, giving these industries a more effective advertising opportunity.
The travel industry will take the hardest hit and has already experienced a huge drop. The World Travel and Tourism Council projects a global loss of 75 million jobs and $2.1 trillion in revenue. Source.
How can brands survive these risky times?
Communicate, connect, collaborate and be creative.
During a crisis, it’s better to be active and vocal than remain quiet.
It’s more expensive to gain new customers than it is to nurture your existing customers, so now’s the time to directly speak to and connect with your customers. Either via email, social media or telephone.
Communicate how you’re handling the situation, how you’re protecting your employees and how you’re helping your customers. i.e. by eliminating transport costs or just sending a message of ‘We’re all in this together’.
If you’ve got the capacity to listen to your customers, now’s the best time to pick up the phone to conduct customer buying interviews and reward them with a gift of appreciation for their time. Think about your isolated senior customers who now crave someone to just talk to.
Find ways to collaborate with others who share the same values in order to make a bigger impact.
For example, World Bee Day is on May 20th. Does that topic fit your brand, purpose and cause? If so, team up with your local beekeeper and create a short documentary about how you’re helping increase the bee population.
Fashion Revolution Week – the main reason why sustainable fashion is becoming increasingly popular – ended on April 24th, but those brands can still team up with another sustainable fashion brand to design a virtual fashion show and give back part of your profits to your shared cause.
The best thing with this is that the fashion industry is so highly competitive. Collaborations don’t usually exist, so if you do this, it’s unique. Just think: No human on this planet is loyal to only one fashion brand because styles and brands are so individual, meaning, you’ll only gain new customers if you collaborate with your competition.
I’m really surprised that I’m not seeing this!
There are so many things you can do. Brainstorm with your team and get strategic and creative.
Word of caution: Stay true to your brand values and identity. This is not a time to start ‘fighting’ for a cause you have nothing in common with just to try to prove you’re doing something good in this world. That’s called greenwashing is now becoming more popular among big brands but is being negatively viewed by those consumers who are becoming more aware of the manipulation. Be honest, transparent and real.
What will really help brands?
The brands that will come out of this crisis thriving will be those who are helping people in need in some way.
Brands like Wooden Shoe Tulip Farm that — after canceling their yearly tulip festival — donated their tulips to isolated seniors.
These creative acts of kindness will remain in the hearts and minds of people for a long, long time.
Ask yourself how your business can help others the most right now.
What companies had to immediately transform their marketing strategies during the lockdown?
All companies I imagine.
But it’s the physical retail stores, restaurants, fitness studios, hairdressers, the entertainment and travel industries, etc. that will have to change the most. Basically, any business who had to close their doors will have to severely transform their marketing strategy.
Those who can still operate online or are still open will have to adjust in some way, but maybe not as much. Some companies are now bombarded with sales and have to make quick changes.
Amazon, for example, had to hire 100,000 employees. I wish that would have happened to several small, ethical online shops instead, but we have many changes in our own consumer behavior to make before we get to that point.
Another example, my local pizzeria is now (finally) offering delivery service along with take out. Will they stop delivering after the crisis is over? If they’re smart, yes, they’ll continue this service because it’s what we’ve been asking for for several years now.
Even service-oriented businesses, like mine, who help clients who had to close shop or are feeling the effects, will also have to adjust.
For instance, I’m offering a 30 minute free ethical marketing strategy consultation to anyone who needs helps right now.
The main focus with your marketing strategy is – and always was and will remain – how you can help others the most.
At this moment should brands keep trying to reach potential customers, or focus on keeping the existing ones – the core of their business?
Hands down: Focus on keeping your existing customers.
For one, like I wrote above, It’s more expensive to gain new customers than it is to nurture your existing customer, so that should always be the case, regardless of a crisis or not. Secondly, middle and low-class consumers are not in shopping mode right now. They’re only buying what they need because of fear of losing their job. No need to stalk them.
It’s still important to promote, but it’s even more important to be conscious about how you promote. A hard sale will not go over well right now.
Instead, build brand awareness and promote how you’re helping your customers and others during this crisis.
What marketers should be prepared for after the state of emergency is over? Is there something that will never go back to normal, like it was before the pandemic?
My hope and plea for all traditional marketers of this world is to practice ethical marketing and change the way you market.
Ethical marketing promotes honesty, fairness, and social responsibility to help consumers make a more conscious choice. One that is more humane and kinder to our environment and all life on Earth.
Ethical Marketing also helps change the way people shop so that unnecessary consumerism that leads to the destructive of our environment and the exploitation of animals, humans included, is curbed.
Because we’re so used to manipulative marketing practices such as instilling the FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out), urgency and scarcity tactics, we don’t think about it anymore. But now, our emotions and sleaze radars are highly sensitive.
This will result in a decrease of engagement with those brands who hard sell and use manipulation tactics and an increase in positive engagement with those brands who are being more conscious about how they market.
It’s the intelligent marketers who will understand that this is what consumers prefer – and soon – will demand. If they go back to using sleazy tactics after this crisis, they will lose customers. I have no doubt about that.
This would be a very positive outcome of an extremely challenging crisis.