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Re-connecting with consumers in a post-Covid world, by Heriot-Watt University’s Dr. Paul Hopkinson

Economic indicators show that growth will return by the end of the year, but marketers need to make it easy for their customers to spend again, writes Dr. Paul Hopkinson, associate head of Edinburgh Business School for Heriot-Watt University Dubai; academic lead for Heriot-Watt Online.

For marketers, disruption has become a way of life. Increasing customer knowledge and sophistication, globalisation of markets, climate change, digital transformation and evolving business models are just some of the disruptive influences marketers continue to navigate. The Covid-19 pandemic, however, is different because of its rapid and wide-ranging impact, forcing businesses to change their operating procedures and adapt their long-standing and, in many cases, well-proven go-to-market strategies almost overnight. Businesses have been forced to find new ways to interact with their customers and employees and accelerate digital transformation.

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The post-Covid era has tested the skills of even the most experienced marketers, and they have had to confront uncertainties and change in a way they have never done before. Changing consumer attitude and behaviour post-Covid have forced businesses to transform digitality, embracing digital channels to engage consumers and other stakeholders. It has changed the way consumers interact with one another and engage with friends and family, and has profoundly affected the way they view personal health and wellbeing. It has accelerated the adoption of technology across all aspects of life.

Here are some practical tips on how to market successfully while navigating change:

Change your narrative

Most brands aspire to make meaningful connections with their audience. But in a post-Covid era this has arguably become even more important, and consumers expect brands to make deeper, more authentic connections with their communities and publics. Rather than just resorting to traditional brand and product-push strategies, consumers demand that brands connect with them on a deeper level through values-driven marketing and humanised content. In a post-pandemic era, communicating with empathy can create meaningful value for customers, cultivate customer loyalty and increase customer lifetime value (CLTV). Indeed, a recent study by Deloitte found brands that genuinely attempt to understand customer challenges and demonstrate customer-centricity are 60 per cent more profitable than those that do not. Storytelling can play a critical role in linking the value of your product to the challenges your customers are facing. But this must be done authentically and be grounded on relevant consumer insight. The cornerstone of changing the narrative is understanding the customer’s mind and emotions correctly, and there should be adequate research undertaken to create and shape appropriate customer personas. Businesses that listen, learn and evolve with empathy will emerge stronger.

Realign marketing campaigns

Amidst the pandemic, marketers have been forced to re-evaluate how they allocated their marketing budgets. With large gatherings no longer permissible, marketers have had to abandon or scale back strategies that rely on event-based marketing or develop alternative ideas for events that can be streamed live. In a post-Covid world, where more people will be engaged in hybrid forms of working, marketers need to look to ways to diversify their spending to maintain high levels of customer engagement. Many brands are also looking to diversify their channel mix, employing platforms such as TikTok and Instagram Reels, which have risen in popularity during the pandemic, to reach new audiences and engage with consumer audiences in novel and creative ways. Gaming and augmented and virtual reality content also provide opportunities for innovation and experimentation. With virtual reality, for example, customers can test drive a new car without having to visit the showroom or tour an apartment without having to leave their present location. As always, in today’s omnichannel environment, brands need to be aware of the increasing diversity of channels and media use and be prepared to engage consumers across these channels in meaningful and consistent ways.

Reduce uncertainties

With the ongoing vaccination drive, the UAE economy is well-positioned for recovery. Estimates by the Central Bank of UAE state that positive growth rates will be restored by the end of 2021, supported by implementing the recovery plan and support packages for various economic sectors. Nevertheless, consumer confidence will take time to recover while uncertainties remain. Brands can help to reduce perceived uncertainties in many ways. Enabling consumers to experience brands on a trial basis or embracing pricing mechanisms that enable consumers to reduce the magnitude of their initial investment and leverage social influence and support are just some of the options that marketers have at their disposal. Loyalties in a post-Covid era will be decided based on how well brands understand consumers’ new priorities. To succeed, brands need to understand the opportunities and pain points at each stage of the customer decision-making journey. Using content strategies that emphasise providing the right kinds of intervention, support and advice as the consumer progresses along the path to purchase is key, and measuring and monitoring the consumer’s experience. Brands that understand the customer journey and respond to the uncertainties that consumers face as they progress towards the purchase and beyond will be the ones that survive and thrive.

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