How to adapt
Watch a re-run of our Fresh Thinking Live! webinar from 08/04/2020 where the team discussed 'how to adapt to changing customer needs'.
Watch a discussion on 'How to adapt to changing customer needs', a subject we know is critical to understand when key events occur, for example, the current Coronaviris crisis that is prompting a huge change in user behaviour and needs.
Joining our host David Somerville, were:
- Luke Hay - User research director
- Julian Erbsloeh - Head of analytics
- Nate Wood - Strategy director
As well as answering audience questions, the guys shared:
- Why it’s important to consider how customers’ needs have changed
- The trends we’ve been seeing
- What techniques we recommend as to how you can understand customer needs
- Examples of brands who are owning this space
Key questions and answers from the webinar.
What methods would you recommend in order to try and understand more about your changing customers' needs? What examples of brands have you seen out there who are responding well to the recent changes?
- What examples of brands have you seen out there who are responding well to the recent changes?
1. Why it is important right now to be considering customers' needs?
Julian Erbsloeh: It is always important. The reason it is even more important right now is that they are changing, potentially on a weekly basis and this may impact how they consume your products and services. Some areas of our daily lives are completely changing, making some things redundant while creating needs for new services and, to a lesser extent, products.
Nate Wood: Agreed, it should always be an important consideration. Why it might be gaining additional importance is because fulfilling those needs has become more difficult. Brands have always needed to develop services and products to meet customer needs, and assessing those changing needs now can give strong indications of how a business may need to adapt to survive.
Luke Hay: In these uncertain and constantly changing times, being in tune with your customers and their needs is essential. With most physical buildings closed, it is more vital than ever that your website and online marketing work hard to bring in business and communicate with your audience. While it will impact every business differently, your actions at this stage will shape how the next few months will pan out for you from a digital perspective.
2. What trends have you been seeing in the past week or two in relation to the changing needs of people?
Julian Erbsloeh: One of the things people currently look for is certainty and trust. For companies, this translates to being super clear when managing user's expectations for example on stock levels and delivery times, for communicating clearly and reliably throughout a transaction and beyond and showing that they really care.
We have also seen a huge number of changing needs around people's work lives. Video conferencing, collaboration tools and other technology needs have overnight become critical.
Front line care staff need to be able to shop and none of the existing food delivery services (supermarkets) have been able to cope with the new levels of demand.
Nate Wood: Realisation and acceptance are starting to set in. A lot of panic has reduced. We're starting to see the growth of community spirit, apparent in the Clap For Our Carers campaign. This is raising consideration around brands that are legitimately and authentically assisting in the process. Tesla and Dyson making ventilators, Nike, and Gap making face masks, Burberry making masks and surgical gowns are all examples of brands potentially increasing their brand status by becoming part of the solution. My personal circle is showing clearly increased brand awareness and positive sentiment for these brands.
A need for solitude is increasing. An increasing desire for individual pursuits like reading, puzzling, listening to podcasts and audiobooks is something I'm seeing in my circles. Video call burnout is starting to become a thing and despite the need for technology, a lot of my contacts are actively turning devices off. Video calling can be quite intrusive, and I think we'll start to see a bit of a shift away from it for a while.
Luke Hay: Trust is key, people need security more than ever. People are more risk-averse, but they will still buy products and services, provided they are comfortable that what they are buying will give them what they need. Be sincere, don't ‘take advantage’ of the situation. Also, the demand on people's time is interesting. Some people are busier than ever, while others are already getting bored. You need to find out more about your audience and then plan how to best meet their needs.
Personalisation is important here. You need to be able to give people the products or services that are right for their current situation.
3. What methods would you recommend in order to try and understand more about your changing customers' needs?
Julian Erbsloeh: A combination of all of them. Data pre March 17th, the date first social distancing measures were announced, can be used as a benchmark but it is the data of the past two weeks that we need to focus on if we are looking for evidence of changed behaviour.
What exactly should you be looking at? Here are a few good starting points:
- Channel performance: look at which channels are still driving traffic and conversions and how that has changed throughout March until now
- Landing pages: understanding what type of content brings users to your website now can give you clues on their needs
- Search queries from Google Search Console
- Search queries from your own website's site search, this can be a little gold mine when it comes to understanding what users are looking for on your own site
- Use sites like Google Trends and Answer the Public to better understand how users research products and services related to your own
- Segment, segment, segment: identify desirable behaviours and create a segment that groups all users who display them, then look for common denominators in that cohort, such as traffic source, device category or time of day to help you find more of them
- Use the User Explorer report in GA to look at user journeys step-by-step to better understand how they engage with your content
Nate Wood: Where possible start speaking to customers directly. If you have services that may still be relevant, then double-check that against your customers. Qualitative analysis is going to be the only way forward if you're developing something new to adapt to the market, you won't have quantitative data.
Luke Hay: For me, the main thing is firstly to agree that user behaviour has probably changed significantly for almost everyone and then to work towards answering three questions:
- What are my users doing? (quantitative analysis – analytics, heatmaps, search trends etc)
- Why are they doing that? (qualitative analysis – user surveys, user interviews, user testing)
- What do I need to change to meet their needs? (site/advertising changes and/or A/B testing, as well as more innovative stuff)
4. What examples of brands have you seen out there who are responding well to the recent changes?
Julian Erbsloeh: Dominos - sending pizza to all of your employees. Banks offering mortgage holidays and no overdraft fees; Aldi opening their doors 24/7 for NHS and care staff when all other supermarkets have reduced their opening hours; Streaming services offering their service for free in areas hit by country-wide isolation; Michelin star restaurants turning to cooking and delivering large batch read-meals; Pret a Manger etc. doing free hot drinks and 50% off food for front line staff.
Nate Wood: Local businesses are innovating massively. In my area, some pubs are offering takeaway and food package services. Dance and music teachers hosting online classes and producing video content to keep learning habits strong. The use of technology by my children's' school, using Google Classroom to send out and hand in work has been a massive assistance. Local appears to be an opportunity to capitalise on. The key here is being able to remain relevant and deliver services in a changed, but still valuable manner
Luke Hay: Those who empathise with their customers are doing the best. The tone of voice is crucial at this time. River Island has done a good job of playing down its importance in the greater scheme of things using the following:
"The government has said online retailers can ‘operate normally’, but COVID-19 is serious and nothing feels normal at the moment. As a business driven by the love of fashion, we don't say it often, but some things are just more important."
This, combined with actively engaging with their ‘community’ on social media, is likely to retain customer loyalty. Be human!
5. Are there brands that are missing a trick?
Julian Erbsloeh: User behaviour, pre-COVID-19, was reasonably predictable but that has dramatically changed for some sectors. To answer this question, we need to explore what user needs will be and be able to respond to them. Any brand has the opportunity to do some valuable brand-building work by getting involved with their community, supporting front line workers or something similar that people feel strongly about right now. I guess, missing the trick for me would be to try and find an immediate ROI in marketing activity. Being able to do that would be a bonus.
Luke Hay: Unfortunately, there are organisations that are encouraging panic buying using tactics like scarcity and urgency in unscrupulous ways. Various subscription companies are doing well at the moment but those using dark patterns are being found out. If you make it easy for people to subscribe to your product or service then you need to also make it relatively easy to unsubscribe.
For example, some brands are taking online subscriptions but then asking customers to phone up to cancel. Obviously at the moment these phone lines are being inundated and as a result it’s becoming impossible for people to unsubscribe. Damage done to the brand now will be permanent.
6. What do you expect the post Coronavirus brand/ business world will look like and what will be the key changes that will remain?
Julian Erbsloeh: At this stage, nobody knows. The only thing that is certain is that the country/economy / our behavioural patterns won't just snap back into 'normal' anytime soon so don't bank on that.
As Nate already mentioned, global events of this magnitude accelerate change that was already underway. The only trend I would add to his list is the fundamental change to the brick and mortar economy. Our high streets were changing already, this will gather pace. Businesses with an existing digital-first strategy do not have to reinvent their entire business model to go digital only but those behind on that curve will struggle to keep up unless they take drastic action.
The data provided by Imperial College suggests that the virus and some form of restrictions will be around for 12-18 months so simply waiting it out is not a feasible option. Understanding what decisions your business needs to take now to not only get through this but also to come out of the crisis stronger is critical. Exploring what this means for your business now is a step in the right direction. Read the 2009 HBR article on marketing during a downturn (we will share the link in a blog post) is a good starting point that provides some good thinking and actionable advice.
Some pretty big change is to be expected for companies with multi-national, just-in-time production lines like the fast fashion industry, these business models are especially vulnerable right now.
Buying local, responsibly sourced and manufactured goods and caring about ingredients, fair pay etc. was a movement that was already underway. I expect to see further acceleration as this suddenly makes more sense for bands too.
Nate Wood: It has been noted that major world events will tend to accelerate changes that were already happening, but it can also reverse them.
Social media was experiencing a bit of a backlash pre-COVID-19. The design tactics and targeting of Facebook were particularly under scrutiny in their relation to mental wellbeing. However, Covid 19 has forced people to use Facebook much more. Messaging has increased by 50% on the platform and video calling has doubled in some markets. These are behaviours that may actually remain post-Covid 19.
Another aspect that was gaining momentum was climate awareness. It's already been noted what the beneficial impact on the environment of the drop in human activity has been on things like air quality. I think the alignment of the global collective consciousness on an issue may well translate to some degree to an increased global determination to tackle climate issues.
7. Which brands do you believe will survive and why? Which ones don’t you believe will recover? Which ones will morph into a different proposition as a result of their coronavirus learnings?
Nate Wood: All brands should experience some sort of change because of COVID-19. Recovery is a complex thing, dependent on many factors. But giving yourself a headstart by looking at what customers will want and what their habits might be and then building some contingency into your service offering is a good first step at adapting. Refocusing on the important aspects of your business both to you and your customers is universal advice.
A good exercise might be to write down all the aspects of your business and services that are important to you. Then do the same thing for what's important to your customers. Look at where those two sides connect and focus on strengthening those connections.
Brands that don't take the time to consolidate their offering to customers by looking at what those customers need now and after COVID-19 will find it that much harder to stay relevant. Being relevant to customer needs brings business. We all know that the next 12 months is not business as usual, so let's not try to pretend that it is.
Luke Hay: The ones who understand their audience and can be flexible to meet their needs will survive. Those who build trust and are seen as genuinely helpful will do well. Those seen to be taking advantage of the situation may do well in the short term, but are unlikely to recover in the longer term from the damage done to their brands.
8. What type of content will medical professionals want to receive during this COVID period?
Julian Erbsloeh: Ask them! This can be done via a small survey on your website, an email survey, speaking to your customer service team about the types of calls and emails they are currently receiving or by getting actively involved in the conversations of your audience where they happen. This may be forums, social media groups on FB or WhatsApp etc. - find out where your medical professionals are spending time online and try to engage them, clearly showing that you are trying to help.
I would also think that not all medical professionals want to receive the same content so segment, understand their needs and personalise your comms and content where possible. Showing that you understand their needs is key here.
Nate Wood: Agree, ask them! But before that, be honest with yourselves about how you can help. What are your motivations for this particular audience? These people will be tired, highly stressed and worried as much as, if not more than, the rest of us due to their increased exposure to Covid 19. How is it that your brand will fit into that? The honest answer here may be that for most brands trying to get content in front of medical professionals in particular is a little inappropriate.
Luke Hay: Ask them, but ask them what they are currently struggling with and think creatively how you can help with that.
9. How can a charity get customer attention?
Julian Erbsloeh: Emergency appeals can only be used sparingly, each charity has one or maybe two shots at this before they will become ineffective.
It is probably cheaper to reduce churn than to find new regular contributors so look after your existing donors and remind them of all the good work their contributions facilitate and how grateful you are for their continued support.
Showing an understanding of what people are going through right now and providing help where it's needed will also put your charity front of mind for when people feel that it's time to give back or help.
Nate Wood: For me, the answer would be to read the market. There will be a lot of noise in the charity sector and a lot of demand from emergency appeals. By keeping an eye on what's being produced you might be able to avoid the initial tsunami of appeals and catch the audience in a time where they're not being overwhelmed.
Luke Hay: Show the impact that the situation has had on your charity, and why your supporters are more important than ever. Running an 'emergency appeal' is a good way of highlighting the issues that you currently face.
Speed is important here too, as some charities are already doing a good job of appealing to their supporters, don't be left behind. Continue to provide them the information that they need too though, be useful and then ask them to support you in return while people have financial concerns in the current climate there is a growing sense of people realising what's important.
10. Do you feel that any forward planning (strategy) can be done or is it better to think reactive/tactical?
Julian Erbsloeh: The answer depends vastly on your sector and business but personally, I could not imagine running any business without right now trying to understand what a post-COVID-19 world would look like and how I have to restructure my business and approach to marketing to still meet my customer's needs, or better, to spot an opportunity to grow into this new world.
How far ahead do we need to think? Personally, I find it exciting to play the various scenarios through but we are probably not quite ready for a 'Total Recall' like future where the travel industry has now specialised in implanting holiday memories into our brains instead of us traveling in person.
Retail, especially the fashion industry, will change dramatically. For the user this may mean an end to fast, cheap fashion as global 'just in time' supply chains become a liability, but it won't change dramatically how they shop. According to statista.com, more than 50% of our clothes shopping already happens online. We know that returns and managing them are one of the key challenges for businesses in this field - ordering three different sizes and only keeping one will become the norm so understanding how to make this experience the least painful for our customers would be a great example of adapting to the new situation.
Nate Wood: I think forward planning is essential. After lockdown, the world will start trying to get back to normal, but the economic impact of COVID-19 will still need to be navigated.
Whether COVID-19 causes a recession or not there will still need to be careful forward planning and likely a need to keep costs under control for another 12 months. This will require strong tactical and strategic guidance. Many businesses around today have been through at least one recession, and have some experience of managing their way through it.
If we treat it as a recession, even if technically it's not, then it's fairly common marketing knowledge that you must keep marketing in order to come out the other side as a stronger brand. A McKinsey report from 2002 analysed the 1990-1991 recession to show that brands that refocused their spending and efforts rather than cutting them saw EBIT growth during and after the recession. This is because these brands used greater discipline during boom times and planned properly through lean times.
Planning what you're going to be doing, how you're going to do it and the resources you'll need is going to be essential so that you're not in a sustained reactive cycle.
Luke Hay: It’s hard to plan too far ahead but important no to focus too much on what’s happening right now either, as that could all change by tomorrow.
Focus on understanding what’s going on and run some quick short-term A/B tests to make the most of this.
11. How could these changing needs affect where brands should be investing their marketing budgets?
Julian Erbsloeh: There is a big opportunity for brand building by showing an understanding of what is currently needed and getting involved. Think laterally about what you can achieve with your marketing budget, the textbook rules of marketing have just been torn up!
Think of the little gin distillery or luxury conglomerate LVMH who quickly switched their production to hand sanitizer which they gave away to the public, police, schools or sold in un-branded bottles, etc.; the fashion brands who changed their production lines to make gowns for the NHS; Dyson and McLaren who jumped into the gap to produce ventilators; the many local businesses who got involved in organising food banks, deliveries and call centres providing mental support for elderly people in isolation; or the airline crews re-training for the front line. The list is endless.
Take stock of your assets - tangible and intangible - and find a way to help the nation through this and they will remember you for it. For example, did you have to furlough some of your staff? Why not offer them an opportunity to volunteer by providing structure, vehicles, and/or connection to existing support groups. You might have a commercial property that is not currently used as it would be - could it be re-purposed to help some of these efforts? You might have a fleet of vehicles now sitting idle, could they be used to deliver food?
Many businesses don't have any of these tangible assets but might have a website with a lot of traffic and resource to produce timely, high-quality content. Use this to help people through this by understanding people's needs, concerns, and wishes and answering them.
Nate Wood: Well, obviously channels like out of a home are going to struggle to prove value. The digital adoption rate that COVID-19 has caused would obviously put digital in strong consideration. But at the same time, TV consumption rates are up, according to a Nielsen study of 25 countries' TV engagement levels. Video channels like YouTube are likely to see increased engagement. These all offer opportunities to brands to still communicate their relevance to customers.
12. With the barrage of online information now, is there a best way to launch a new service and get marketing to cut through to reach audiences?
Julian Erbsloeh: This depends very much on the service and the audiences you are looking to reach. Many companies have drastically cut their paid advertising, resulting in much cheaper clicks and impressions. This can be an opportunity for a new service but if it is not something people have the headspace to consider at this point in time, that money might be wasted.
If you haven't done empathy maps for your audiences, I highly recommend you do that first. If you have done it, but it's been more than a month ago, do them again because chances are that things have changed.
Nate Wood: Firstly, I'd say be sure that the new service you're trying to market is relevant to the needs of the prospective customer at this point in time. There's nothing worse than trying to start something new, spending the money on promoting it, and realising that people simply have no need or desire for it, despite how amazing you might think it is. Take the time to get some customer opinion before spending the marketing budget.
Secondly, if you're offering a service or product that is already available on the market from other suppliers, perhaps position it slightly differently in a way that directly addresses customer motivation. A great example of this would be someone like Purple Bricks, who entered a very well established market in a different way with a solution that tapped into a customer concern around fees at the time.
Lastly, it's fine to market a new product or service that will have relevance post-COVID-19 but just get the timing right and the messaging. Focus on the brand, perhaps, and how amazing the product will be and judge your marketing campaign by reach and impact rather than by sales and revenue.
13. Any thoughts on how to market events and services that cannot be delivered for many months, possibly until next spring or summer for seasonal events and services?
Julian Erbsloeh: Brand building, storytelling, building anticipation while staying in front of mind, this is a difficult question because it contains an underlying assumption that we'll be back to normal at some point this year.
Find a way to build an audience and then keep in touch with them throughout the year. Find ways to engage them, ask them for their opinions - people love sharing their opinions on Facebook.
Nate Wood: We had a massive collective brainstorm as an agency on this just last week. The range of ideas was incredible. From preselling tickets to exclusive events to moving those events to digital experiences. NASCAR has moved to put drivers into racing simulators and get them to compete that way, all televised. Esports and e-events will become acceptable solutions I think, and may actually provide additional revenue streams to events post-COVID-19. There are definitely no capacity regulations to consider with an e-event.
14. How do we add value to our job considering the current situation? How do we benefit from the circumstances?
Julian Erbsloeh: Two questions - the first one I assume is about adding value to your company as a marketing professional? We already had some good answers on that - the fact that you are here already shows that you care. My advice would be to think laterally and put immediate ROI to genuinely help and you will be helping your organisation to come out of this crisis stronger.
The second one about benefitting from these circumstances is morally questionable but can be re-phrased to 'how can I ensure that my business survives this period of extreme volatility and uncertainty', again there have been plenty of good starting points and I recommend reading through the resources we will be sharing in the blog post.
Nate Wood: The circumstances are providing a unique "reset" opportunity. If you weren't customer-centric before, now's the perfect (and critical) time to become customer-centric. Your business will be better for it. The reset opportunity can allow your business to grow internally. If you've had to furlough people (which is a temporary state by the way) then perhaps give those people some professional steerage. If they're not seeking other employment or volunteering, they can be using online resources or training so that when they come back they're even better equipped.
I'm using some of this time stuck indoors to broaden my skill experiences. I have a line of expertise and I'm deepening that while also looking at the surrounding topics and broadening my knowledge. Becoming more T-shaped as a professional will add value to your individual job as well as to your business.
Luke Hay: I think companies need to be careful about 'benefiting' from the situation. Finding out what your customers want, listening to them, and understanding their needs will give you opportunities though.
15. How can content agencies best harness the surge in social media use for their clients? Is it a case of content being no selling, but more supporting?
Julian: Cash flow is critical for many businesses right now so asking them to stop 'selling' right now is a big ask. That said, we know from our own experience that strong sales messages during times of crises can appear tone-deaf, actually damaging a brand.
Look at your data to understand which channels are bringing you visitors that are looking for answers or content versus those that are bringing you converting customers and then look to grow each channel but don't mix messages.
Nate: A Harvard Business Review article from 1998 discussed the concept of economic progression ranging from extracting commodities through delivering services and ending in staging experiences. So for me, a brand can leverage social better by producing content that helps to create and builds on existing brand and service experiences.
Read Simon Sinek's "Start with Why" and apply that to the experiences you want your customers to have. Ask "why" your customers want to engage with you, not what they will engage with, and start from there. Build on the why and the what should follow naturally.
16. What different types of needs might be changing (psychological, practical)?
Julian Erbsloeh: There is no blanket answer to this as it depends on the individual's circumstances. There is an old HBR article around marketing efforts during a downturn, it was written following the 2008 financial crisis (will share post webinar). What resonated was how they segmented their audience post-recession into 'slam on the brakes' users who tighten their financial belts and stop spending on non-essentials to the 'comfortably well-off' and 'live for the day' audiences who will continue to spend money, maybe even spend more on luxury goods because travel restrictions mean more disposable income.
The key point is that this is different for every person and brand/service so if you haven't already done this, start thinking about how your customers have been impacted and if all of them have been impacted the same way. Then look at the data you have available to verify your thoughts. You may have fewer transactions but what happened to the AOV? It is likely to have been a shift in channels, users are spending more time on social media and are more likely to open a well-crafted email, especially if this does not just bombard them with sales messages but contains genuine content that shows an understanding of their concerns and needs.
Nate Wood: Physical restrictions will directly impact the ability for customers to engage with products and services that require travel or collecting in groups. Additionally, financial uncertainty is likely to mean that households are tightening their purse strings, so considered luxury items will drop in priority. For families with children, there are additional considerations around keeping them entertained while also keeping their education up to date. Many parents I've spoken to are concerned about children's exercise levels and spending too much time in front of screens.
Luke Hay: Where do you start?? Varies massively between industries. Some common themes though: As well as the physical restrictions people are likely to be stressed and anxious so you need to take that into account when dealing with them.
On a positive note, people are also willing to help and those who are financially secure may be more likely to give to charity for example.
17. What platforms do you see as most effective for lead gen, and what approach would you take so as not to appear opportunistic/insensitive while still reaching a new market?
Nate Wood: If you're relevant to your customers in the current situation then it's difficult to be seen as opportunistic. So the first thing is to understand the needs of the customer in order to be relevant.
Facebook and search are good lead gen channels, but if the relevancy is strong enough then channels normally given to brand awareness can be used to raise intent. For example, if you had strong, relevant alternatives to pasta and loo roll then all channels could be effective because the need in the market for alternatives was very strong.
Pivoting your online business for changing customer needs
Written by Luke Hay, read about why in these uncertain and constantly changing times, being in tune with your customers and their needs is essential. The needs of your customers, audience or users should be at the forefront of your mind when building and updating your online offering.