Talking Nina is a PR and marketing expert for authors & books | She help writers to reach more readers and get visibility
If there was one word to best describe the past two years, it would be ‘change’. Everything changed: our workplace, our vaccination status, our relationships, our behavior when we’re around people we don’t know. And of course, so did our buying behavior.
The pandemic has been a struggle for companies not only because some had to close down, but also because the environment they’ve been working in no longer exists. Entrepreneurs-to-be will also have to deal with a completely new picture of prospective customers, according to experts.
Some trends and changes are here to stay. I want to highlight three of the most important consumer trends that originated in the pandemic but will still be valid in 2022 and onwards. Along with ideas on how to tackle them in marketing.
Be a helpful brand
As a communication consultant, I help companies strategically plan and execute their marketing and PR activities. During the past 1.5 years, some of my clients weren’t sure whether or not to continue their marketing campaigns. Airing TV spots that announce the next big fashion collection would be a waste of money if all the shops stayed closed. Creative copies needed to be changed, no client wanted to distribute an online video starring reuniting families or people that celebrate.
And while it often made sense to change the creative, the worst thing companies could actually do was just stop talking to their clients. It’s a relationship they nourish with their audience. We wouldn’t turn silent and talk no more to our friends and families, simply because we’re stuck at home. So why in business?
Companies had to continue talking to their audiences, but with a different message: In 2020, the key to successful customer communication was to demonstrate you’re a helpful brand. Providing value and support in a time when everything was unsure and families all around the world lost their jobs or relatives, was the best thing brands could do.
According to Kantar’s COVID-19 Barometer study, 77% of customers wanted companies to be helpful throughout the ‘new everyday life,’ and 75% of the respondents said brands should also be informing the public about their activities to combat the issues at hand. These responses clearly state what consumers wanted to hear. This intriduced a playing field for CSR and sustainability activities. Being supportive was no longer a nice-to-have for companies, but a must-have.
Peter Hartzbech, CEO of iMotions, summarized it this way: “Researching, thinking [and] designing around the whole human will provide new perspectives on products and services, and perhaps even the entire business.”
Look at these examples. They perfectly show how companies in different areas showed they cared for the society:
- The entertainment industry was down. So Spotify decided to launch a new tool that allowed artists to fundraise directly from fans through their Spotify artist profiles.
- Convoy, a US digital freight network, paid 100% of trucking costs for several full truckload donations to food banks.
- Or a more recent example from the hotel industry: Alte Post offered beds to families that lost their homes due to the recent high water in Germany.
You will find tons of such examples, and it’s just the beginning. This trend will certainly increase in the future, simply because customers demand brands to be nice and helpful. Otherwise, they’ll simply not buy from them.
Summing this trend up in the words of Janet Balis: “Old truth: ‘Your brand should stand behind great products’. The new truth is ‘Your brand should stand behind great values’ ”.
Brand loyalty is more fragile
The increased focus on value is one movement that led to a change in customer behavior. Availability (due to product shortages) and convenience are the other two. They cause clients to break with their all-time favorite brands and try out new suppliers.
Especially in the last two years, people were cutting down costs and switched from more expensive to cheaper offers. Brand names weren’t the driving factor for buying decisions anymore.
My personal best case for this theory is Gurkerl.at, an Austrian online food retailer. Until one year ago, I didn’t know it even existed. For me, it emerged out of nowhere. Now, nearly everybody around me switched from buying groceries at a Billa or Bipa shop to this supplier. Why? The most frequent answer I got was: “Products cost the same but are delivered right to my door”.
A McKinsey report, entitled ‘The Quickening’ also stated that “consumers are going with brands that are convenient, reliable and have the products and services they are seeking”. It also mentions the exponential growth rate of online shopping during the last months, fanned by the lockdowns, which was similar to the previous ten years.
In order to survive, companies must make their offer as convenient as possible and have a virtual shopping experience in place.
Don’t panic. It sounds more difficult than it is. The key is to understand what the consumer actually needs and change your offer accordingly. Take a look at these examples, they might better visualize what I mean:
- Austrian kitchen studios, for example, decided to provide virtual planning sessions and pre-orders for their clients during the lockdowns so that the kitchen would be ready in no time once the retailers were allowed to open up again.
- Hotel Donauwalzer in Vienna offered rooms as private offices. This idea was accepted very well because not everybody was able to efficiently work from home, due to limited space or small children.
- Yoga teachers started to offer paid ‘Follow-along’ live streamings, which their audience could do at home.
If we adapt our offers to the changes in our customers’ lives, there is no reason for them to switch to competitors, and we can even attract new ones very quickly.
Hybrid events are the next big thing
There are Top 10 lists of the most used phrases of virtual meetings circulating on the internet. Our professional and personal lives have recently been shaped by programs such as Microsoft Teams, Skype, Zoom, or Google Meet. Not only were they a way to stay in touch with friends, but also to communicate with colleagues or customers. Lately, they’ve even risen to substitute networking or industry events.
But they are certainly not the most engaging or innovative method to excite our target audience. ‘Make it memorable’ is true for the customer buying experience and also for the event industry.
According to Gina Fleck, senior director of strategy and insights and promotion and loyalty solutions at Merkle, Inc., “brands were pushed to try new ways of doing business and to accelerate innovation in areas like technology, partnerships, and rewards, and that has led to brands connecting with customers in new ways.”
If we truly want to make a lasting impression, we need to think out of the box when it comes to entertaining our clients. Before COVID-19 we put time and energy into the organization of an event. In times when people prefer to or must stay home, we have to bring up the same level of motivation for our virtual events.
Another reason why it makes sense to step up our game is that experts think digital components will be an integral part of in-person events in the future. Like AR applications or virtual reality tours. Best to get familiar with all the technological possibilities now!
I’ve participated in a few really great events lately and summarized the elements I appreciated most:
- Mozilla Hubs is a great web application to use pre-build virtual worlds or set up your own. Guests can join the location as avatars and talk to each other via video and sound. You can place presentations, pictures, PDFs, videos, and texts into this world, which everybody is able to read or interact with. Have a look at one which I created for a project.
- Another supplier is Roomkey. Here, your location could look like a real posh event location, a board room, a stage, and much more.
- Capterra provides a list of similar programs on their website, as well.
You see, there are many ways to host a virtual event in a location that can surprise people. It does not always have to be Zoom or Teams. Once the location is set, we have to entertain the guests:
- Ask people to turn on the camera. Actually seeing people helps to create a feeling of togetherness and ensures guests pay attention to what’s happening.
- Think mobile. Some of your attendees might join via their phones, so it’s important to create a virtual location and materials for a mobile experience as well.
- Sent your guests a gift. One event I attended sent small Gin and Tonic boxes to their guests, so we could toast to each other with the same dring in the networking session. Like we would in a physical event.
What does all this mean for entrepreneurs, business owners, and marketers? Rethink the way your clients live nowadays. Google explained that marketers’ who own the new at-home experiences of their audience will see next-level empathy from customers.
No matter if you’re building your business or if you’ve already an established company, make sure you take into account how the lives of your clients changed.
Short and quick, here are the three learnings based on the consumer trends that will stay with us in 2022:
- Provide value and be helpful in order to stay in the relevance-set of your clients. And tell them about it.
- Offer products or services that facilitate a convenient life for your audience. This will help to maintain their loyalty.
- Hybrid events are here to stay. Innovate early to stand out.
One statement to remember from the pandemic and this article: Value and convenience drive customer loyalty.