Develop customer trust with virtual engagement in a down cycle

Hard-hit retailers are considering the best ways to pivot during this turbulent time. Many traditional specialty and event-based marketing communications have been muted, redirected or downright cancelled. CMOs are erring on the side of caution with reduced promotional activity to avoid inadvertently appearing tone-deaf or insensitively lighthearted.

Until the next normal comes into clear focus, a dilemma facing brand marketers is deciding if—and how much—marketing presence is appropriate. Can you stay top of mind while maintaining relevance in a time of deep consumer unease?

The answer is yes. But it matters how. The north star is always, of course, brand authenticity.

Brand authenticity

Retailers offering home décor, small kitchen appliances, garden, electronics and fitness gear through ecommerce or curbside pickup have heightened relevance right now (in addition to grocery, pharmacy and essentials). Safe operations playbooks are maturing with Mother’s Day promotions in sight.

However, mall-based specialty retailers and closed stores with limited ecommerce operations have farther to go in preparing for the future. Seasonal stock alignment and physical in-store distancing measures are evolving challenges to consider as the dimmer switch for a national return to business lights up, with varying acceleration by region.

There are still opportunities to engage and have a dialogue with your customers and prospects—after all, we are in marketing and communications. It’s simply important to remember we need to give consumers a voice and always offer them something of value for their time.

Low- or no-financing plans, loyalty points protection and layaway term extensions are valuable service announcements for concerned customers. If you’re a brand trusted by parents, you may have the authority to provide advice or supply valuable tips on keeping kids engaged and happy at home. Offering up a distraction to the housebound with fun trivia or instructional videos can be a bridge until the next normal kicks in.

Some brands have natural potential to engage right now with “Ask The Expert” diversion or “How to” guides on earning more points at the pump, building a raised garden bed, getting the most from your new blender, etc. This can earn them trusted-advisor status at the same time.

Interactive engagement opportunities to offer your customers and prospects

  • Time saver: Just like you might in-store, encourage consumers to “Answer three simple questions,”, and help guide them to the right inspirational content or product information. This could be highlighted in a display ad that guides clickers to the right gallery pages on your website or triggers from an abandoned cart when an online shopper leaves in-stock items unpurchased. Leverage interactive look books and catalogs. Men’s or women’s? Beauty or fashion? Send them down virtual aisles based on what interests them the most.

  • Zoom challenge: Your customers are feeling overwhelmed, so one of the best things you can do right now is offer helpful pointers that don’t take up too much of their time and energy to consume. Break down your content into bite-sized chunks and share helpful tricks with headlines like “Personalized tips to help you dress for success—from the waist up.” Customers can access this content through different channels, including via social media through interactive swipe-up-into posts.

  • Live poll: Everyone wants to feel heard, including your customers. Through website companion widgets that prompt users with live polls, your customers can feel engaged with and offer you data regarding their preferences. Ask a question such as, “Which WFH trend are you most likely to retain in the future?” This is a great way to build brand loyalty and learn more about customer intent in the meantime. Offer your customer a fun quiz that puts them at the center—like JCPenney, a brand that recently invited customers to share sheets preferences and reveal themselves as more likely for "suite retreat" crisp all-white sheets or "comfort zone" family bedding solutions (as seen in the email below).

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  • Tell us anything: Through personalized email, ask your customers how they want to be marketed to right now—yes, it’s okay. In fact, it’s more than okay; it will create a two-way relationship. You can include in the body of your email something along the lines of: “We are using this #StayHome pause to reinvent ourselves. Please help us renew, retool and reimagine so we can serve you better in the future.” When your customers feel heard and respected, they are more likely to engage with your brand. You can also send your customers knowledge tests, which are fun for them, and squeeze in one additional question about a preference that will help you re-market more relevantly.

Now, engage your customers

According to Steve Moynihan, Enterprise Sales Director at Jebbit (an Epsilon partner): “If you’re not sure about the right way to talk to your customers, now is the time to ask.” Moynihan recommends making surveys that don’t feel like surveys—it’s critical to make sure the customer controls their journey with your brand right now. This can be accomplished through immersive brand experiences that can be deployed within an hour—to social, via email, on the website or through loyalty API—with emotion, creativity and data-first precision. Epsilon and Jebbit support clients with our “Virtual Engagement Builder” solution daily to do just that.

The bottom line is that brands can play an important role during these uncertain times. The key is to speak in an authentic voice, get permission from the consumer and return their trust with an appropriate conversation that results in meaningful action.