You don’t have to peek too far inside the consumer psyche these days to see that customers are still in flux, reassessing what is essential to their lives. They’ve lost jobs, struggled with childcare and schooling, abandoned travel, and perhaps even experienced a health crisis first-hand.
As such, small- and medium-sized businesses have some re-evaluating to do to understand and address customer priorities to keep their businesses current and marketing relevant. Regardless of your industry, chances are good that your customers’ priorities have changed—and so should some of yours.
1. Stand out from the crowd
“In terms of marketing and connecting with customers, what’s unique to right now is how much context we have,” says Max Valiquette, an internationally recognized strategist and public speaker, with a 20-year career focusing on brand-building and innovation. In his current role as head of strategy for Diamond Marketing Group in Toronto, Valiquette sees many businesses talking about nothing but the pandemic, and the communications are all sounding the same. People are tuning out.
“Messages are being lost in the sea of sameness,” he says. Valiquette’s advice is to not let the flavour of the times dominate the discussion you would normally be having with the customer.
“Understand this context, but don’t let your business be overwhelmed by it,” he says. “Your business can’t be differentiated if you sound like everybody else talking about the exact same thing.”
2. Treat customers with kindness
While some people are relaxed and managing the slower pace, others are experiencing the most stressful period of their lives. Because customers are looking for a bit of “normal,” give them extra information—be a resource they can trust. Ask how you can help, perhaps through check-in calls.
“Add the context of understanding to your interaction,” Valiquette says, “and apply a caring lens to communications.”
3. Leave your mission statement alone
“Don’t change the brand purpose you’ve always had. You don’t want to lose that,” Valiquette says.
“Be respectful, be understanding of the landscape, but don’t treat the current situation as an excuse to abandon the voice of your business or why you’ve always mattered to your customers or to think that you somehow have to be pivoting.”
4. Look to employees for consumer insights
Listening to employee feedback, and acting on it, is vital to your customer care. This way, you can keep a constant check on the changing preferences of the customers in real-time and set new priorities, adopting agile marketing to offer the right products and services for right now.
5. Cut through the seriousness
According to Valiquette, now is a good time for brands to inject a little optimism into communications.
“All the customers we talk to are very much over all the dour messaging,” he says. “There’s been so much heaviness, leaning into the light side of caring is important. You don’t have to make jokes or appear tone-deaf, but you should be a little lighter. Recognize that people are connecting with businesses that feel fun or—at a minimum—optimistic.”
6. Emphasize your place in the community
Tell customers how you contribute to their local environment. Show how your business contributes to the greater social good within your neighbourhood or city. Participate in charitable causes or events—or start your own—and invite your loyal clients to join in, too. Think of your customers as one big community and make a connection through fostering community pride.
Now, more than ever, people want to feel connected. They have been reassessing their lives, looking for inclusivity, treasuring what they value most, and not taking things for granted. This is a great chance for business owners to do the same.