How to make the most of the coronavirus downtime and come out swinging on the other side

Now is the ideal time to focus on data and a good personalisation strategy, says Craig Flanders.

As more and more businesses are forced to close their doors and/or send those who can to work from home in an effort to curb the spread of COVID-19, there’s a temptation to put 100 percent focus on the here and now. And fair enough, if we can’t sustain a viable ‘business as usual’ level of activity, the future is academic.

But only focusing on what’s in front of you is a huge mistake for brands. Do that and the effects will be felt by your business for months and years to come.

Instead, now is the time to think ahead to the brave new world. No one can tell us exactly what that’s going to look like so instead of worrying about it, get your ducks in a row and tackle some of those projects that have been sitting at the bottom of your to-do list.

For my money, this period will change consumer behaviour forever and online channels will come to dominate even more quickly than was predicted before we heard of ‘social distancing’.

If you agree, it makes the choice of what to do next pretty easy. Start with data.

Data has become one of those things that seems too big to tackle when you are locked in the cut and thrust of business as usual. If that’s you, then this is the perfect time to get started. By simply looking at the data assets you are sitting on, collating and tidying them up, you’ll be on the path to delivering much more personalised communications for your customers. You can already see changes in your own behaviours in recent days – these will be showing up in your customer data… assuming you can measure it and easily access it.

Any brand that can demonstrate a better understanding of customer mindsets by providing personalised offers via well-targeted comms will be a major step ahead of the flat-footed competition when this madness ends and new normal is established.

Step one in tackling data is to figure out where it is, then consolidate multiple sources before grouping this information into buckets. It could be as basic as grouping together people who have purchased from you before (online or otherwise) or not at all.

Step two is leveraging this knowledge through an e-marketing strategy. To do this, you’ll need to put in place rules and tools that allow you to speak to all your current and potential customers one to one, or seemingly so. We call this approach ‘mass personalisation’.

Consumers have been conditioned to expect personalisation in their communications. Netflix and Amazon are the masters of this with recommendations based on data that show programs and products you have enjoyed and purchased in the past. When backed by data, this is a highly insightful and persuasive approach. Think of this as the next step up from the pioneering segmentation strategies utilised by direct mail.

A lot of brands grappling with how best to get through this time will be right in thinking it pays to continue spending on broad reach brand building media. That’s certainly what we’re advising our clients to do. People might not be spending money on your product now, but you want them to remember it when the time comes that they do. Having a personalisation strategy in place when that day rolls around will maximise the bottom-line impact of broader brand-building investments. It’s not a case of one or the other – you need both to get the best outcome.

If you’re wondering where you will find the budget to do both once the downturn ends, think about it this way: not including data-driven personalisation in your marketing mix could actually cost you money in the new normal. At the bottom of the funnel, it can have a measurable impact on the effectiveness of brand campaigns so leaving it out isn’t a smart choice. That said, you can start small. Trial a couple of experiments such as finding one actionable insight and using that to target customers.

So, if you’re sitting at home wondering how to fill those extra hours you usually spend commuting or holding meetings that you now realise could have been replaced with an email, wonder no more.

This is how you can get ahead of the competition. The work you put in now will pay big dividends when consumers come back to a more positive mindset and look to buy products other than hand sanitiser, chest freezers, beef mince and toilet rolls.

Craig Flanders is the CEO of full-service agency Spinach.

Photo by Nathz Guardia on Unsplash.