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Victoria White | FFX Hong Kong

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How has your approach to customer engagement and retention/loyalty changed in the post Covid-19 environment?

Digital marketing and online channels have become a lifeline for brands to stay connected to consumers during the pandemic. Digital has become the sole means for businesses to continue operations and interact with customers, employees, partners and investors. The scope of offline customer touch points has been drastically reduced. Brands are now faced with the need to implement up to 95% of their customer engagement activities via digital medium, without traditional engagement tools of in-store promotions, activations, pop-ups, events, launches, presentations, shows etc. The challenge is how to create impact and a fresh approach to customer loyalty in an over-saturated digital space.

I think there are three areas which brands can initially focus on.

Firstly, niche campaigns that appeal to the top 15% of existing customers. Brands need to go after increased wallet share of current customers, rather than new acquisitions. Consumers’ appetite to experiment with new brand purchases is generally lower in the current environment, where discretional income has been reduced. ‘Tried and tested’ brands tend to have an advantage in the customers’ purchasing decision process and need to maximise the opportunity. We’ve seen high sales results from brands now using closed group WeChat messages to interact with their top customers about new product ranges, samples and features. Tailored direct approaches to key clients through social media channels have proven to work and are the No.1 driver for business growth in the current environment.

Secondly, customer service is decisive for retaining customers, especially where customers may be experiencing delays in the present market. Brands that can resolve remotely customers’ queries and issues in a fast and effective manner can really set themselves apart from competitors. Customers are increasingly frustrated by automated responses and chat boxes that act as placeholders for real solutions. Customer retention is as much about removing pain points as impressing with new product concepts. Brands that invest in the resources to provide authentic and efficient customer interactions in the current period will stand a better chance of keeping their customers in the long run.

Thirdly, a ‘customer-orientated’ end-to-end digital strategy is needed. In many cases, the O2O model has been replaced with a solely online model. Brands need to have seamless navigation and integration between sales points and after-sales/loyalty interactions. Customers face an avalanche of offers, tokens, coupons arriving from various social channels, which may go ignored if the outreach is not carefully co-ordinated with the customers’ preferred purchasing time and channel. Looking at the customers’ digital journey from the customers’ perspective is pivotal to converting good social interactions into actual sales.

For some industry sectors, consumer accessibility after the pandemic is still likely to be several months away. What’s your recommendation on using digital outreach and communication to consumers for these brands at the moment?

For some companies, maintaining relevance is a critical challenge at this time, especially when it may be months before consumers are seriously considering their next purchase. For instance in the travel, concerts, arts, sports and certain retail sectors. Brands may risk customer fatigue with too many digital communications when consumers are not in a position to make immediate purchases. One answer may be to consider cross-collaborations with brands in other sectors that are experiencing high customer demand at the moment. Brands need to be agile and adapt their business model to the current circumstance, rather than waiting for a return to the old norm.

AI-driven marketing based on customers’ past preferences has seen exponential growth in the past year. But, with consumers’ needs, budgets and likes all significantly changed after the pandemic, to what extent do we need to throw away previous customer data and start afresh now?

There is certainly a risk in over-reliance on historical data, which cannot factor in the seismic changes we have seen in consumer behaviour during the past year.

Covid-19 can be seen as a watershed in some data pools. It depends on the industry, and the extent to which the impact of the pandemic has affected operations, consumer sentiment and purchasing opportunities. I think it’s helpful to implement data sets based on the medium term and short term for a more balanced analysis. There are new trends developing out of the post-Covid environment. These need to be identified and monitored independently to see if they are just temporary, or here to stay.

Data analytics and a data-driven approach to marketing strategy has become a key part of the marketing role. Will the future of marketing be more a science than an art? Is there a danger of losing the creative touch?

The marketer’s role has become more demanding and now requires expertise in digital technology, systems and analysis, as well as creative solutions. The leaders in the field are equally at home talking to tech solution engineers and vendors, as presenting campaign decks to the management board. We must remember that technology needs to facilitate the marketer’s campaign but not hijack it, meaning there always needs to be a creative theme at the core which drives the initiative. Marketers need to up-skill, and embrace the challenge of learning new competencies to effectively execute their roles. And with this new multi-disciplinary expertise, management boards are looking to marketers to play an ever-greater part in the overall business strategy and shaping of the business.

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