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May 7, 2020   |   5 min read

Four Customer Shifts Primed for Long-Lasting Impact

David Smith   |   VP, Strategy

After two months, the country is starting to step out of quarantine. In that short time, marketers of all sizes have found that their roadmap for digital transformation is woefully obsolete. As they find ways to efficiently and effectively move forward, most are looking for indicators of what to prioritize and where to go next.

Previously-disengaged generations are ramping up data usage in a serious way. Screen-fueled alternatives are replacing increasingly risky in-person events and gatherings. On-demand goods and services are at such a premium, their underlying infrastructure is buckling under the weight of the demand.

At the heart of it all is, unsurprisingly, digital.

There have been some key customer behaviors shifts that will likely see their impact last well beyond the softening of social distancing measures.


1. “Real” screen-based interactions.

With more than 90% of Americans under “Stay at Home” orders, and 62% working from home, the way the average person engages has fundamentally changed in a short time. 

Zoom is now a key participant in family visits, corporate events and daily schoolwork. Happy hours and game nights have gone virtual, thanks to Houseparty. Political campaigns are shifting townhalls and fundraising efforts to Facebook and Instagram Live. FaceTime is supercharging a surge in demand for telehealth, facilitating everything from annual physicals to weekly counseling sessions.

Implications

These connections are truly consequential, carrying emotional impact. As consumers begin to equate them with their in-person counterparts, this form of connection will become just another natural part of the ecosystem. Brands need to be ready to expand their ability to effectively and securely meet people where they are.


2. Simultaneous release and online-only events.

Digital releases of films and music are nothing new. Neither are online-exclusive events. However, as movement and public gatherings have been restricted, customers have opened up their desire for more, higher-quality in-home entertainment, triggering a number of dominoes that have been waiting to tumble.

Disney expedited the release of marquee films Frozen 2 and Onward to their now 50 million-subscriber Disney+ platform while they were still in theaters. Less than two weeks into most quarantines, Amazon unveiled Amazon Prime Cinema, which brought first-run films like Birds of Prey home in a way that most major film distributors have feared for years, but embraced out of necessity. Amazon also provided a virtual venue for SXSW’s film festival after the annual in-person event was canceled. 

Major recording artists ranging from Miley Cyrus and Diplo, to Migos and The National are taking to Facebook Live, YouTube Live, Instagram, StageIt and more to bring joy to the homes of their fans, now that they can’t perform in person.

Implications

Consumers will build muscle memory for attending online events live or as a replay experience. They’ll also expect to be able to get “the good stuff” at home. This will create a space for brands to take marquee events, product launches and more online with confidence, as Louis Vuitton showed with a successful WeChat-based Valentine’s Day promotion during China’s lockdown window.


3. Demand for delivery and curbside pickup options.

Consumers have gotten comfortable with having everything delivered to their house, especially food, groceries and other essentials. Similarly, they’re also viewing curbside pickup options as a safe and often necessary way of accessing their favorite retail establishments.

Within weeks of states issuing Shelter in Place/Stay at Home orders, local restaurants and craft breweries across the country stood up homespun delivery options. Grocers saw their curbside pickup options (like Kroger’s ClickList) max out fulfillment timeslots. Previously “unconnected” retailers like Michael’s deployed curbside pickup and same-day delivery options that, while occasionally clunky, lowered barriers that would have otherwise prevented in-store visits. Instacart, UberEats and Deliveroo saw record surges for their gig-delivery services.

Implications

Consumers across the country will have grown accustomed to one-click or call access. Even once the economy opens back up, customers will expect to still have the option for streamlined service from their favorite restaurants and retailers available. Brands who are building infrastructure to solve for survival now should already be planning for a permanent, scalable solution that can persist for years to come.


4. Expectation for brands to trust and show empathy.

As consumers have stayed home, they’ve disengaged from their daily routine – a routine that brands and businesses rely on to keep their bottom line in the black. They’ve run the gamut from solving for self-preservation, to opening themselves back up to indulging during a time when they feel isolated from the rest of the world. 

Consumers expect that brands will “get” that their priorities are evolving, and that they’ll act like, well, people in response.

Burger King and Starbucks have used social to do just that. The former shared a recipe for an at-home quarantine version of their world-famous Whopper, while the latter shares tips for how to homebrew the best cup of coffee with the equipment available. In both scenarios, the brands are solving for needs in the now, with the understanding that their loyal customers will come back when the time is right.

Implications

Customers will take note of brands that act as good, thoughtful citizens, and those that don’t. Staying in tune with shifting demands – often by paying close attention to conversation in the social sphere – and adding value at each touch point will go a long way when things pick up.

These shifts are indicators of a “hockey stick moment” for digital’s role in the lives of everyday people. Digitally-driven behaviors that developed or were protracted out of necessity will endure in a post-COVID-19 market. 

Marketers and business leaders will need to solve for where their customers are going, regardless of what the plan was two months ago. For most organizations this will require accelerated, sustainable, digital transformation that addresses people, processes and technology.


Three ways brands can meet that need head-on include:

  1. Make decisions on priority and pathing based on up-to-the-minute customer intelligence and market insight.
  2. Identify tools and partners that are already doing what you’re trying to do well.
  3. Develop a network of internal and external trusted hands who can rapidly execute against shifting priorities.

Wondering how your brand should adapt to customer shifts?

We welcome the opportunity to discuss how key customer shifts will impact your brand's digital strategy. Contact us to set up some time to chat!

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