As the country went into quarantine more than two months ago, it created an unprecedented economic environment for every brand. Companies had to rapidly rethink every aspect of their business.
Every marketer had to develop new strategies and new marketing plans, especially in terms of how to maintain customer relationships when so many traditional customer touchpoints were no longer possible.
And now, it’s time to do it all over again -- only this time the challenge is planning for the economic recovery as states begin to lift stay-at-home restrictions.
While these early steps are positive signs for both consumers and businesses, the landscape that marketers have to navigate is just as complex as it was two months ago.
One thing is clear -- this isn’t a return to pre-pandemic normalcy.
Quite simply, brands have to develop new approaches attuned to the new environment and the new consumer mindset.
Recovery Planning Framework
The economic recovery won’t unfold uniformly across the country. Rather, it will vary across three key factors, and marketers will need recovery plans that are flexible enough to respond well to these evolving market conditions:
Market by Market – Each state is charting its own course on how to reopen the economy. Even within states there are differences, all largely dictated by the severity of the pandemic. In California for example, San Francisco and Los Angeles have been impacted differently by the virus and will likely reopen in different stages and on different timelines.
Industry-Specific – An inherent ability to maintain social-distancing will heavily influence which businesses can re-open and how quickly consumers will return. Smaller venues like restaurants and retail have fewer challenges than larger crowd commercial venues like stadiums or movie theaters. Both real and perceived safety will influence how willing consumers are to return.
New Consumer Attitudes – Each person has their own comfort level with going out again driven by numerous factors. Age and demographics, financial impact from loss of work, and other less tangible factors all shape each person’s risk assessment. For instance, a young person with no loss of income may still choose to stay home longer due to presence of older parents or grandparents.
I realize that these three tactics are not new to marketing -- they are fundamental to any marketing strategy.
Still, recovery planning requires a new way of thinking. Marketers must customize these tactics for the new, never-before-seen environment. This means using different signals to make informed decisions:
Data-driven decisions. Let’s look at geography. Traditional regional strategies make less sense right now. Take, for example, New York City -- which as a pandemic epicenter looks very different economically from the rest of the Northeast.
Applying a state-by-state approach as restrictions are lifted is an improvement. However, looser restrictions doesn’t mean consumers are necessarily returning to stores. Yes, people flocking to beaches is a mobility signal of consumer movement. After more than two months of sheltering in place, it’s understandable that people want to get out of their homes.
But this is not an economic signal, which is what is most important to marketers. To plan an effective geographical recovery strategy, marketers need to focus on economic signals, such as where commercial visitation or purchasing behavior is both occurring and increasing.
Customers. A similar rethinking is necessary to identify the consumer mindset. There is no guarantee that your previous customers will return as your customers. The old "Field of Dreams" famous line of “If you build it, they will come,” has become a question of “If I reopen, will they come?”
A recent Mindshare study found that 65% had tried new brands, 36% didn’t miss their previous brands, and 62% planned to continue trying new brands.
Marketers have to work hard to bring their customers back. Old data signals are less relevant than the consumer’s mindset today. New data -- such as whether people are still staying home, or whether they go out for essentials only, or whether they are fully returning to market -- are all signals that marketers need to identify and build into every recovery marketing strategy.
Measuring Success. One question I have often heard is "What do I measure during recovery, when my traditional metrics don’t make sense right now?"
For example, is sales lift a good measure when sales have been at record lows or even nonexistent? Or incremental store visits, when your store has been closed for two months?
Recovery plans need new metrics to hone in on what is most important right now: bringing customers back. Metrics that track progress on whether pre-COVID
customers are returning, whether loyal customers are returning, or whether a brand is acquiring new customers as a result of the pandemic are key to aligning limited marketing budgets on what drives
the most immediate health of the business.
With tighter budgets and a greater need for marketing efficiency than ever before in our history, the brands that don’t assume they can apply the same tactics as before will emerge stronger. Success during the economic recovery requires reframing your approach.