Even though we're all ready to kiss the pandemic goodbye and good riddance, we've still got a ways to go.
With fewer opportunities to meet face-to-face, digital is becoming a crowded space – B2B brands are now using the same ads and tactics as the B2Cs.
The most noticeable change, though, is the shift in focus.
From customer acquisition to customer retention and brand building. Since last July, marketers have been fortifying existing strengths and retaining their existing customers over acquiring new ones.
This shift is visible in budget allocations too.
A recent survey by CMI indicates that social media usage during the pandemic shifted to brand awareness and brand building (84.2%).
Retaining current customers (54.3%) was second on the list, ahead of acquiring new customers (51.1%).
Some of the changes will stay in effect in the foreseeable future.
According to Gartner's latest survey, the largest share of CMOs stated that their strategy will focus on increasing sales of existing products to existing customers.
To say that the pandemic has disrupted our lives is an understatement.
The coronavirus also killed the modern aspiration economy.
Local lockdowns and global travel restrictions exposed the vulnerabilities of an economy based on 'Access over ownership' and 'Experience over possessions'.
It was only once the airports, bars, restaurants, theatres, art galleries and expos closed down, that we awakened to the possibility that aspiration has little to do with consumption and a whole lot more to do with community, generosity and social improvement.
And it's a good thing.
The post-pandemic aspiration economy is driven by the community.
Because while we're individuals, we also belong to communities. And our behaviours are shaped by our collective stories. We can get together to sing or to clap and to show our support for what we collectively value despite being locked inside.
The new target unit for brands is a community. Not just an individual.
Modern brand and product marketing strategies aim to address 'jobs to be done' in a community.
It's a real risk that, while recovering from an economically challenging year, many brands may be enticed to take shortcuts.
It's worth noting that fewer B2C content marketers have established an online community and, of those that have not, only 31% say they are likely to do so within the next 12 months.
And that's a problem.
Building a community isn't the same as rewarding people for specific actions. But that's how most loyalty programs are designed – basically bribing people into buying more stuff.
To build communities, brands need to focus on the micro, niche groups and passionate customers.
In the post-Covid economy, there's a real opportunity for brands to help customers develop true brand affinity by giving them a sense of community.
Riddle me this: what do a social media platform and luxury shoe brand have in common?
Answer: community. And Reddit knows community.
They spent their whole marketing budget on a 5-second spot that celebrated the hundreds of thousands of communities on the platform.
The platform's brand strategy is based on creating a feature-rich, safe and engaging spaces for meaningful conversations for its 50+ million daily users.
The power of communities is also at the heart of their latest pitch to investors and advertisers.
And community-centric DTC brands are paying attention.
Tushy, the DTC bidet attachment company, debuted an ad on Reddit where it agreed to make a limited edition bidet that changed the “Bum Wash” label to “A** Blast” if the ad was upvoted 10,000 times.
The brand saw an average of 4.5x return on ad spend and now they're planning to have Reddit as part of their regular ad strategy.
As e-commerce has boomed, Reddit has become a player in the consumer buying funnel.
The site’s honest, in-depth reviews make it attractive to high-intent customers. The path to purchase is changing and platforms like Reddit are front and centre in the e-commerce experience.
Late last year, Reddit rolled out three ad inventory tiers with a focus on targeting and brand safety, which has been an issue since marketers don't want to take too big of a risk.
It's not a one size fits all, as Reddit's notoriously opinionated users will quickly show you.
Breaking into these communities can be a challenge for marketing teams and it's important to have thoughtful targeting and creatives – and you need to be ready to engage with users' questions and comments.
Because Redditors aren't shy about downvoting brands who don't engage in the spirit of the site. Take Electronics Arts who ended up with a world-record for the most-downvoted comment after a poor response to a Redditor’s question.
Reddit said it averaged 52 million daily views in October 2020. Reddit's ad revenue totalled more than $100 million in 2019 and is on track to rise by more than 70% in 2020, according to Jen Wong, COO of Reddit.
Reddit would love to see ad offerings that lean into their unique communities.
Allbirds, disruptive D2C brand, has earned a cult following.
The eco-friendly wool footwear brand launched with a single product, the Wool Runners, in 2016.
They've since built a brand around a steadfast commitment to quality and sustainability as well as become one of the fastest-growing shoe companies in the world, with a valuation of $1.4 billion in October 2018.
Allbirds is loved by A-list celebs and Silicon Valley entrepreneurs – and even has Leo DiCaprio as their celebrity investor-slash-endorser.
In 2019, they began to launch in China, where luxury and overseas goods are in huge demand.
But even with their rapid growth and reputation in the west, Allbirds had to break out the elbow grease to break into the Chinese market, which has a different set of values, priorities and e-commerce distribution channels.
So, how did Allbirds manage to adapt to China?
Particularly amidst the onset of the pandemic?
Their D2C model has served them very well in the west, giving them a direct connection to their customer base – which they use to learn about their preferences and to act on feedback.
Co-founder Joey Zwillinger said the model has also allowed Allbirds to invest the money they would have paid to a retailer into keeping the price point lower than a premium-quality shoe, funnelling profits directly into shoe production and improvements.
However, launching in China as an established overseas brand meant changing it up.
In China, very little traffic makes its way directly to brand websites. Consumers are much more likely to:
Combine that with markedly different consumer expectations and behaviours than in the west, brands can't just replicate the same launch strategy – no matter how well it worked in the west.
- engage via super app WeChat
- research brands to buy through online forums and reviews
- buy from e-com sites like Tmall, JD.com or Pinduoduo.
Learning from China during the Covid-19 crisis
Unlike in the west, where Allbirds launched as a digitally native brand before going into brick-and-mortar retail, Allbirds was an omnichannel brand in China from the get-go.
However, after a strong start and a highly successful first Singles Day, the pandemic forced the brand to change how it dealt with consumers to safeguard the health of its staff.
Store employees shifted to supporting e-commerce fulfilment through Tmall, in addition to which, Allbirds also started connecting shop staff with customers at home via video chat – a tactic already employed by western retailers, such as luxury brand Sana Jardin and fragrance brand The Fragrance Shop.
Allbirds noted that pre-covid this may not have been an option for them, as staff would have been busy with in-shop customers instead. They're now trying to figure out how to preserve this feature post-pandemic when the stores become busy again.
Experiencing the Covid-19 crisis in China first, shaped Allbirds' response to it in the west.
At the “peak” of the Covid-19 crisis in China, the Allbirds team noticed a consumer was buying Allbirds shoes for frontline medical staff in Wuhan, wanting them to have comfortable shoes while they were constantly on their feet.
Inspired by this, the team decided to ship additional shoes to a hospital in Wuhan to help the doctors there.
Then, when the crisis began seriously impacting the US, Allbirds launched a programme to donate $500,000 worth of shoes to US healthcare workers, later repeating the move with the NHS in the UK.
Following suggestions from their customers on social media, the brand expanded this to a ‘buy one, give one’ programme that allowed customers to help Allbirds donate shoes to frontline workers by buying a pair themselves.
The Allbirds community has helped more than double their initial contribution.
And they've donated over $1 million worth of shoes to healthcare workers globally.
Allbirds has also noted that Chinese consumers are becoming more focused on their health, wellbeing and fitness in the wake of the pandemic.
This is something that is likely to happen globally, and it will surely shape the approach Allbirds – and other smart brands – will take in the near future.
Nurture and serve your community
Since we've been physically separated from the shopping experience, coming up with new ways to connect with our customers is a must for 2021.
The smart brands will continue to focus on delivering customer service online.
It used to mean live chat and some online tools for personalisation, but the pandemic has given rise to a more human approach which has been made possible by redirecting retail sales jobs online.
Credo Beauty was able to keep all employees on the payroll during store closures. They started offering live virtual appointments for customers and sales now account for 15% of their total revenue.
Combining live-streaming – featuring influencers, industry experts and brands – with virtual appointments is how many brands are maintaining sales during lockdown.
In any case, brands that offer solely transactional experiences will quickly become irrelevant and pointless – especially when consumers can get that online with less hassle.
The community that you build around your brand is the pulse of your business.
And it's by serving that community, and listening to their needs, concerns and feedback – and acting on it – that will pave the way for your success in the next decade.