Brands must understand what matters most to their customers and communicate their values with authenticity, whilst avoiding the dangers of potential greenwashing and token activism.
From our recent research report ‘The Future of Retail: Opportunities for Brands in the New Normal’, we know that customer loyalty is directly linked to aligning values with brands. We found that six in 10 (61%) UK shoppers, and nine in 10 (6%) UK Gen Z shoppers specifically, have already walked from a brand because of something they heard or experienced that they didn’t agree with. Specifically, 11% of UK shoppers said they have walked because a brand has not taken a stance they agree with on a certain issue, 20% said it was due to polluting or damaging the environment, and 21% because of how their products are made.
By James Manderson
2020 has been a wake up call for brands to act and reassess what they stand for. Influential figures like Sir David Attenborough have called saving the planet a ‘communications’ challenge that brands need to rise to. With this in mind, brands must understand what matters most to their customers and communicate their values in an authentic and transparent way, whilst avoiding the dangers of potential greenwashing and token activism.
Using data to better understand customers
The main challenge brands face in the Covid-19 pandemic is a fragmented customer landscape, which makes it difficult to understand customer preferences and reach them on the right channel. Consumers increasingly use multiple platforms to connect with brands, transforming how they make their way through the buyer’s journey. Brands need to acknowledge this and be prepared to adapt their communications to align with customer values.
By having the right marketing technology and systems in place, brands can responsibly collect, analyse, and take action on data in real-time, helping them understand their customers preferences and context. Effectively utilising customer data enables brands to instantly connect with customers using hyper-personalised messages on the right channel, at the right time.
Next, brands must craft a cohesive cross-channel messaging strategy that weaves together email, web, and mobile channels like push and in-app messages. Carefully considering each communication channel is key to creating engagement, especially as some customers may be more receptive to push notifications than email for example. Connecting and building off of each interaction is key to building strong relationships with customers.
For example, at the start of the pandemic, Babylon Health launched a COVID Care Assistant feature within their app which includes a symptom checker and live chat, and also offers users advice on how to treat their condition. In order to increase app downloads, Babylon created an interactive campaign using AMP for email. The campaign saw 56% more clickthroughs and drove a 20% increase in people completing Healthcheck, a feature in which users are asked questions about their health, diet, exercise, and any pre-existing conditions. This was up from 42% from the previous quarter. Babylon was able to listen and understand their customers, share relevant and personalized information, and increase their customer engagement as a direct result.
Achieving trust through brand authenticity
Once brands have the right technology in place to make the most of all their customer data, the next step is to use empathetic messaging to build trust, transparency, and brand authenticity through their communications. According to Braze data, 97% of retailers said that human connection was an important way of creating trust and was critical to their business.
Consequently, as brands feel pressure to act and show their support for important causes, it is crucial for them to do so in an authentic way, rather than as a case of token activism. Being honest and transparent through personalised messaging will help with landing these communications in a way that is believable. This will create a stronger connection between a brand and its customers, which ultimately results in more brand authenticity and loyalty.
Brands that have communicated their support of social causes, whilst also acknowledging that they still have some work to do, provide a clear example of transparent messages rather than just joining the conversation as a business tactic. And the results prove it: over the summer, numerous brands got called out for either performative activism or staying silent.
Ice cream brand Ben and Jerry’s proved to be an example of a brand that got it right. The brand tweeted a statement in response to George Floyd’s death and outlined a four-point plan toward dismantling white supremacy including specific legislation people might advocate on behalf of. The messaging steered away from cliches and tokenism, and the supportive responses it received from customers on Twitter proved this to be engaging and authentic.
If 2020 has taught us anything, it’s that in these uncertain times customers are looking to the brands they interact with the hope that they act and communicate in a human, authentic and appropriate way. Furthemore consumers are increasingly choosing to take action, changing their shopping preferences to buy with brands that align to their values on a number of important issues, from social justice to the environment. Brands need to step up, take responsibility and communicate transparently. It’s no longer a choice but a necessity for businesses wishing to achieve customer trust and loyalty.
James Manderson is GM at Braze EMEA.