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PHOTO: Paulette Wooten

There's a saying in the marketing world: the top 20% of customers make up 80% of revenue.

And while that seems to be holding true during COVID-19, continuing to nurture that top group has become a much bigger challenge, particularly for organizations that relied primarily on in-person experiences. According to McKinsey, more than 75% of consumers have tried new brands during COVID-19. That means if companies don’t adapt their marketing and content strategies during these times to drive loyalty, they risk losing customers to brands that do.

Over the past few months, I’ve had the opportunity to work directly with a number of companies as they weather the business challenges of the pandemic first-hand. Here are a few tips I’ve noted on how they’ve adjusted their organizations in response:

1. Ask What Drives Loyalty in Your Business

Continuing to reward customers with points and coupons are important, but they won’t be the sole loyalty drivers during COVID-19. Consider what makes a customer loyal in your particular business and industry. More often than not, it’s a combination of factors beyond the products themselves. Maybe it’s the branded credit card, the frequent transactions or high email engagement they enjoy. Maybe it’s none of those. No two businesses are alike, so dig into understand what’s driving continued purchasing.

Many CMOs have told me they've put an emphasis on data to unify several factors that influence loyalty to help them gain a better understanding of customers during all this.This data won’t be useful just during the pandemic, but also for expanding and increasing customer profitability long after. Research my company, Acquia conducted in 2018 found the majority of customers tend to remain loyal to certain brands, but as soon as they have a single bad experience, they move on.

Related Article: The Unique Challenges of Building Customer Loyalty in an Online Only World

2. Understand Customers Across All Channels

According to global market research Acquia just released, 40% of consumers have purchased more goods online in 2020 and 84% have used digital channels more frequently than they did in 2019. Research also shows that customers who engage with a brand on more than one channel have a higher lifetime value, so a concerted effort to understand your customers — old and new — will likely pay off for years to come.

A unified understanding of customers across all channels is essential for effective migration of customers to digital, particularly those used to an in-person experience. It should reveal critical insights, such as: Which customers relied solely on the physical channel in the past? What would entice them into a digital experience now? How effective have channel migration strategies been to-date? A single view of customers can solve short-term needs during COVID and pays off in long-term profitability.

Related Article: Why They Click: The Psychology of Your Audience

3. Personalize the Experience

While this sounds obvious, it’s often easier said than done. Consider a customer who has gone to the trouble of creating an account, providing data about themselves and logging into your website ... only to receive a generic experience after those efforts.

Brands reap the rewards when they make the experience personal beyond simple measures like product recommendations. Use messaging that is relevant and personal to them, such as offering the status of a repair or delivery or featuring a socially distant event in their neighborhood they might be interested in attending are two examples. These touches go a long way toward making customers feel like their relationships with you are still strong.

As an added benefit, relevant and useful experiences also enhance loyalty, retention and lifetime value. According to the Acquia research cited above, 96% of marketers reported they have seen improvements with customer engagement after personalization initiatives. Half of marketers surveyed also reported seeing increased engagement with their brand, and 41% experienced more repeat purchases.

Related Article: Personalization Goes Nowhere Without Trust

4. Experiment With New Campaigns and Content

Many brands have used the pandemic-induced shift to digital to get creative with their content. Because some customers weren’t able to physically pick up their items in store, they’ve replicated the experience online — or have made it even better.

Engaging content can improve the customer journey, increase time-on-page and drive conversion rates. It’s of course important to remember to be sensitive to the uncertainty and challenges many are facing during this time. Consumers have little appetite for controversial or challenging marketing approaches from brands or companies in 2020. Respondents to Acquia’s research said that only 8% welcome such an approach, while 74% prefer an approach that is engaging, understanding, creative, professional or humorous.

Related Article: Digital With a Soul: Building More Human Digital Experiences

5. Create New Personas

By now, many brands have found that buyers — and their purchasing behaviors — have changed, and different types of customers won’t map to the old personas (or clusters of buyers) they previously created.

Some retailers have seen more drastic changes than others, but everyone needs to start from scratch to examine their customers. That means looking at the channels with which they interact, the messages to which they respond, and their average shopping cart totals. So, who are they? How can you get them to come back and purchase again? What would make them brand loyalists? Without solid customer analytics, these answers are just hunches, but understanding these behaviors could pave the way toward new, profitable customer segments you never thought about before.

While pivoting quickly to digital hasn’t been comfortable for most, I’ve been impressed with the resilience of brands that are persevering and sticking with it. I hope these “tips from the marketing trenches” (if you will) will help marketers maintain the loyalty they’ve worked so hard to create, and build profitable new channels for their organizations.