Creating meaningful relationships with customers in a digital world
How to provide some extraordinary virtual experiences for your customers.
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Stating the obvious, 2020 will get plenty of coverage in the history books. The rate of change is like no other in our lifetime. Millions of companies globally have adapted their service offerings to survive these disruptive times. And the good news? Some haven’t just survived the disruption; they’re now thriving. The golden thread in all of these successful change strategies: a focus on making digital experiences that people value, and that they want to share as much as they do real-world experiences. Creating meaningful touchpoints with customers, despite removing human touchpoints, is achievable. Here are three lessons with real-life examples of our favourite strategies using virtual experiences.
ADAPT TO YOUR CUSTOMERS' CURRENT NEEDS-STATE
Almost everyone is spending more time at home, exercising in their front room, and experimenting in the kitchen. The new norm has become routine, and marketers need to explore what kind of benefits your brand can genuinely offer in the current climate. In some cases, it’s providing a pixel version of your product; like game parks offering virtual animal safaris, tourism boards offering digital dance parties, kid’s toy companies creating digital playrooms with free access to games, books, and movies, free online cooking classes hosted by famous chefs, online art classes paired with paint kit delivery, doctor on-demand apps and symptom checkers, real-life sporting events replaced with esports, or muscians livestreaming concerts to their fans. Naturally whatever you do, you’ll need testing and fast scaling to get the change right, but if a traditional livestock farm can successfully adapt to offering online viewing and sales of its livestock, then there’s absolutely no reason why pretty much every other type of brand under the sun can’t follow suit in some shape or form too!
Alternatively, you might need to do some lightning-quick turnaround tweaking of the service your brand usually provides to better suit people’s needs now. Take Zyng as an example - a social planning app that was initially created with real-life events and planning in mind. Live events are now very much on the back burner, so the app has changed to focus solely on customers and virtual socialising. To this end, it has seamlessly integrated video calling apps (Zoom, Houseparty, and others) into their planning service.
Adapting to these needs could also mean creating sideline products from scratch, like an app that pairs you with a hairstylist or barber to fix your lockdown locks (if allowed wherever you’re living in the world), the QuarantineTogether dating app for anyone, or the OKZoomer dating app for students. Unlike Tinder or Bumble, these don’t restrict you to a specific location; you can date anyone - just from a digital distance.
OFFER SHARED ENJOYMENT
Can your brand provide a space in which people can share good times online? Social connections are now more critical than ever, and if your brand can provide an opportunity for sharing, then that in itself is valuable. There’s a wide variety of possibilities here, ranging from something like Netflix Party, which lets you watch a show at the same time with friends and family, and provides a group chat for long-distance movie nights and watch parties, through to a VR version of your office, like this agency from Amsterdam created. They re-created their real office as a detailed VR environment and then had 70 staff members meet up for Friday post-work social drinks. While this isn’t a commercial example, it shows how VR and AR can offer excellent experience opportunities. There’s potential for plenty of new digital experiences for customers using this new tech, ranging from competitions to re-design the interior of your home using AR apps like IKEA place, through to using a smart Snap Safe augmented lens for Snapchat to help users practice social distancing.
To start, brands can readily offer free access to their services for a limited time. Examples of this: Nike is offering a free Training Club service and their staying-inside fitness challenges; Audible is offering free access for kids during lockdown; Edtech companies are offering free e-learning resources; and so on. The list is long, very long now, and more and more brands are joining the good fight daily. For some of our favourite positive brand responses (at the time of publishing this opinion piece), read our list of the Top 10 Brand Responses. Since publishing this article, hundreds of other brands have followed suit, and there are heaps of great examples of brands, both big and small ‘giving back’ in some way. The upside here is multi-faceted – besides doing something good for your customers and global community in a time of need (which should be motivation enough), it will also improve the brand association and awareness, and given time, it may also encourage customers to pay for your services once normality resumes.
Customers now also expect action from the biggest brands and celebrities, and there are even watchdog sites like Did They Help? which researches whether or not a company or public figure has done anything positive (making them a ‘Hero’), or worse, if they have been negative during the pandemic (earning them ‘Zero’ status). Doing nothing during this crisis may well affect the way the public views your brand in years to come.
CHANGE THE GAME WITH CHARITY
Finally, we’ve shared some great examples recently about the significant uptick in companies making masks, sanitisers, and medical equipment. While that’s a fantastic move that will ultimately save lives, it’s not where this philanthropic lesson should end. Savvy brands know a lot more is needed here than just creating medical supplies right now. Instead, you should weave the action of giving back into your brand DNA as a long-term brand-building strategy. Not only will your customers feel good about buying your brand or using your service, your employees will feel equally good too. Building brand love needs to be a long-term strategy, as opposed to just being a tactical reactionary, short-lived initiative during C19.
The world has changed. There is little human interaction but that doesn’t mean to say your brand can’t have a whole heap of personality. Brands need to create fresh, original ways of creating real connections in a digital world, and rethinking your customer journey and doing things differently is what will set you apart from competitors. We’re here, of course, to help you to get this new virtual experience economy right, and to make digital experiences pay off in real-life rewards.
I'm an award-winning entrepreneur, a passionate business mentor, and I believe that great things can happen when we work together to help others.