By: Richard Braddock, Gravy Analytics Board Chairman
The saga that is COVID-19 has now entered its next chapter: reopening the economy while living with the virus in our communities. As businesses reopen, some people will be first-in-line at stores and the gym, while others will take a cautious, wait-and-see approach. Most will be somewhere in the middle, venturing out selectively to favorite restaurants or trusted brands. (Of course, it’s anyone’s guess who is who.) Because there is no agreement on the single best approach to take when reopening the economy, consumer behavior will also look very different between regions, across states, and by city. It is a marketer’s nightmare.
There is, however, one thing we can all agree on: in recent weeks, people have shifted much more of their daily lives online. As social distancing gained traction, foot traffic at brick-and-mortar businesses slowed to a crawl, then largely stopped. Customer demand for many of their products and services, however, did not. Instead, their customers turned to digital experiences — shopping, socializing, and taking classes online. Brick-and-mortar businesses with a strong digital presence quickly parlayed their marketing dollars toward digital, while pure-play digital businesses capitalized on the market opportunity of a lifetime. Seemingly overnight, consumers changed their habits — and as all marketers know, habits are very hard to break.
Traditional enterprise businesses now find themselves with a real conundrum. How can they woo shoppers back to stores when their former customers are now buying goods and services online? Those businesses that predominantly serve their customers in the offline world must adapt, and do so quickly, or fall even farther behind. Even more so than before, digital transformation is imperative for every business — large and small. After all, to compete with Amazon, brick-and-mortar retailers must become more like it.
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Digital transformation is much more than building an online store, though. It is about becoming a digital marketing powerhouse, connecting with and serving your customers as individuals, then measuring progress, and continuously refining your approach. It’s about being nimble and operating with a real-time rhythm. Consider again Amazon, the model for digital marketing, which in the midst of a pandemic was able to scale to accommodate a sudden and dramatic increase in consumer demand. Amazon reported a remarkable 26% increase in revenue in the three months through March, compared to the year prior. The only hitches in their sudden growth? Increased but necessary spending, and delayed shipping.
The fuel powering all digital marketing is data: about your target customers, who they are, where they live, their behavior, interests, and buying habits. This customer data informs everything from ad targeting, to communications, to care. When augmented by AI, it can help predict relevant content or offers and deliver a more personalized, one-to-one experience — both online and in-store. Comprehensive analytics then gauge campaign performance, either reinforcing an existing approach or recommending a new one. It is transformative both for the company and the customer experience.
Today’s customers want what they want when they want it — and now they have more ways to get it than ever before. Keeping up with customer needs in a pandemic is a challenge for any business. For those who today have little knowledge of who their customers are it is a challenge like no other. But there is a bit of light at the end of the tunnel. Enabling technologies and customer data platforms are more turnkey and robust than ever, and data from an array of providers are available to enrich your first-party customer files or to jumpstart your data collection efforts. Together, these provide the foundation for a robust digital marketing practice and the digital transformation of your business. Because only by understanding who your customers are, and how their behavior has changed — and continues to change —can you find where to start to bring your customers back.
Mr. Braddock has led multiple marketing-oriented businesses throughout his career, including as President of Citibank, Chairman & CEO of Priceline, Chairman & CEO of Fresh Direct, President of Medco Containment, and Chairman of True North Advertising. Today, he is Chairman of multiple data analytics companies, including Gravy Analytics.