• April 13, 2020
  • By Michelle Wildenauer, senior vice president of strategic services, the Lacek Group

8 Business Ideas to Engage Customers Right Now

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Ever since the coronavirus hit, companies have been scrambling to communicate with their various stakeholders. No doubt your business has too. You may have noticed that these communications are evolving.

First, there was THE CHILL: Initial brand messages were aimed to allay fears. Retailers and restaurants, for example, reassured consumers that employees were busy cleaning and sanitizing workspaces to ensure the safety and health of everyone who entered. The best messages offered transparency as they communicated near-term challenges.

Next came THE YIN AND THE YANG: Two-pronged messages provided good news and bad. Businesses announced closings and layoffs, yet offered concern for both employees and customers and removed business hurdles. Restaurants, for example, offered takeout and curbside delivery (e.g., Dunkin’, Panera and Starbucks); airlines, banks and other businesses (e.g., Verizon and Apple Card) waived certain fees; and a wide variety of companies offered free access to their services (e.g., The New York Times and Peloton). In addition, loyalty programs responded to the crisis by offering members more flexibility and extending deadlines for rewards redemption (e.g., Marriott, Hilton, Best Western and Emirates Skywards). The best messages recognized shared worries and offered an underlying message of togetherness.

Today, even as people shelter at home and cope with the stress of a pandemic, business communications are entering yet another phase—one that covers a wide range of responses—from business-as-normal emails offering discounts on items that customers likely no longer want or need, to those using emotional storytelling to inspire, create community and share compassionate actions by brands (e.g., KFC and Ralph Lauren), employees, and customers.

Meanwhile, the loyalty experts at the Lacek Group have been meeting virtually with clients to brainstorm short-term and long-term strategies to continue customer engagement. We want our clients to remain strong today and tomorrow as well as far beyond the other side of this crisis. And while the market isn’t there yet, and likely won’t be for a while, we’re beginning to preplan the bigger promotions to come. In the meantime, what can a business do? Today we offer these eight ideas, even a couple that dip a toe into promotions, to help cut through customers’ in-box clutter and help your brand stay relevant:

1. Survey your customers. Invite them to weigh in on your products, your services and what they need most now. Giving them a say and a sense of control can help your brand focus on what’s most important to your customers today.

2. Consider a new partnership. Facing a crisis may be far easier with a trusted partner by your side. Together, two brands may be better able to connect with customers and serve their needs in this moment.

3. Give generously. Increasingly, consumers desire evidence that favorite brands share their values. There’s likely no better time to do that than now. If you haven’t done so already, consider offering financial support to a nonprofit that aligns with your brand’s mission. You might also invite customers to take part in your giving, offering to match every dollar they give up to a certain amount.

4. Extend a promotion. Enrich an offer by providing a deeper discount for a much longer period of time or invite customers to book now at a generous discount and then extend the deadline to use that deal.

5. Offer a twist on the BOGO. Take a new approach to this tried-and-true approach: For a certain gift basket or special item purchase, offer to send one to your customer and one to a friend. Couldn’t everyone use a free gift these days?

6. Offer a personal thank-you. With every order shipped, consider adding a personal note that shares your genuine gratitude for a customer’s business and recognizes this challenging time. Perhaps even include a small present.

7. Leverage unused assets. A small manufacturer in Minnesota has offered two of its largest and swankiest ice fishing houses to area hospitals as drive-through COVID-19 testing centers. What unused assets might your brand have to help others? Your company’s inventiveness may even help you to discover a new revenue stream.

8. Introduce an app. Now that so much business has moved online, it’s all the more reason to get an app into the hands of your most devoted customers. Unveil one soon, or add new functionality to your brand’s existing app.

Michelle Wildenauer serves as senior vice president of strategic services for the Lacek Group, a Minneapolis-based, data-driven customer-engagement and loyalty agency that has been delivering marketing solutions for its world-class clients for more than 25 years. The Lacek Group is a specialist brand company of Ogilvy.

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