This crisis is showing us the power of individualizing brands
A view from Andrea Cook

This crisis is showing us the power of individualizing brands

FCB/SIX global president Andrea Cook on how individualized communications are key to navigating the COVID crisis.

Just like that, everything has changed. Almost overnight COVID-19 has reshuffled culture, social norms, and the entire global economy. Those of us who have learned from history know that, in times of accelerated change, marketers and advertisers get the chance to either adapt or be left behind.

In a marketing landscape that is more uncertain and fast-moving than perhaps ever before, we believe that individually-focused and data-driven marketing is a powerful tool for not just surviving this change but thriving within it.

Permanent Changes

Some studies will tell you it takes 21 days to form a new habit, others say it’s closer to two months. Either way, what’s clear is that with current quarantining and lockdown policies, almost the entire planet is in the process of rewiring its day-to-day lives. It’s no surprise, therefore, to expect global habits around commerce and consumption being totally upended.

Like it or not, we’re well on our way to establishing a new normal. This is not a moment in time, this behavior will not suddenly shift back. Brands must adapt. Understanding and optimizing your data, technology and 1:1 strategy is now a business imperative.

There is an opportunity for a new marketing reality where we can connect more meaningfully and deeply with our customers while enabling them to derive more value out of brand communications tailored to their specific needs.

The following are four guiding principles that help ensure your 1:1 activity has the desired outcome, both in the immediate term and in the future new normal. 

Focus on Individuals not Audiences

Even before this crisis, modern communications need to cut through the most crowded and competitive media landscape any of us have ever known. Add into the mix a globally saturated COVID-19 news cycle, and you have very little space for messages that aren’t directly connected to those that your customers already care about.

Individualized messaging allows us to not only appear in the same space as something our target cares about, it lets us also become what they care about – in both message and utility. Examples of great 1:1 communications that we’ve seen so far include restaurants letting us know about changes to services and opening hours, and hotel chains keeping customers informed about becoming temporary housing for COVID-19 patients.

Make Friends with Fast

The global pandemic is evolving hourly, and communication that is relevant today may be outdated tomorrow. Individualized communication can help brands be part of the solution by ensuring value, relevance and sensitivity through timeliness. On the flipside, we’ll bolster trust by not adding to the problem of meaningless and confusing content pollution.

In times like these, marketers might feel justified in making expensive and rapid investments, changes or ‘upgrades’ in their data and technology platforms. Resist. Instead pause, analyze, identify gaps and optimize what you have.

In our experience, it usually doesn’t take a lot to optimize speed and get to market fast. Most brands have what they need, often underutilizing technology they are already paying for. Ultimately, your advertising dollars can be quickly and effectively focused on driving greatest customer value.

Staying Engaged While in Hibernation

Stuck at home and socially distant, customers are now being forced to spend and shop almost exclusively online. This has huge consequences for marketers. As our customers look to curb boredom and escape from their reality, they’re also looking into products and services they’ve been considering. As a result, we’re seeing evidence of an elongated digital research phase, where consumers are spending more time analyzing, comparing, and seeking social proof. There is an opportunity here for savvy brands to differentiate themselves during that research phase.

Additionally, brands can be arming consumers with information with which they can make an informed decision later down the line. The travel industry, for example, is experiencing a myriad of booking cancellations due to travel bans and health risks. Customers who cannot travel now may already be daydreaming about their next journey as they gaze out of their windows at home. By capturing cancellation data now, and strengthening relationships with those customers through relevant communication, companies can be better positioned to be the travel provider of choice once our lives get back to normal.

Using Data for Good

Non-profit organizations are going through an especially tumultuous period at the moment. At a time when it might appear insensitive to ask a financially deprived population for donations, they will continue to need funding. Smart use of customer data allows us to identify that pain threshold and hone-in on those parts of the population that are not as financially deprived and therefore more open to engagement.

It’s crucial for marketers to not just shift business and communications practices for now, but to stay the course beyond. It’s all possible by intelligently using available data and technology to allow every consumer to experience an individual relationship with an empathetic brand.

The Future Is Individual

It’s clear to all of us that the COVID-19 pandemic will have a lasting impact on markets and customer behavior. New habits and routines are being established daily, and brands have to get future-ready by identifying and closing gaps in their data, technology, commerce, message delivery, and, most importantly, creativity.

If done correctly, an individually-focused approach can be a win for everyone. Marketers can create deeper and closer relationships with their customers and drive brand loyalty. On the other hand, customers will be met with more empathetic brands that are more helpful, useful, informative and even entertaining. I believe that’s worth keeping hold of after this crisis has passed.

Andrea Cook is global president, FCB/SIX.