Although building customer relationships through technology is nothing new, COVID took it to a much deeper and more personal level. The pandemic transformed mobile technologies, apps, and social media into more than just a way to browse and buy—they literally became a lifeline for people who had no other way to purchase food and other necessities. It’s no surprise that customers now place a much higher priority on trusted relationships than price or other factors when making purchases. In an uncertain world, reliability is more important than ever.
The dramatic shift in customer needs and expectations has also forced a fundamental marketing evolution. To truly connect with customers as people, marketers need to move beyond impersonal marketing tactics like funnel metrics, touchpoints, and fictional customer personas. It means we have to understand each customer’s individual experience at any given moment, on any platform, so we can connect with them on a more human level. And most importantly, we have to deliver on our promises.
That may sound like a tall order, but we can accelerate this shift by embracing some key lessons from the past year:
Customers don’t want to be marketed to; they want to be understood.
Regardless of your industry, customers of all stripes hate salesy marketing pitches that fail to address their real needs or concerns, especially now. This partly explains the rapid rise of social media influencers, who are basically social media power users who have established credibility in a certain industry. The reason influencers are so influential is because they profess deep knowledge and expertise within their industry while remaining company-agnostic. Marketing professionals should aim to establish a similar customer rapport, which requires a deep understanding of what your audience wants and needs — not what you want to sell to them.
Use data insights to humanize the buying experience.
The good news is, we already have the data that supports a humanized marketing approach. Since we haven’t been able to connect with each other in person due to COVID, we’ve had to provide personal connections in a digital capacity. Of course, humanizing the digital experience is a tremendous challenge, but it’s also a tremendous opportunity for us to use breadcrumbs of personal data that buyers leave behind them. Using these personalized clues, we can help guide them through a buying process based on their individual experience, wants, and needs.
B2B and B2C buying patterns are becoming unified.
Marketing communications are all about connecting with individuals even though B2B and B2C purchasing processes are completely different. For instance, a large enterprise probably consults with an internal stakeholder group, vendors, and consultants before purchasing a technology solution stack. On the other hand, consumers don’t typically consult with a committee of 12 people before buying an electric toothbrush on Amazon. Still, even in the enterprise committee, each person brings their own experiences, insights, and preferences to the table, just as the individual consumer does. That’s why marketing needs to go deeper than selling to generic personas, which are often little more than clichéd stereotypes of certain roles or demographics. With data, we can get the insights we need to understand our buyers, whoever they are. Marketing’s role is to use those insights to bring that relationship to life through a dynamic model that engages people, not personas.
Put technology, creativity, and innovation at the center of marketing.
The global economic shutdown forced businesses and organizations of all sizes to tackle a mountain of complex problems all at once. Restaurants had to figure out online ordering and curbside pickups, schools struggled to ramp up online learning platforms, and businesses of all sizes shut down offices, eliminated travel, and enabled 100% remote workforces on virtually zero notice. Many of these organizations demonstrated tremendous resilience through a combination of creative problem-solving, innovative thinking, and agile technology enablement. Going forward, creative problem-solving and innovative technology use will be more important than ever, especially in marketing organizations. Phenomenal marketers need to cultivate a skill set that centers on maintaining a growth mindset, a high EQ understanding of different perspectives, and a passion for using technology and data in innovative ways that deepen customer relationships, loyalty, and trust.
How do we go forward in 2021?
If 2020 taught us anything, it’s to be prepared for everything. From a marketing perspective, my advice is to keep it simple. Focus on people, not personas. Use data to humanize customer experiences, not generate impersonal transactions. Perhaps most important, be reliable. In an unpredictable and sometimes chaotic world, trust is built when customers know they can count on your company to deliver the things they want and need—now and in the future.