The importance of human connection in marketing in the times of Covid-19

Carmen Bekker
By Carmen Bekker | 16 April 2020
Carmen Bekker

In these turbulent times the smartest brands are rediscovering their sense of purpose, innovating rapidly and getting closer to the communities they serve.

At the heart of their response needs to be human closeness, with trust and empathy as the corner stones. The challenge we all face as marketers is having to react to changing circumstances at an unprecedented pace, whilst ensuring our responses are being formulated with the very latest best practice in mind.

We are already seeing companies innovating rapidly to cope with the uncertainties ahead. But global KPMG research around customer experience over the past decade has shown that investing in the customer relationship in times of difficulty will be repaid by enduring customer loyalty. Firms that maintain their ethics during periods of catastrophe grow and prosper.

Here are some golden rules to balance approaches to consumers and customers in these difficult times to ensure the human connection remains centre stage.

Do the right thing: prioritise safety, act fairly and in everybody’s best interests
How we act today, in a time of national crisis, will determine how people see us tomorrow. Organisations that are in a position to help, should do so. Case in point: the Australian distilling industry which is seeing many companies pivot from their usual line-up of gin and rum to hand sanitiser. The switch is not only helping to fill the nationwide product shortage, but keeping staff employed amidst closures of the hospitality industry.

Respond rapidly to people’s real problems.
When looking to actions you can take in market, view it through the lens of responding to real human needs, as well as government requests for support. In the US, Telcos have said they will not charge “coverage” fees for customers using the Internet beyond their contract level. Closer to home many Australian Telcos are offering additional data and call allowances, as well as suspending late payment fees.

Set, manage and meet new customer expectations
The management of expectations in an environment of potential panic is critical. The SARS pandemic of 2002-2004 catalysed the meteoric growth of e-commerce company, Alibaba. It reacted quickly to changing customer expectations by launching Taobao, the first consumer retail platform in China to enable customers to make purchases without having to travel to the shops. In the Australia, essential retailers have begun offering exclusive opening hours, dedicating time to meeting the supply needs of trade, emergency services, healthcare, elderly and disabled customers.

Harnessing communities, make it easier for customer to access information and essentials
New, altruistic, communities are emerging as new forms of human connection are required. Organisations who are able to support these new networks will be able to get even closer to consumers. For example, as many Australian educational institutions adapt to teaching students online, technology companies are providing assistance with broadening access to premium products, and tools to help ease the transition into distance learning.

Understand and adapt to the customer’s circumstances, putting them in control
Adapting to a customer’s unique circumstances will be beneficial in the long-term. KPMG research has consistently shown that we remember things that are personally meaningful to us and this, more than any other factor, influences future behaviour. Australia's leading banks are leading the way in showcasing their understanding of individual circumstances by offering customers essential benefits such as reduced rates, no penalty repayment pauses and free redraw options.

Show that you care, with the right emotional response
It is time for all organisations to show that they care, that the safety and wellbeing of their employees and customers is their prime concern. There are many forms this response can take, but one good example is how, with families spending more time in their homes, we've seen efforts from Australian media companies to help manage these challenging times by opening access to complete content libraries, and multi-screen experiences to customers, withholding extra charges.

By being human first, and actively seeking to connect and support consumers during these difficult times, organisations can not only make a positive difference - they can position themselves, in these hugely uncertain times, for a fruitful future.

Carmen Bekker is a partner in KPMG Australia’s Customer, Brand and Marketing Advisory business.

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