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Leaning into Digital to Drive Demand when Face to Face is Impossible
by Daniel Newman | April 8, 2020

If there’s one thing that’s for sure, COVID-19 is forcing all of us into digital transformation. Even those companies that had previously been avoiding things like remote working and video conferencing are being forced to become experts in those technologies—literally overnight. Although it’s easy to fret the state of the economy, or what will become of it in the coming months, we can all breathe a sigh of relief that there are so many digital ways to continue to interact with our customers when face to face interaction isn’t possible. What technologies should you be turning to in this temporary period of global pandemic? And which should you continue to use, even after this emergency is over? The following are a few of my thoughts.

Go Where Your Customers Are

And as your customers are shacked up at home, most of them are spending an increased time on—you guessed it—their phones. Hungry for personal connection, many are finding that their screen time counts are increasing by 50 percent or more. Outside of a global pandemic, that would be troubling. But right now, it’s a good opportunity to reach your customers where they are—on social media, text, and chat. If your company has not yet ventured into instant stories, for instance, consider launching some campaigns to keep your customers engaged with your brand. Be careful, however, to ensure that your message is appropriate for the times. Ads that promote your latest product or wax poetic about how much you care for your customers? A dime a dozen. Campaigns that show what you’re doing to help your customers and employees—relaxing payment due dates, offering free access to your service, providing paid sick days, increasing employment opportunities, etc.—may receive a better response than simply a message about your newest product.

Think about the companies that have gotten your attention in the last few days. Is it the retail giant running sales like normal or is it the collaboration company that has given you free access? Who do you want to be like?

Get Cozy with Digital Conferencing

Microsoft, Google, and Zoom all announced free access to their free work-from-home conference tools when the coronavirus broke out, so if you’re been on the fence about trying these tools, now is your chance. Indeed, Zoom says daily users have literally quadrupled since COVID-19 hit, and Google Cloud says its usage is up almost 800 percent. What does that mean for your company? It means your customers are okay working and interacting online—and you may not have to lose their business if you’re willing to get comfortable with it, too. I want to stress that this is an option not just for working from home, but for those companies who offer classes or events that provide a mode of income throughout the year. Rather than waiting months for the all-clear to hold those events again, it’s worth considering whether an online course could provide the same benefit to your customers who are likely clamoring for an opportunity to learn something new while sitting at home.

In the last few weeks I’ve attended some excellent digital events. Zoom knocked it out of the park for their analyst day. They had engaging digital content, breakout sessions, and even gave us DoorDash discount codes so we could order lunch on the company as if we were still at the event. Is that something you could emulate? Think about it.

Set Realistic Expectations

This is unchartered territory. While the Great Recession was bad, it didn’t have the same wider ripple-effect that the coronavirus has. No one really knows, as of now, how many people may pass away or how many businesses will close because of it. No one knows how long people will stay employed or how willing they will be to spend their money when this situation is over. As such, creating a strategy to “drive demand” during this time may not be a realistic goal. What might work better? Focus on maintaining meaningful engagement and loyalty. If you do that, you increase the chances that your customers will buy from you as soon as they can.

Indeed, two positives to come from the coronavirus outbreak are 1) it is forcing many companies to realize that their teams can work remotely (and may not be willing to stop once this whole thing is over), and 2) customers are willing to support the companies they value. All over my town, I’m seeing people consistently order take-out from their favorite local restaurants, order groceries from their favorite ma and pop shops, and spend their money to keep good companies afloat. That’s brand loyalty, folks. And it’s alive today, in a way we may never experience quite as profoundly ever again.

On that note, rather than trying to drive demand, I’d suggest simply seeking to increase your drive to help humanity. Companies like Patagonia, which shut early on with a commitment to pay its employees in full, or Hilton, whose top executive is going without pay as a cost-saving measure and is offering rooms to first-responders where is a need, are going to gain a lot of respect and loyalty as the weeks and months roll on. How is your company doing when it comes to making the world a better place? This may be the perfect time to find out.

Futurum Research provides industry research and analysis. These columns are for educational purposes only and should not be considered in any way investment advice.

The original version of this article was first published on Forbes.

 

Daniel Newman