5 Tips for Pivoting to a Digital-First Strategy During Covid-19 (and Beyond)

Secure customer loyalty and deliver great customer experiences

Customer loyalty has been crucial during the pandemic, but earning this trust is much more difficult. Marketers know the old saying that the top 20% of customers make up 80% of a company’s revenue. But now that a lot of traditional options for connecting with customers aren’t available, nurturing that top 20% is a bigger challenge.

For businesses that depended on an in-person experience pre-pandemic, it’s time to make the leap and become truly digital-first—or risk getting left behind. According to a recent McKinsey report, more than 75% of consumers have tried new brands during Covid-19. If companies don’t rethink their digital and data strategies, this customer experimentation trend opens up a lot of new risk.

Brands that become digital-first well can make a big difference in:

  • Adapting to regional policies that enforce closing and re-opening. If they’re agile enough, brands can continue to grow and market to their customers regardless of the current state of Covid-19 closures.
  • Migrating customers who once preferred in-person experiences (e.g., dining out, shopping in stores, going to the gym) to digital experiences (e.g., getting meals delivered, shopping online, digital workouts). Unifying data across digital and physical channels makes it easier to promote new experiences to customers.
  • Expanding loyalty. Brands that think beyond points-based and couponing programs—and consider a comprehensive loyalty— encourage more customers to stick with them through constant change.
  • Future-proofing your business. Aligning the company’s data strategy across digital and physical channels will prepare the business for success, no matter what changes come post-pandemic.

As a CMO, I speak with a lot of companies that are weathering the challenges of the pandemic first-hand. Here some tips from these brands on how to stay profitable and successful now and in the future.

1. Ask yourself what loyalty means

Although points and coupons are important, they may not be the sole loyalty drivers during Covid-19. Consider what makes a loyal customer. Is it a combination of factors, such as a branded credit card, frequent transactions and high email engagement? What other factors are important? Look to your data to unify several factors that influence loyalty. That will help you gain a better understanding of your customers. This data is useful not just during the pandemic—but long term for expanding and increasing loyal customer profitability.

One brand that successfully executed on this strategy is headwear retailer Lids. The company standardized its data into a single system of record. The data was used to define its audiences with advanced segmenting and targeting, including customer buying preferences, purchase history, loyalty member level and more. Using these segments, Lids personalized communications across channels such as email, social and paid digital.

As a result, the brand has seen positive year-over-year traffic at a time when retail stores were closed. Lids’ marketing team also has produced targeted campaigns that lead to direct revenue increases. For example, in one holiday-focused campaign, Lids’s marketers targeted the top million customers and offered them a time-sensitive, in-store loyalty reward, which drove $250,000 in revenue.

2. Know your customers across digital and physical channels

Many brands have quickly migrated customers who are used to an in-person experience to new digital experiences. Research shows that customers who engage with a brand on more than one channel have a higher lifetime value, so this effort will pay off for years to come.

A strong understanding of your customers across channels will reveal critical insights, such as which customers relied solely on the physical channel in the past? What would entice them into a digital experience now? How effective have channel migration strategies been to-date? A single view of customers both solves short-term needs and pays off in long term profitability.

3. Make your website more personal

While this sounds obvious, it’s often easier said than done. Consider a customer who has gone to the trouble of creating an account, providing data about themselves and logging into your website—then receives a generic experience despite their efforts. Make their experience personal beyond product recommendations alone. Use messaging that is relevant, such as giving the status of a repair or delivery or featuring a socially distant event in their neighborhood.

These touches go a long way toward making customers feel like their relationships with you are still strong. As an added benefit, relevant and useful experiences also enhance loyalty, retention and lifetime value.

4. Get creative with content

Many brands have used the pandemic-led shift to digital to get creative with their content. Because customers weren’t able to physically pick up their items in store, they replicated the experience online—or made it even better. Engaging content can improve the customer journey, increase time on page and drive conversion rates.

One brand that’s mastered this strategy during Covid-19 is King Arthur Baking Company. The lockdown-inspired baking trend led many people to seek out information online about everything from cookies to sourdough starters. King Arthur Baking Company responded to the demand by producing an original baking video series, The Homebound Baking Guide, featuring celebrity chefs. In addition, the brand’s how-to guides and recipes inspired everyone from novices to expert bakers to try their hand in the kitchen. Plus, the King Arthur Baker’s Hotline provides real-time access to professional bakers to help with any baking challenge.

This content drove web traffic and online sales in a big way, while traditional retail channels weren’t an option for consumers. As a result of this demand for baking content, website sessions went up 260% and ecommerce sales increased 200% year-over-year in the first few months of 2020 vs. 2019.

5. Learn about customers acquired during Covid-19

We’ve heard this story before: Acquisitions made during the pandemic are “not the typical customer.” So, who are they? How can you get them to come back and purchase again? What would make them brand loyalists? Without solid customer analytics, these answers are just hunches. But understanding these behaviors could pave the way toward new, profitable customer segments you never thought about before.

While pivoting quickly to digital-first hasn’t been the most comfortable shift for everyone, I’ve been impressed with the resilience of companies that have done it well. With these tipsin mind, you can meet and exceed your customer experience KPIs, and build profitable new channels for your business for years to come.

As Acquia’s CMO, Lynne Capozzi oversees all global marketing functions including digital marketing, demand generation, operations, regional and field marketing, customer and partner marketing, events, vertical strategy, analyst relations, content and corporate communications. Lynne is one of Acquia’s boomerang stories, first serving as CMO in 2009, leaving in 2011 to pursue nonprofit work full-time, and returning in 2016 to lead the marketing organization into its next stage of growth.