As we begin to emerge from the full lockdown hiatus, local businesses will be competing for customers who have not only changed their priorities, but who may have a significantly tighter budget. Standing out from the crowd is a brand priority. Rosanne Kruger and Bridget Hoepner of Incubeta, look at how companies can best prepare for the uncertainty that lies ahead.

Who is this new customer?  

Since South Africa realised that we would not escape the effects of the coronavirus and then felt the collective panic when we first went into lockdown, local consumers have changed how they engage with, transact with, and support our digital brands.

We’ve been monitoring Google trends closely because frankly, nothing is as it was. The search demands for whole sectors (tourism, for example) have just dried up. While customers used to be searching for new restaurants, now they are trying to find who will deliver food and where to buy cloth masks. A sharp spike in home office supplies was seen at the beginning of the lockdown, and now we are seeing home brewing techniques are on the rise.

None of these are terribly unexpected, but what we want companies to understand is that what you thought you knew about your target customer, no longer applies. We have assembled some tips and tools that can assist you in communicating and ensuring your brand is ready for the confusion of the next few months.

Confusion is coming – as we move into the new staged version of lockdown, it’s important to make sure your customers have access to information. Given that regions can be in different stages of lockdown at any given period, communicating clearly and frequently is essential.

Curated answers – we recommend that organisations create a Covid-19 FAQ webpage where they can address as many of the obvious questions their users may have as possible. These include: Are you trading and at what stage? What products and services are currently available; What social distancing and safety measures do you have in place? And how should your customers be interacting with you.

Customers will remember – write content that generates awareness. You can grow your audience and increase the top of the sales funnel for when business is reopened. There have been some excellent examples of local small clothing brands who have really won over customer sentiment with how they have communicated during the pandemic.

They have spoken openly and authentically about how tough these times are, but have also clearly shown how they are supporting their employees. Community becomes much more important in times like these and we expect it to be a big driver as we come out of lockdown.

Don’t lose sight of your future – we are so caught up in the short-termism of dealing with this threat that many business owners are in danger of losing sight of their future goals. Now is the time to look at generating content that engages your customer and on a subtle, almost subliminal level, your customers will see that you are here to stay.

An example of this is a ‘How to care for your product’ page, or teaser campaigns for what is coming in the spring and summer months. Finding other uses for your products or even creating mini campaigns around how to pair products will keep your website fresh and relevant as well as ensure you have the space to build future-proofed search terms.

Capitalise on scarcity – If you know certain products are in demand, and you have access to them, profile this. Become a destination and hit customers with some solid upselling once you have their attention.

Q4 planning – we know it seems like an eternity away, but Black Friday and the Festive Season will still happen. Use the time now to prepare your business so you can capitalise as much as possible and hopefully even make up for lost sales during lockdown.

Rely on Google Trends – this will help you see what people are searching for in your region. By seeing what people are interested in you can provide relevant and engaging content based on those trends. This has been used very effectively by the broader retail sector and can be seen in the host of informative DIY content and plethora of cooking videos that are available on the major social platforms.

Lean on Google My Business – this has been very responsive to the new normal we are operating in. Make sure you update your trading hours and other changes on how you are operating.

Schemathis is a code you add to your website that helps Google contextualise what’s on your website. Google has released schema code to help customers ensure Covid-relevant information

Optimise individual product pages – do this based on current search terms. We know these are fluid, but checking in on what’s happening will throw up opportunities you may not normally consider.

Google Alerts – Stay on top of what is being said about your company, but also your competitors. This resource will assist you to see how others are contributing to the community so you can be sure you are positioning your offering in a unique way.

Site Search Reports – this is a report in Google Analytics that will let you know how your users are making use of the search bar on your website. This can be very useful when coming up with a content strategy, but in a more immediate fashion, you can react to spikes in searches and design specials or campaigns appropriately.

Audit your website – making use of tools like Google Search Console helps you see how Google indexes your site and it can report back on indexing errors and mobile usability errors, all of which can assist in building better user experience.

Finally, none of us know how this will all turn out. So many of our companies are facing real and imminent financial and operational threats. Making sure you have done everything you can to retain and nurture your customers’ loyalty is a practical and sensible course of action that could save your business.

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