It’s an age old question, but it still bears asking, just how do you engage customers in retail? Especially now, given that the previous ways in which you would have attempted this have all but been prevented following the outbreak of the Coronavirus.

Customer engagement during Coronavirus is fraught with many new obstacles and presents unique challenges to brands. and how they approach the situation can drastically affect public opinion of a company. You don’t want to be seen as looking capitalise on a global crisis but you also want to ensure that the business you’ve worked hard to create is able to stay operational. All this means that finding the right, responsible way to craft engaging content that looks to connect with your audience is now a key aspect to ensuring your company is able to best navigate these difficult times.

With the majority of physical locations now forced to close, people have been heading to the internet for forms of content and engagement in droves. According to Alfonso Marone, head of media strategic advisory at KPMG U.K, ‘Broadband providers are thus far experiencing a traffic surge between 30% and 50% across their mobile and fixed networks. Where self-isolation policies are at their peak in Europe, the spike in internet traffic has reached as high as 70%’.

As more people are now on the internet than ever before, a fully fledged retail marketing strategy for engaging content has never had such a high priority. But if you have limited experience regarding this type of approach, engaging with retail content marketing during crisis periods can seem like a daunting ordeal. So, let’s take a look why engaging content is so vital right now for retail brands.

Connect With Your Audience

As consumers are social distancing and working from home, they’re clearly spending more time online. In response, brands have needed to get more creative with how they connect with audiences and their customers, looking for ways they previously would not have considered before the pandemic hit. 

This isn’t just applicable to smaller companies who might be feeling the strain right now, but it’s also affecting international brands like Chanel and Alexander McQueen. As they are limited with what they can currently offer, these brands have needed to get creative and focus on entertaining, engaging content in order to connect with their audience and build continued trust with their followers. As people are likely to be unable to visit your physical store locations and with many supply chains currently disrupted, ensuring you’re forging strong, emotional bonds with your customers is an important way to stay relevant to them.

Over the past few months we have seen companies get so much more creative than just offering discounts and free shipping. Instead they are hosting musical performances, offering guided drawing sessions, creating Spotify playlists – the #McQueenMusic playlist being a particularly successful one – hosting podcasts and even setting up digital wine tasting events. What we are now seeing is the next step of customer-consumer interactions, the majority of which look to connect with people on a much deeper level and which are likely to stick around long after the crisis has finished.

Why Brands Should Increase Activity On Social Media

Understanding how brands are reacting digitally to Coronavirus is important for helping inform your own approach. As mentioned earlier, it is evident that internet usage is up massively in the UK, as well as the rest of Europe, which also means that the use of social media has also seen a dramatic spike.

While it might seem like the time to cut back on your marketing approach and budget to save money, in fact, the opposite is true. Now you should be doubling down on your marketing, particularly in relation to digital and social media, to build as large an audience as you possibly can. Take the American fast food chain Chipotle as a great example of how to do this. 

With people unable to dine out, focusing on delivery and pickup is important, but so is utilising social media, as Chipotle have demonstrated. As well as offering free delivery throughout March, the brand is also incorporating social media, from their funny posts on Twitter and Instagram to their TikTok video challenges. However they also took this one step further. With the prevalence of Zoom currently booming, Chipotle has hosted hangouts featuring celebrity hosts, live music and, in some cases, had an audience of 3,000 guests at once. As well as this they are also utilising streaming platforms such as Twitch to further connect with their audience in fun, innovative ways.

This wholescale approach to social media is what is needed to help separate your brand from an increasingly crowded online landscape, as more and more companies are currently online and vying for consumer attention. Remember, when you engage with someone completely, you become instantly more memorable to them.

Why Storytelling Is Important To Content

One great way to build engagement with your audience is through creating content that tells a story. As humans, we find it easier to process and understand pieces of information when it is told in story form. In turn, this means that if a consumer is able to engage with the story a brand is telling, they will likely be able to engage with the brand itself.

Take companies like AXA and Starling as an example. They build storytelling features into their website content in the form of case studies, but where they really use this aspect to build engagement is in regards to their social media platforms. On Starling’s Instagram page they use videos to help create useful, helpful content that takes a complex subject matter, personal banking, and distills into ways that are easier to understand. This is why focusing on storytelling in regards to all your content is important regarding customer engagement during Coronavirus: it helps forge stronger connections.

Customer Engagements During Outbreak

As it relates to a retail marketing strategy, there have been several creative examples of content that has been built to enhance the levels customer engagement since the outbreak started, here are just some of our favourite examples:

Deliveroo: Since the early days of the COVID-19 outbreak, Deliveroo has been one of the companies that have seemingly been doing the most to help people when they need it most. Aside from the work they have been doing to help restaurants and food retailers stay open and operational, they have shifted the focus of their content onto people as opposed to food. From their #FoodHeroes on their social media platforms to their blog posts concerning NHS and frontline workers, Deliveroo have set the blueprint for retail content marketing during crisis periods.

Secret London: With Secret London, we have a great example of pivoting from offering a service, to offering entertainment and engagement. The lockdown means that the majority of what they would usually talk about, restaurants, bars, clubs, events etc, are not happening right now. However, by adjusting the focus of their content to digital engagement, they have been able to build stronger bonds with their audience. From highlighting how you can stream Ballet online for free, to watching the SpaceX launch to talks about parallel universes, focusing on content that is entertaining as well as informative has meant they can stay true to their brand principles while encouraging greater levels of engagement.

Cincinnati Zoo: While not a retail brand, the Cincinnati Zoo still found some great ways to engage with their audience. After closing to the public due to health concerns, they began to produce educational, live online events for kids every day. The zoo hosts an at-home classroom experience for everyone called “Home Safari Facebook Live,” in which they highlight one of their animals and include fun activities to help people learn about nature. These interactive live events let kids ask questions, share their finished projects with each other and enjoy an educational 20-minute form of content whose priority is engagement.

Old Town Books: As a small, independent retail outlet, it can be difficult to compete with the larger companies right now based on limited resources. However, Old Town Books has started offering virtual book clubs, a kids reading challenge and online writing classes on their social media platforms. They have focused on engaging with their local community and have looked to provide creative outlets for people in lockdown like art projects and challenges. Their online writing classes became donation based which is being repurposed to offer further engaging content in the coming months featuring several award-winning authors.

Final Thoughts

Through effective messaging and communication, all presented across multiple platforms where the focus is on engagement, brands can build stronger relationships with customers despite not being able to physically interact with them or offer them their usual services. While it may be difficult right now for everyone who runs a business, forging these strong, positive relationships will support you in the long-term, and help you continue to create engaging content for many years to come.



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