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(Re)building Virtual Connections in the Post-Pandemic Era

Despite that the COVID-19 shutdown has (so far) lasted for a relatively short period in the overall history of the global economy, it has forever changed consumers’ expectations of brands. 

And although life is slowly beginning to go back to “normal” in some places, things are looking far worse in others. There’s much uncertainty about the future, but at least one thing is clear: For brands—particularly those that have traditionally relied on face-to-face interactions to serve their constituents—the phrase “things will never be the same” is more than an empty platitude, it’s the stark reality. 

Consumer sentiment indicates that, even as certain parts of the world “open up,” the increased amount of time people spend online isn’t just going to go away. Brands will have to continue building relationships virtually—yet in new and different ways that help compensate for reduced face time.

3 Best Practices for Building Lasting Virtual Connections

Seamless digital customer touch points.

Over the last few months, the average American has spent significantly more time (and money) online. This means seamless digital engagements are increasingly important: As marketing industry legend David Bell puts it, “[customers] just aren’t going to have any patience for friction.” By “friction,” Bell means anything that can negatively impact a user’s journey as they interact with a brand online, from a poor website UX to muddled messaging on social media.

And that’s not just conjecture—the numbers back it up. Recent research shows that seven in 10 consumers are willing to change their bank or insurance company due to poor informational experiences online. In the healthcare arena, a McKinsey study shows that 76% of surveyed patients are interested in using telehealth, even after COVID—meaning it’s important for practices to continue providing easy-to-use telehealth options. The list goes on.

It’s clear that offering a seamless virtual experience for those who engage with your brand isn’t just a means of delighting them by making their lives easier—it’s critical to converting prospects into customers in the first place and keeping existing ones coming back.

Value-aligned business objectives.

Consumer values have further shifted along with the current digital landscape, which is filled with conversations surrounding social and economic justice, as well as the pandemic itself. Consider these statistics:

  • An astounding 83% of millennials cite that it is important for the values of the companies they patronize to align with their own, with 65% noting they have actively boycotted brands for espousing opposing values, according to a recent report.
  • Consumers have begun consciously spending more money when buying products from companies with compatible values, as well as those who treat their employees with compassion, according to McKinsey.
  • A global study found that consumers are six times more likely to protect a brand in the event of public criticism if they believe that brand has a strong purpose.

Now more than ever, brands are being called out for making statements of moral posturing without taking action. Consumers who are so thoroughly accustomed to online engagements with brands can absolutely tell the difference between action-driven authenticity and empty, opportunistic rhetoric.

It is crucial for brands to engage in real, purposeful action to back up their statements—whatever they may be—to build stronger connections with their audiences and win more business as a result, but also because the fallout of corporate social irresponsibility (or insensitivity) will be swift and unforgiving—especially during a time when everyone has their eyes glued to the internet. 

Trust-building, localized engagement.

Research shows that local engagement is becoming increasingly important to consumers—not just because people feel obligated to support their own communities by shopping local, but also because they have higher confidence in the quality and safety of familiar businesses. 

Couple this with consumers’ physical confinement to local neighborhoods—whether due to government-mandated travel restrictions or general uneasiness about venturing beyond the lines of what’s familiar—and the need for a hyperlocal digital strategy is apparent. This is particularly true for financial institutions and healthcare practices that must consistently communicate local branch and office hours, as well as safety protocols.

To capture this sentiment and connect locally on a deeper level, marketers should seek to adopt a more granular geographic digital presence, with personalized engagements tailor made for each target community. This approach will rely heavily on digital channels that allow for hyperlocal geographic segmentation, such as paid search, display advertising and social media.

Interested in learning more about how your brand can stay virtually connected to your audience in a lasting, meaningful way? You can with AW Actionable Insights, our customized research, discovery, and strategic action plan. Learn More

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