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The new rules of brand building

It’s no secret that in the current climate, with many stores still closed, businesses are struggling with the reality of trying to continue building their brand without a physical presence.

Thankfully, digital offers a life raft. If you’re a retailer who once relied heavily on your physical location, it’s critical that you start rebuilding an online version of your offline community – and fast.

Australians spent 64 per cent of their total retail spend in-store in 2019, according to Tokyo-based multinational online retailer Rakuten. Thanks to our new era of lockdown restrictions, it’s safe to assume that this number has now dramatically reduced, which presents a massive opportunity for online brand building.

Meet the customer where they are

Building a strong brand is all about meeting the customer’s immediate needs. In the first few weeks of coronavirus, consumers were focused almost entirely on purchasing enough food for their families, stocking up on essential cleaning supplies – and buying excessive amounts of toilet paper.

In the past couple of weeks, however, the focus has shifted from immediate essentials to more long-term boredom-busters. Consumers are searching out everything from board games to online guitar lessons to fill their time.

 Retailers need to shift their mindset and help meet the customer where they are: at home, with time to kill. If you’re a clothing retailer, create some Instagram content about loungewear. If you’re a specialist food retailer, get your customers excited about cooking at home with some killer recipes. Get creative, and make sure you’re not simply pushing out the same old creative from before the crisis. Things have changed.

 People are spending more time than ever researching online, so create content that takes advantage of this fact. Whether it’s YouTube, Facebook videos, articles, whitepapers or Instagram Live videos, retailers need to be doing more than simply selling products. And a rehashed Buzzfeed-style listicle article on your blog probably isn’t going to cut it.

 Google Trends is probably one of the best insight tools to help switch your marketing focus to the right kind of products and content. It allows you to see where the market is shifting on a daily basis, and helps you make decisions on items and inventory based on actual data, instead of relying on gut instincts alone.

Protecting your employer brand

A retailer’s brand extends further than its customer-facing operation. For many, especially those that employ a lot of staff, maintaining a strong employer reputation is just as important.

With many retailers being forced to furlough staff and cut their physical operations, it’s important to remain completely transparent about the whole situation. It’s difficult for people to hear, but they appreciate it if you don’t play the situation like a politician.

Help everyone understand the part they play in keeping the company strong, and how that translates to securing their job into the future. For some, it might be explaining that ultimately, businesses exist to serve their customers and their clients, and if they don’t have customers and clients, then the way they normally operate has to change.

Business leaders need to stand up and have the courage to tell their staff: “This is the situation that we’re all in. We’re going to try our best, but we are going to come out of this with some scars, some black eyes, and some bruises.” That’s the reality of the beast.

The customer journey has changed

In the pre-coronavirus era, the customer journey typically included both offline and online elements. Customers would research products online, then head in-store to test them out. If they liked what they saw, they’d then head back online and take advantage of the lower prices and wider variety of stock.

COVID-19 has stopped this behaviour in its tracks. So-called “showrooming” is now conducted entirely online, and brands that are built to accommodate more in-depth product information and reviews are more likely to win customers over.

In order to keep up with the increased demand, retail brands should go back to basics and ensure their site is as fast as possible, that it’s optimised for all devices, and that it can keep up with a sudden influx of extra traffic without crashing.

You might assume that since the majority of retailers are heading online, there’s going to be increased competition in the market, which will make it tougher to gain a large enough share of voice.

However, along with the increased competition, there’s also increased consumer eyeballs. As more and more consumers switch their spend to online outlets, there’s more than enough demand to keep everyone in business. A rising tide lifts all boats.

Sabri Suby is the founder of Australia’s fastest-growing digital marketing agency, King Kong, and author of international bestseller Sell Like Crazy.

This story first ran in Inside Retail Weekly. Given the current crisis, we have decided to unlock all premium content related to COVID-19. If you would like to support Inside Retail, please consider subscribing here.

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