By Peter Cassidy
We’re on the cusp of a monumental change in the trajectory of consumer buying behavior, with the ways in which people interact with brands, and each other, shifting significantly from what they were just a few short weeks ago.
These few stats alone point to the scale of change brands are now faced with:
With the world effectively in lockdown, people are now living online, and the vast majority of shopping and entertainment activity has shifted completely to digital channels. The closure of all non-essential stores has caused a surge in online shopping, accelerating the already growing consumer shift towards eCommerce, while IRL social activity has moved to social media platforms more than ever before.
Trends that have been slowly progressing over the past few years are now suddenly upon us all at once, and it's very likely that there'll be no going back. Post-pandemic life will not look like it did pre-COVID-19.
As such, in order for brands to succeed in this post-COVID-19 world, they need to rethink the way they do things.
With change comes challenges, but rapid shifts in market dynamics can also present enormous opportunities for growth. It’s time to throw out the old playbooks and take this opportunity to write new ones, with approaches that are increasingly centered around real, human stories.
Necessity Drives Innovation, and Innovation is Necessary
Faced with suddenly shrinking promotion budgets, and fearful consumers who are actively reducing their spending, marketers are now being forced to quickly shift priorities and reevaluate how they can best reach and connect with today’s consumers.
And given the subsequent shift to online connection, boosting online engagement, and conversion, is now essential to business success.
Fresh, compelling visuals have long been a critical element of any winning digital marketing strategy, yet with reduced budgets, and lessened capacity to even produce visuals due to the lockdowns, marketers are in a tight spot.
Fortunately, the solution might be in the message so many have been sharing - we’re all in this together.
Today, we are all content creators. People are creating and sharing photos and videos across social platforms in record numbers, and it’s these unvarnished and personal brand experiences - commonly referred to as user-generated content (UGC) - that potential customers crave and trust.
At every point in the post-pandemic buyer’s journey, authentic user-generated content can be a sustainable, cost-effective and influential source of content that brands will need to help build trust, grow sales and deepen their long-term relationships with customers.
Opportunities in a Post-COVID World
During times of uncertainty, consumers turn to the people, organizations, and indeed the brands that they trust most.
Post-COVID-19, brands will need to work harder to recapture and strengthen consumer trust, in order to build long-term customer value and loyalty, and the number one way to generate trust with consumers is through shared, authentic experiences. Or, in simple terms, by showing them other happy customers.
According to Nielsen Research, 92% of consumers trust earned media, like UGC, more than any other form of content.
As the world re-opens for business, brands will also need to provide evidence that consumers are returning.
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Nobody wants to be the guinea pig - most will need validation that a wider audience has re-engaged with a brands’ products or services before they step back in themselves (e.g. traveling, dining out, going to school, making purchases).
Businesses should be considering how they can showcase the return of customer activity in order to foster consumer confidence, and user-generated content can offer weary shoppers the authentic social proof they need in this respect.
In fact, 87% of people say that social media posts help them decide what to buy, and 56% say that they rely on reviews to make informed online purchase decisions faster - far ahead of the product description and professional photos (16%).
When asked what type of UGC, specifically, that they would like to have more access to, photos from real customers was consumers’ top request.
Budgets have been reduced, resources have been slashed, yet demand for digital content is higher than ever before.
Given this, brands should also consider relaxing their definitions of ‘perfect content’ and instead look to embrace the ‘human’ element to better showcase authenticity, and foster connection.
One unintended, yet noteworthy side-effect of the current lockdowns has been the dismantling of the corporate facade. Ironically, when we’re all sitting in a meeting room together, we’re formal, stiff and ‘corporate', yet when we’re doing Zoom meetings in pajamas, with kids wrestling in the background, there’s no choice but to embrace humanity again.
We’ve discovered that we’re actually all real people, living real lives, and this dynamic certainly extends to brands, liberating businesses to communicate more directly, honestly and transparently with consumers.
This is refreshingly wonderful news for brand marketers. It means that they can loosen their grip on perfection, and embrace humanity. Marketers can solve that widening gap between content creation and demand by embracing the content that their customers are generating (at greater rates than ever before), which can not only reduce content costs, but can also help to facilitate real, human connection, and dramatically increase performance on social channels.
Ushering Customers Into the Brave New World
A sea of change is washing over all of us. The tide has receded and we’re in the quiet calm before the next wave of change rolls in. We can sit still, squint into the horizon and wait to see what happens next, or we can get all of our systems in place to ensure that when this next wave hits, we’re ready to move into the brave new world with open arms.