Relationship marketing in the times of COVID-19
Table of Contents
- The importance of relationship marketing in the times of COVID-19
- Executing relationship marketing
With the ongoing COVID-19, we are at a very uncertain time. When COVID-19 was first discovered a few months back, it was commonly compared to Ebola in 2013, H1N1 in 2009, and SARS in 2003. However, just in a few months, we understood that COVID-19 is a beast of it on, affecting more than 2.4 million people to date and had taken more than 160,000 lives in less than five months despite strict controls and lockdowns.
In this uncertain time, it's understandable that many businesses are confused, stressed, and no longer certain on how to maintain business protocols. Currently, it's no longer "Business as usual". In the midst of the outbreak, many big companies have gone out of their usual business operation to assist their countries and the countries they operate in to fight the pandemic.
At the moment this article was written, Tesla, an automotive company, has been involving in manufacturing ventilators. Apple, a technology company, has been manufacturing face shields; and fashion brands, such as UNIQLO and Prada, have been involved in manufacturing face masks and medical overalls.
The importance of relationship marketing in the times of COVID-19
Never has been a time in modern history, relationship marketing has been this important.
Hubspot defines relationship marketing as:
"Relationship marketing is a type of marketing that focuses on cultivating deeper, more meaningful relationships with customers to ensure long-term satisfaction and brand loyalty. Relationship marketing is not focused on short-term wins or sales transactions -- rather, it is focused on delighting an audience and your customers for the long-haul."
Like the definition, the purpose of relationship marketing is to create long-term satisfaction and brand loyalty instead of confusing short-term wins. With many business struggling, businesses that are least affected should take the initiative to do what they can to assist their customers and other businesses at difficult times.
Executing relationship marketing
At times like this, there is no clear answer nor a correct answer. However, there are a few guidelines we have come out with after reviewing all the information currently available.
1. Have a relationship marketing strategy
The chances are your business, like others, are affected by the pandemic. With a few months in the pandemic, we have gotten a clearer understanding of the situation, and thanks to this, we now have enough data to conclude a few potential phrases are happening within the outbreak. Depending on the nature of your business, a marketing strategy should be devised for each of these phrases.
Phrase 1: Initial outbreak / first wave
Most countries have started this phrase. This is the phrase where the pandemic first arrived at their countries, and people are waiting for the government's response. Most countries have already gone through this phase.
Phrase 2: Full Blown Outbreak
This phrase is when the virus is spreading fast and rising. This is a phrase where the number of daily new cases is increasing rapidly, and the peak is nowhere to be seen. Most countries are currently in this stage, where governments are doing their best to control the pandemic. The usual response by country is a total lockdown or a partial lockdown. Based on the response by the government, what changes in business policies should have.
Phrase 3: Regression
This phrase is when the daily new cases are starting to stabilize and fall. In this phrase, the government is beginning to loosen up or consider loosen up the initial response to the outbreak. We are currently seeing Italy, Germany, and Spain entering this phrase. You should have a good understanding of which part of your operation can be resumed and what kind of marketing communication should be done at this phrase.
Phrase 4: Potential Second Wave / other waves
After losing up the lockdown restriction, some countries/areas might experience a second wave of infection. We currently see this in Singapore, a country that initially avoided a full outbreak and Hokkaido, where loosing up restriction ended up in a second outbreak. Being prepared for a potential second wave is a good way to be prepared if your business is getting affected.
Phrase 5: Aftermath
Aftermath is where the countries have gained control over the pandemic, where the number of daily cases is not increasing or is relatively low. Countries currently in this phrase are China and South Korea. Consumers' behavior in this stage varies highly depending on the seriousness of the initial outbreak.
China is experiencing an enormous aftershock, where consumers are still afraid to head to the mall and dining within a restaurant. While on the other hand, South Korea, although it had an initial quick spike in the virus, it did not lead to fear in the general population due to the initial handling of the virus by the government. Planning for this phrase is crucial, especially most countries have gone a great initial shock, and consumer confidence is still very low. Marketers should be prepared and come out with strategies to regain the trust of the consumer in this phrase.
Based on the phrases listed above, your marketing strategy should be planned with the potential changes from one phase to another and also should depend on the seriousness of the situation, governments' response and how your general population is responding to the virus.
2. Communication is key
With the pandemic situation continuously changing, having good communication and flexibility is crucial. Customers should be well-informed of the changes and the situation of your business.
Changes in your operation & potential changes
The chances are, your business operation is going to be affected differently depending on the phase of the outbreak. Be sure to keep your information updated and ready to announce any changes. Marketers should communicate when the changes will be and when they will be in effect until. When the said date arrives, and no announcement has been made to loosen up the restriction, provide a new timeline to your customers and partners. This information can be communicated through your website, e-mails, or listing on Google Map.
What are you doing to ensure the safety of your customers and employees
The chances are, most of your customers and employees will be worried about the pandemic. If you are in a business where your customers have to interact with your employees, let them know that you are taking good care of your employees, and you are practicing the best hygiene standard available out there.
3. Contribute to the cause, be humane
There has never been a better time to build strong relationships with your customers and partners. Show them you the humane side of your business by contributing to the cause. This can be as simple as providing more flexibility in your usual business operation, terms & conditions, or a simple offer of assistance. Here are what some businesses have done in the South East Asia region to contribute to the cause.
When Shopee, one of the largest mobile E-commerce marketplace in South East Asia, noticed businesses on their platform are taking advantage of the panic to jack up the price of face masks. It didn't take long until they start taking action on those listing. Moreover, they also have taken several measures to ensure consumers can get a steady supply for face masks by limiting the number of face masks that can be purchased and working with face masks manufacturers.
Grab, the biggest ride-sharing App in South East Asia, started providing financial relief to its drivers, delivery partners, and merchant partners by taking a 20% pay cut from their senior leadership. Furthermore, they have also started teaming up with different organizations in different countries to contribute more to the cause. In Indonesia, Grab is partnering with Good Doctor Clinic Indonesia to free online COVID-19 screening.
We at Repro, a marketing solution provider that offers marketing and analysis tools to businesses to better communicate with customers, certainly practice what we preach. Despite just starting out in the SEA region, we have offered our expertise and tools for free to hospitality businesses in the SEA region.
4. Be positive
Last but not least, be positive by offering encouragement. Nike as done a great job by starting the campaign "You can't stop us" while on the other hand, while CEO from Guess, Paul Marciano, has decided to encourage visitors to their online store by putting up the banner "Hope. Never Give up".