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There’s one pandemic marketing lesson that will keep your brand ahead long after the virus is behind us

COVID-19 created obstacles for every business in just about every area, but it’s also offered an unprecedented opportunity to think about your business: Where is it, where do you want it to be, and what path will help you get there? In that moment of reflection, there’s one guide you can always trust —  your customers.

The disruption caused by COVID-19 has been a jolt to the business system. It’s a 3-month time out for most businesses, and you shouldn’t let that moment pass without reflecting on whether your core business assumptions are still correct. 

  • Does your value proposition still hold in today’s environment?
  • What will customers need from you in the new normal?
  • How do you need to pivot and adapt?

The key to answering those questions is the same thing that will be key to marketing when everyone gets back on their feet. It’s a simple secret that will make any brand stronger today and after this coronavirus is relegated to the history books: Put the customer at the center of your marketing 

Why Customers Should Come Before Brand

There’s a lot of coverage of COVID-19 marketing across advertising media. A lot of them offer suggestions for how brands should act and communicate during this time. 

For example, AdWeek says brands should

  1. Show up and do your part through public works
  2. Don’t act alone, be part of a coalition doing good
  3. Solve your customers’ problems, don’t sell to them
  4. Communicate with emotion, compassion and facts

That’s all good advice for making sure customers see you as part of the solution, or at least not part of the problem. But there’s a deeper truth behind it than simply being sensitive to the pandemic. Those elements add up to good customer-centric marketing.

This is an approach to marketing that grows from being a customer-centric organization. In other words, when a company organizes and builds itself around its customers, it develops a deep understanding of those customers that allows it to connect with them in more organic ways. 

So, AdWeek’s advice is good but generic. It applies to some degree to most brands, but some brands may have audiences that require a different voice. If you’re selling in-demand medical supplies, for example, your messaging can likely be more on-the-nose than a travel company. It really depends on what your specific customers want from you during this difficult time.

In true customer-centric marketing, you don’t create your marketing to reach product goals. Instead, you build a deep understanding of your customers, and you create your marketing to help them reach their goals with the help of your products. 

Likewise, customer-centric marketers don’t time campaigns around their own timing and cycles. Instead, they build them around the cycles and experiences of their customers. 

You likely created your product or service to fill a need, customer-centric marketing puts those needs and the people at the center of your marketing strategy, too.

If you’ve truly reached that understanding of your market — of your customers’ wants, needs, and the why’s that drive them — then you don’t need AdWeek or Edelman or anyone else to tell you how to act during a crisis. The understanding you’ve built of your customer will guide you to the right message. 

And that level of understanding will pay the greatest dividends not only during the pandemic, but also as we recover from it and emerge into the much-anticipated “new normal.” 

Successful Marketing During COVID-19 and Beyond

I’m not going to make a list of brands giving back during the coronavirus. Some brands are doing great things that way (here’s a running tally of Brands doing the right things to fight COVID-19, like making masks and hand sanitizer for medical personnel), and you should absolutely join them in whatever way you can.

But here, let’s look at how one brand has actually shifted its marketing in response to COVID-19 in ways that are driven by customer-centricity. This is the kind of deep understanding of customers that can guide your brand to success during the pandemic and keep guiding you to success long after COVID-19 is gone. 

How La-Z-Boy Leaned-In to Downtime

Although brick-and-mortar retail suffered under the COVID-19 quarantine, La-Z-Boy has adjusted it’s marketing three times to fluctuating COVID needs among its customer base. 

At first, displaced office workers came to its website looking for furniture to enable working from home, which was a real boon to a brand suffering from lost retail sales. Soon, though, the conversation shifted from remote work to people who were now spending more time at home than they ever had as adults — and perhaps realizing it wasn’t as comfortable as they wanted. 

Understanding that shift in its customers’ experience, La-Z-Boy shifted its marketing strategy away from straight sales messaging to a lifestyle campaign that showed parents how to make pillow forts with their kids, offered tips for snuggling up on the couch, and generally extolled the virtues of comfortable home life. 

This shift tapped into the changing mindset of La-Z-Boy’s customers, making their experience the focal point of the campaign rather than any product the brand offers.

La-Z-Boy followed up that success with a campaign thanking healthcare workers, who, of course, are looking for a comfortable place to “La-Z” around after 12-hour COVID shifts. Again, this campaign intuitively understood the struggle of its customers and how to help. This time, the brand message is buoyed by a promise that La-Z-Boy will donate up to $1 million worth of furniture directly to nurses working on the COVID front lines. 

The Post-Pandemic Takeaway

The lesson here is not that La-Z-Boy built marketing to exploit COVID-19. In fact, any marketer seen to be exploiting the virus is likely to face a painful backlash. What La-Z-Boy really did right was let its customers lead its marketing. 

During the pandemic, your marketing can’t be about your products, it must be about your customers and what they’re experiencing. But that’s actually better marketing any time, not just during a crisis. 

If you learn that lesson now, it will lead your brand to better success through COVID and beyond.

Contact us today to see how Propelo can help you put customers at the center of your omni-channel marketing strategy, even during COVID-19.