This emotional distance really became apparent to me this week when one of my clients asked me to change out an email signature bio in the template we use. I was supposed to remove Man #1’s name and headshot and replace it with Man #2’s name and headshot. Keep in mind, I don’t know either of these employees. Nonetheless, I was a little sad to see Man #1’s picture removed. He had such a genuine smile and every time I created an email for this client, I got to see his sweet-looking face eagerly smiling back at me. Now, Man #2 is also smiling in his headshot also, but his smile feels different and foreign to me. I had formed a strange pretend connection with this Man #1 because I saw his face every time I read one of his company’s emails.
What does that say about this year?
Okay, maybe I’m just going crazy. But I would be willing to bet that I’m not alone. I haven’t hugged someone who isn’t a family member in 9 months. I have missed my long-time best friend’s entire first pregnancy (which is my first chance to be an aunt) despite her moving much closer to me in March. I rarely see my other best friend who lives within walking distance of my home because we don’t get together for impromptu meals anymore. But my story isn’t unique – most people are lacking social interaction these days.
Transactional data shows that people are filling this emotional void with media, alcohol, and online shopping. The dramatic rise in online shopping is especially interesting to analyze because it crosses all consumer segments. Businesses seem to be replacing personal interaction during the ongoing pandemic shutdowns. If you’re an ecommerce retailer, this is a trend you simply can’t ignore.
As people are hurting for social interaction, how can you meet that need to sustain ecommerce revenue?
The secret is in tailoring your marketing strategy, generating perceived community, demonstrating altruism, and exhibiting respectful compassion to make your business seem more human and provide the emotional feel-good fuzzies that consumers so desperately need.
Offer Highly Targeted Marketing
When you walk into a group setting, do you just start shouting general remarks to the whole room? Or do you cut through the crowd over to your friend and have a one-on-one conversation (possibly even in a hushed voice to ensure it stays between the two of you)? Businesses need to do the same thing right now.
Segment your audience to create tightly grouped mini audiences and then market specifically to each audience to help your message resonate better. Consumers have always wanted to know what’s in it for them individually, but with a dearth of the direct personal attention we crave, we need it now more than ever. Talk to us, each one of us, personally.
Most of the places people usually congregate are still closed right now, leaving people without a sense of physical community. Social groups have gone online, using social media platforms and video conferencing to connect people virtually.
Your business should follow suit, providing a place for your customers to connect. If you’re skeptical about whether you really need this, remember that it’s likely happening without you anyways. If people are talking about your brand or your products, why not control the conversation? Pick a platform and then moderate the conversation and engage in the discussions that result. Don’t use it solely for marketing though – focus on real connection and let the promotion happen naturally. Feed your customers’ needs for personal interaction while making your brand more likeable to encourage brand loyalty.
Replicate the “Friend Experience”
Self-serving friends don’t last long. Good friends, best friends, are always helpful and caring.
Incorporate a desire to help people into your content strategy to replicate the “friend experience” that consumers miss so much right now. Your company should already be accustomed to helping your audience without asking for anything in return, but if you haven’t quite mastered this approach yet, now is the time to up your game. Be helpful and transparent to encourage honesty from your customers. Address the gross/embarrassing/awkward/shameful questions and concerns your audience has and would normally ask the people they trust the most as well. These are ripe for online content because the anonymity of searching online is a perfect fit for these kinds of topics anyway.
Here’s an example: One of my clients is a restroom rental business. When I started writing content for them, I focused on highlighting their unique products to prospective renters and event planners. And then I stumbled on something looking through search query data. People have a lot of weird and gross questions about toilets that they’re afraid to ask or tell anyone that they’re thinking about. So, I started creating content around porta potty fears, poop-related questions, and outlandish toilet inventions. And you know what? Those remain our most popular topics every month. Now, not all these readers are in the market for a toilet rental company immediately, but when they are, the brand recognition generated from this type of content brings them in as prospective clients. Playing the long game has proved extremely successful!
Not expecting too much is the key to survival right now. Knowing that your friends are still there even though you’re not seeing them is crucial.
Companies shouldn’t expect too much of their customer base either. Engagement metrics may be down, but that doesn’t mean that your audience is gone. They may just be in hiatus. Meet people where they are. Don’t overwhelm your audience – they have more important things to think about right now than the content that’s in all your emails and social media posts. Remember, individuals are weathering the storm and adapting to disruptions just like your business is right now.
Pandemic or not, these human interaction best-practices are things your company should be doing anyways to be competitive. However, the pandemic has accelerated the widespread need for brand personification. Act like a person instead of a faceless business, and consumers will form deeper connections, encouraging brand loyalty and advocacy.
Kate Pierce is the owner of LionShark Digital Marketing LLC, a West Michigan internet marketing company. Her areas of expertise include Paid Search, Search Engine Optimization, Business Blogging, and Web Copywriting. She lives in the Grand Rapids area with her husband and two children and enjoys cooking, watching sports, and spending time together as a family. Like a true digital marketing expert (i.e. geek), she loves talking about current marketing trends… so don’t say you weren’t warned!