Remote Engagement Is Still Part of Your Brand Experience

Until early 2020, the mantra for marketers everywhere was to focus on real-time brand experiences. Consumers were increasingly looking to sensory stimulation and immersive environments as an integral part of their favorite brands (Sonic Drive-Ins, Apple stores, Starbucks cafes, etc.). The emotional connection with physical objects and spaces, and human interaction was an integral part of the brand experience.

Then COVID-19 arrived.

As a result, many brands saw a near obliteration of in-person engagement and live interactions, most notably in retail. Transactions and engagements became largely contactless, conducted through webcams, done behind 6 feet of distancing and plexiglass panels, and implemented by electronic kiosks. Distance learning, telemedicine, and home-delivered meals became everyday norms.

As the pandemic has subsided and we feel safe to be out and about again, brands are now facing the reality that this new infrastructure of customer engagement has become their default mode. It’s admittedly more cost-effective, profitable, and easier to maintain than the high-touch approach of the pre-COVID past—but at what cost to a brand’s hard-won equity and value? How do brands re-incorporate their “brand-ness” into these remote touch points?

Brands are more than features and functions. They feed and reflect our emotional and social needs, and the strongest ones embody our personal values. And it’s critically important for brands to step up to this new challenge of maintaining their core qualities in new and innovative ways and/or in previously overlooked and taken-for-granted transactional moments.

Here are a few ways that nimble marketers have adapted their practices:

Authentic Communication: Many marketers stepped up the transparency and timeliness of messaging around their operations, safety measures, and changes to products and services. For example, many carmakers today, especially luxury European brands, readily state on their websites, apps, and showrooms to customers that getting the exact model and options they desire will take weeks, if not months, due to global supply chain issues. Although far from ideal, this honesty reasonably appeals to common sense and awareness, and will increase the likelihood of building and maintaining trust and loyalty further down the road.

Online Events and Webinars: With widespread acceptance and familiarity of videoconferencing today, marketers are leaning more on virtual connection opportunities than ever, especially with customers who live far from their retail locations. These events enable marketers to showcase their products, expertise, and brand values while building their community outside traditional channels.

Social Media Engagement: Shifting content that was previously reserved for retail environments to social media platforms is a given. But these channels also give marketers the ability to easily share user-sourced content, hold interactive polls, and gather valuable feedback to further encourage customer/brand participation.

Social Responsibility: While helping to advance the greater good is nothing new, more marketers than ever are making philanthropy, charitable ties, and support for equality a more visible part of their operations and even brands. DEI programs and leadership positions are now a fixture in the corporate landscape. Helping frontline workers and/or less privileged customers and communities find ways to access marketers’ products and services during the pandemic are continuing today as standard operations.

Rather than bemoan the diminishment of traditional in-person, one-on-one customer engagement, savvy marketers are embracing alternative channels and actively incorporating their brand values and practices into their strategies. Unique experiences and emotional connection aren’t lost—they are simply moving to new platforms.