For Meaningful Brand Connections During Covid-19, Look to Your People Data

The right data can help you forge deeper customer ties when it's most critical.

April 8, 2020

In these challenging times, many brands have made a strategic decision to focus less on selling product – and more on engaging users in a meaningful way. And rightly so. With the world in the throes of a dual health and economic crisis, customers are worried about their well-being and their livelihoods – and brands know that now is not the time for the hard sell. Instead, it’s the time to offer support and inspiration.

Within the marketing industry and beyond, much of the conversation about how marketers are shifting gears has focused on creative and distribution: on how companies are pivoting their messages and donating resources to support the community. To add to the conversation on what brands can do now to deepen their message, I’d like to focus on another aspect of customer engagement: the data.

After all, the reason brands gather people data at all is to forge more meaningful relationships – precisely what brands are looking to do right now. Specifically, brands should look to understand how what they “know” about customers already can help them build their relationships further, to leave a lasting mark as customers look to brands (amongst other institutions) for guidance and hope. 

Below, I offer three suggestions for how brands can use people data initiatives – including identity resolution – to connect better with customers in our very changed world.

Segment strategically. Much of brands’ outreach right now is focused on one group of customers at a time. For instance, a remote communications platform (like a Zoom) may offer free services to schools and small businesses; or a mobile provider might grant free unlimited data to existing customers. If you’re extending these free offerings, whom do you need to share your message with – your total market, just the few you’re extending the offer to directly, or some group in between? Deciding how wide of an audience you want to reach will determine the outlets you use – whether it’s “big megaphone” marketing like TV or more efficient targeting on addressable media; and for the more narrowcasted options, you’ll need a data set that helps you narrow in on core customers as well.

Retarget thoughtfully. Throughout recent lockdowns, many consumers are spending more time in front of screens, are shopping more online –  and are also more anxious and frustrated than ever. That’s a risky combination for certain kinds of marketing – remarketing amongst them, as advertisers work to find the balance between “friendly reminder” and “unwanted ‘stalker.’” The last thing brands want is for mismanaged retargeting to undo the good will they’ve earned elsewhere right now.

Of course, bad retargeting is a data problem – think of an activation platform that can’t identify which customer has already bought that pair of shoes. Identity resolution can help here, allowing brands to pseudonymously identify the customers they remarket to – and make retargeting more of a welcome invitation back to the store, and less another irritation in an already-stressful time. 

Understand how relationships grow. One of these days – and I hope very soon – our world will go back to normal. And when that happens, many brands will be well-positioned to turn the deepened trust they’ve gained in this crisis into more fruitful customer relationships over the long term. 

Customer analytics will be critical for this. Brands will want insights into whether customers who used a service for free develop as a paying customer over time, or how pandemic messaging may have impacted lifetime value. To know all this, marketers first need to be able to zero in on which customers have received these “wartime” messages and offers to begin with. Granular people data here is key. It’s this individual-level analytics that guide can brand strategy in normal times – and also help brands prepare for more effective engagement in the next “black swan” event.

Putting all this people data to work takes a combination of data technologies – including DMPs and CDPs to coordinate the data, activation platforms – and, of course, identity resolution to help brands direct the right individual messages across a maximum number of outlets. And while the specific data stack will vary from one brand to the next, the underlying principles remain the same. Engaging customers meaningfully begins with understanding – and for the most effective marketers, understanding begins with the data.


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