Customer Centricity During Crisis: How Brands Are Being Strategically Responsive


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This blog post was written in concert with my colleagues Valerie King, Content Writer, Crystle Uyeda, Senior Director, Business Development, and Susan Scarlet, Vice President, Strategic Branding, Gongos, Inc.

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues into summer, it is upending daily life for individuals and organizations alike, fundamentally altering how we view and interact with each other—our families, our grocers, our colleagues. The scale of challenges we face resembles nothing less than the face of war. We see fear of an unknown adversary, and anxiety about how, and how long, our lives will be disrupted is on our ever-waking minds.

In this time of overwhelming uncertainty, there is one thing organizations can take heed in. The responsibility to understand consumers as humans—and the desire for consumers to portray themselves just as that—remains. So, how do we go beyond crisis management and connect with individuals in a way that exceeds textbook customer centricity?

The answer most always involves strategic tactics—often finding and following a proven framework. However, nothing about the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic is customary. There is no ready-made playbook. Circumstances continue to change, leaving companies—and customers—without the luxury of slow, methodical decision making. However wrong it may be in the best of times, a responsive—yet purposeful—approach is exactly right, right now.

How Brands Are Responding

Countless brands across industries are stepping up and doing the right thing—swiftly adapting their actions to meet the desires of the people they serve. So, how are these exemplars achieving customer centricity amid chaos? Looking to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs and Bain & Company’s value pyramid through the lens of the COVID-19 pandemic, there are five elements of engagement we see these businesses embracing in “strategically responsive” ways: survival, security, belonging, esteem, and influence.

Survival. Increasing access to life-saving resources.

While some brands are partaking in product extensions, others are completely changing their outputs to help slow the spread of the virus and save lives. As Johnson & Johnson substantially accelerates its vaccine development efforts and Roche boosts its COVID-19 test kit production capacity, brands such as Bacardi have added hand sanitizer to their alcohol production supply chains. Likewise, Uber radically pivoted its messaging in a new ad campaign that thanks individuals for safely sheltering at home and not doing business with the brand.

Security. Providing relief and reassurance.

As anxieties mount around sustaining livelihood, organizations are offering financial flexibility and assistance. Countless financial institutions are providing mortgage payment relief to those impacted by the pandemic. Automakers are also providing breathing room—Ford has moved away from promoting new products to new customers and toward ads that highlight refined payment programs for existing customers. And for struggling small businesses, Verizon has invested $7.5 million toward a recovery fund to help owners fill urgent financial gaps.

Belonging. Cultivating a sense of community and connectedness.

Brands are finding innovative ways to bring people together virtually amid widespread physical separation. Comcast is making access to its Xfinity WiFi hotspots free nationwide and launching a higher-speed version of its Essentials internet package for low-income members. Google is offering free use of its premium Meet tool for video calls and its Classroom service for teacher-student connection. Similarly, workout chains like Planet Fitness are continuing group exercise sessions through daily Facebook livestreams open to anyone.

Esteem. Helping navigate the new normal with confidence.

Coping with an unfamiliar, everchanging reality is tough for most and companies are responding with educational resources to help individuals adapt. For the millions of families with children no longer in the classroom, toy maker Mattel launched Mattel Playroom, a website featuring tips for parents and activities that encourage children to #KeepPlaying. YouTube has also curated helpful content from learning channels into a new Learn@Home site for families. And to help professionals navigate these challenging times in the workplace, LinkedIn Learning is offering a list of free courses.

Influence. Being a source of hope and inspiration.

Influence sits at the pinnacle of survival, security, belonging, and esteem. This element of engagement hinges on helping consumers achieve their full potential in the most trying of times. Going beyond basics like survival and security to achieve one’s absolute best is something most consider especially insignificant in a moment like this. However, influence is more critical during this crisis because it gets to the most noble of aspirations—giving back. Brands that embrace the four underlying elements of engagement help consumers climb to this point of the pyramid, where positively impacting the lives of others becomes possible.

This is a Defining Moment for Brands

Companies will be remembered for how they responded—or failed to in the right way, right now. Doing the right thing requires ripping up the traditional rules of consumer engagement and experience and investing in the greater good to help humanity overcome this crisis. It’s time to say goodbye to business as usual if you haven’t already, and embrace the reality that the when, where, what, and how of operations require redefining in service of the people at the heart of what you do.

Greg Heist
A former marketing research practitioner for over 20 years, Greg drives the innovation strategy at Gongos as Chief Innovation Officer. From future trends to product development, he guides the company’s innovative spirit, leading the company's Innovation Think Tank and development of strategic partnerships.A prolific blogger, Greg has been a sought-after industry presenter and hosts the podcast “The Future Stir.”


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