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Why brands must show empathy in an increasingly digital world

Roger Barr
8th July 2020

Digital has become a way of life, but there is also an even greater need for brands to be empathetic, or human.

  • Familiar, trusted brands must remind customers that they are a constant in a time of uncertainty — but they must also inspire

  • Fitness, retail and automotive brands are proving that digital dexterity pays

As the UK cautiously reopens for business, companies across every sector — from sports and active lifestyle to fashion and beauty, and automotive — are feverishly exploring the best ways to get up and running again. 

How should brands adapt and act in a ‘new normal’?

Necessity has accelerated the role of online, forcing a change in habits. From working from home and conducting meetings via Zoom or Microsoft Teams, to participating in virtual fitness workouts and buying cars online, many traditionally face-to-face activities have migrated to the digital space.

Digital has become a way of life, but there is also an even greater need for brands to be empathetic, or human.

As Benjamin Braun, Chief Marketing Officer, Samsung Europe told Campaign recently, emotion and creativity are two things which have shone through in brand campaigns since lockdown. “Because in uncertain times, people want to be reassured, motivated and inspired. They want storytelling and hope. Brands need to show they care – but also that they can help consumers connect with new and exciting worlds.”

Adapting to stay fit for purpose

The fitness sector is one industry which has been hit hard. Its lifeblood is packing bodies into gyms and studios, fostering shared motivation, shared pain and, ultimately, a shared sense of achievement. 

In March, global fitness studio, Barry’s shut many of its gyms while indoor bike company, Peleton closed its US studios, and the majority of the worldwide partners of fitness company, ClassPass temporarily closed for business. 

Yet many fitness companies have thought on their feet and continued to serve their customers digitally. London spin studio, Psycle launched its own Instagram TV channel offering barre, HIIT and yoga classes, while Barry’s began streaming live HIIT and bodyweight routines. ClassPass was also quick out the blocks, allowing consumers to buy credits for live online workouts. 

National statistics show that 49.3% of people are more likely to go back to their gym post lockdown if online classes are offered as part of their membership. It demonstrates a significant shift in mindset, and will fuel the sector’s uptake of digital. Consumers will now expect to be able to tune into their fitness classes from their living room; they expect brands to adapt.

During this time we’ve been supporting our clients by developing agile content marketing strategies. For the fitness industry this includes W3 Club with ‘#W3ClubAtHome’ as they support their members in staying fit and healthy, both mentally and physically, during lockdown.

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Data-driven empathy

Retail is changing too. Take fashion — visits to fashion websites are up by an average of 9% globally year-on-year, while orders increased 30% and conversion rates rose by 12%. 

Two in five shoppers say they will make more frequent online purchases once lockdown ends. It is not a time for brands to shrink budgets; it is a time to redistribute spend, investing in the online experience and delivering more than mediocrity. Because now more than ever, consumers expect excellent digital experience.

When asked about the customer experience post-corona, Brian Solis, Global Innovation Evangelist at Salesforce said in April: “Through what I call ‘data-driven empathy’ we’ll have the ability to learn from customer shifts and also understand and even predict new trajectories. Doing so will help organisations understand what to prioritise and how best to organise around it. This moment is critical for taking action.”

Brands need speed and agility

The automotive sector is one industry planning ahead, with the more agile and creative brands digitising the entire path to purchase. 

In May 2020, Toyota took its sales process online for its UK dealer network, allowing consumers to digitally choose the model, specification and colour, organise a finance package, and have a vehicle valued for part exchange.

Some automotive brands are launching new models virtually too — in March, Hyundai unveiled its 2021 Elantra via live stream. A walk around video clip attracted nearly 800,000 views. 

Coupled with the rise in consumers demanding authentic, meaningful stories, we’ve seen a distinct rise in brands investing in content marketing. For Volvo UK this includes continuing to produce engaging social content to build their community. 

Be digital, but be human

Consumer behaviour is changing, and the brands adapting to this change — seemingly counterintuitively using digital to be more human — are already seeing results, deepening trust with existing audiences and initiating a dialogue with new ones.

Brands can’t afford to simply watch and wait for the Covid-19 finish line; there isn’t one.

As our Chief Digital Officer, Roger Barr says...

“There isn’t likely to be a moment in time where lockdown ends. The reality will probably be a phased return to a new normal and many of our clients are currently identifying digital tactics that will reduce face to face contact. In some cases this has accelerated and brought forward longer term plans.” 

 

‘Stay alert’ is the current mantra — never has it been more important for brands.

Create a digital experience that delights

If you’re looking to enhance your digital offering to keep pace with today’s extraordinary speed of change, and to better connect with your customers as behaviours evolve, talk to us.  We use data and strategic insights to guide our work, creating content, building platforms and optimising targeted media. We have the know-how to ensure your brand continues to deliver results.

Get in touch with Roger Barr, our Chief Digital Officer to kick-start the conversation.

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