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By Jennifer Perry, Senior Director, Cognitive Science and Audience Strategy at Acceleration

The COVID-19 pandemic means that most organisations are preoccupied simply with keeping the lights on and their doors open. But those that are looking beyond the current crisis will be able to emerge with greater brand equity. Tomorrow’s leaders are already laying the foundation for future success.

These agile brands are building the human understanding it takes to create long-lasting experiences that will linger with consumers after the current crisis. In a survey conducted by Wunderman Thompson, 92% of respondents said they admire companies that are taking action to alleviate the impact of the coronavirus.

This points to the emotional link consumers make with brands. And given the fact that this pandemic affects all consumers in one way or another, it is an opportunity for brands to respond in a way that reflects empathy and understanding of their audience’s needs.

Like any relationship, engaging with consumers is a two-way street, which involves not only what businesses “want to say” but also what consumers “want to hear”. Brands must always be prepared to engage in a personally relevant, contextual way, but this is especially true in our present situation.

This is not just about speaking to an individual’s functional requirements, but also their emotional needs.  Businesses that wish to engage with consumers more meaningfully during this crisis and sustain brand equity beyond its end, need to humanise audiences through a clear understanding of their emotions and motivations.

To engage with and nurture prospects, businesses need to shift their thinking away from “Who can we target right now?” to “Who can we effectively influence?” and “What do we have to offer that is personally relevant?” This will enable brands to isolate their “most winnable” consumers—those who businesses have the best chance of influencing, in light of the audience’s functional and emotional needs.

They can begin with three questions about their current strategy:

  • Is there a gap in the brand’s audience strategy?

Without brand personas that connect to performance marketing, they will not be able to target “winnable” audiences in a consistent and differentiated way that immediately appeals to the consumer. Since people are engaging digitally more than ever, brands have only a few seconds to reach consumers in the moment and capture their attention with a relevant message.

  • Is the brand missing relevancy?

Behavioural propensities offer table stakes data, which will isolate the consumers that a brand wants to target, but this won’t tell it how to engage meaningfully, with relevance and in a way that influences them in an optimal manner. The strategy has to address the distinct decision patterns related to the brand.

  • Is the brand lacking differentiation?

If businesses have a strategy based on syndicated data, they are no better than their competitors. With this approach, everyone accesses the same information and it is not customised according to the brand’s unique “winnable” audience. Similarly, this impacts the brand’s ability to differentiate and become a relevant brand that directly addresses consumers’ needs.

Having answered those three questions, a brand can consider four pillars for success in building out an empathetic and customer-centric audience strategy:

  • Humanisation

Businesses need to deeply understand consumers’ decision-making by mapping out their motivations and emotional context. They need to identify how the market differs by segmenting audiences who “think alike”. Brands should analyse their current brand equity against each segment’s needs, to assess areas of strength to best influence, isolate moments of truth, and solve for barriers in the experience.

  • Differentiation

Businesses will need to address how they can differentiate among audiences with distinct motivations. They will need to develop tailored messaging strategies to influence key audiences by emphasising their relevancy through the ways in which their brand is ideally positioned to deliver on those unique needs.

  • Actionability

Brands should be able to identify winnable customers with distinct motivations and have a clear engagement plan across the journey, impacting messaging and targeting as a relevancy layer to demonstrate “empathy” or a “more human” understanding of the audience. This cannot be achieved using functional data alone. It needs to be derived from consumer insight, on an emotional level—and it needs to be scalable. Brands need to connect their data, analytics, and research teams to bring this to life and connect to consumers’ motivations.

  • Cohesiveness

The strategy should provide a guiding light, impacting all areas of the organisation. The brand experience—in other words, the way the brand shows up—should be cohesive and should consistently reflect the brand’s deep understanding of customers’ needs across all touchpoints and in every engagement.

Gearing towards the future

Essentially, businesses that wish to engage with consumers more meaningfully during this crisis and sustain brand equity beyond its end, need to humanise audiences by developing a clear understanding of their emotions and motivations. These are the fundamentals of developing a clear, deep, and actionable audience strategy—one that underpins an empathetic and highly relevant brand experience.