Navigating the virtual world for a long-standing change towards digital

  • The changes meted during the pandemic will influence our behaviour for long after COVID-19 is contained
  • Marketers must harness imagination in navigating the new milieu of available tools
  • Internal and external communication will eventually merge to form consolidated communication strategy
  • Leverage data and social for better communication in a virtual world

We are all in a sort of virtual dimension of time at this moment. We interact with colleagues virtually, we learn about company developments online, we plan and execute remotely. As lockdowns ease and businesses slowly reopen, an illusion of going back to the “old normal” may be considered. But it is unlikely. During the months of lockdown and self-isolation, we have been writing a new future, which is going to influence our behaviour long after the pandemic is contained.

This has important implications for marketers trying to build lasting relationships with customers. We have been crunching data and culling out trends for long to understand what our customers want and need. Given the unprecedented nature of the pandemic and the profound changes it is causing, we are now having to harness our imagination too. Marketers will need to think hard and differently about what the consumer in the next normal will think, feel, say, and do.

We have already observed the changes in consumer behaviour, some of which are meaningful acceleration of existing trends, while some are new territory altogether. Marketers will have to be creative in finding ways to respond aptly to each of them.

Inside out

In this digitized world, the communication platforms leveraged for employees and clients have merged or become common. Clients and employees alike, are consuming information about our company via social media handles, emails, and other online mediums.

How can one build trust among employees and clients, such that everyone works towards a common goal, in such a scenario? Communicating consistently on these platforms with messaging that aptly addresses both employees and clients will play an important role in retaining and building long term trust in a virtual world.

In other words, the current scenario makes a strong case to pursue internal and external communication in tandem. In a way, employee experience is deeply connected with customer experience. Creating a positive employee experience is very much like delivering great customer service, all it requires is effective communication. How employees feel about their role, the company, their worth in it, can directly impact the kind of customer service we deliver.

Think about it: The agile implementation of business continuity plans we did during the pandemic would have faltered if the messaging internally to employees, and externally to clients were not aligned. Worse, if the messaging was conflicting. It could have left employees in doubt and created distrust with clients. Utter chaos.

That’s the reason why companies are considering implementing solutions that connect all employees and enables them to have easy access to information related to both the internal and external world, regardless of their location. Especially in a crisis, an integrated communication strategy can help workers connect the dots.

Hyper digitization

Remote work supported by digital communications apps like Zoom have gained mainstream acceptance, and companies including Facebook and Twitter plan to allow employees to work from home in perpetuity. Some other companies will follow that lead, as CMOs realize that a remote setup is not always a barrier to collaboration and can, in some cases, speed up production.

In other words, we have boxed at least a five-year roadmap for digitization into a few weeks, thanks to the pandemic. The massive leap towards hyper digitization is also a necessity as consumers are turning to digital for no-contact or less-contact access to products and services. Take for example online shopping. While several businesses saw a dip in sales activity, e-commerce companies recorded double the sales. This shift is likely to stick, such that online shopping will no more be just an alternative, but a preference compared with in-store shopping.

For marketers, this means rethinking how to connect with consumers. Clearly, a stronger emphasis on digital channels is crucial. The very reason why companies like Swiggy started delivering groceries and bookstores started taking orders over a call. In the current work from home scenario, for instance, marketers will need to engage with smart devices and interfaces across the home.

Furthermore, marketers now also need to manage the bloated amount of data generation due to a far greater shift to digital. Actionable insights from the data cluster can be valuable in delivering hyper-personalized offers and messages to niche customer segments. The days of one-size-fits-all is all but gone. Being aware of and understanding the specific preferences and behaviour of a consumer at granular levels is the need of the hour. The analytics capability, therefore, must improve, because existing analytics models may not be as accurate when predicting behaviours in the next normal.

Socially adept

By now, most companies have realized the value of engaging in social media marketing to expand the borders of digital into the physical world. One strategy that is growing in relevance is leveraging employees for social media marketing. It can be a two-way process – using social media to inform and engage employees in a dialogue or allowing employees to post and repost on their own as micro endorsers.

According to studies, over 56% of online adults use more than one social media platform, while 80% of the time these platforms are accessed on mobile. Your company’s social accounts are important for sharing, interacting with customers/clients, and establishing a brand presence. But it’s your employee’s social connections that can further amplify brand visibility, increase lead quality, drive web traffic, and boost social recruiting.

To leverage social media for employee engagement, it is first essential, that you have an accessible social media policy in place. Uninformed posts by employees online may have detrimental repercussions. Above all, your company’s social media policy should be simple, direct, and to the point.

Gamify your posts on social media for increased employee engagement. It can also be used to incentivize participation. For example, a leaderboard can be created ranking employees sharing content the most, the most likes on a post, etc., as a form of gamification. Besides the potential reward option, a little internal friendly competition never hurt and can also drive employees to share more on social media.

The changes we are witnessing today are certainly far wider and complex and the measures to refine these changes will above all require something human – empathy. If we are not empathetic in our dealings with employees and clients, we might just miss the pivot point in digital acceleration. It is time we inverse the process of digital development, such that solutions are created not just to establish a new market, but to address the pre-existing but untapped user demands highlighted with the help of effective communication. Let’s call it interaction-as-a-service.

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