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Mitch Ratcliffe


Entrepreneur, Technologist

The Last Marketing Mile Matters: Tips for Post-Pandemic Customer Connection

COVID-19's impact on marketing will be fully understood in a decade, perhaps. Still, the pre-pandemic marketing environment already carried the seeds of a new, local-touch customer relationship that can orient your strategy for participating in the post-pandemic economy. The challenge now is to think not in terms of mass messaging but the minimal, essential communication that provides engaging value to prospects and customers. Surprisingly, local physical representation will become more important in the wake of the lockdowns, as well.

Everyone is under immense stress and seeking safe physical interactions with other people, and they do not have the patience for distractions. Only essential interactions make an impression. The new rule for marketing is: Leave no communication wasted; let no message waste your customer's time. Engagement is an exercise in listening and serving. It is not selling. If you "Give every man thy ear but few thy voice," as Polonius says in Hamlet, you will embrace this truth.

Listen and respond knowledgeably based on everything you know about your customer. Do not waste an engaged prospect’s or repeat customer’s time with generic messaging. Show them you understand what they've previously purchased, how your next offer fits into their lives, and why it will lead to better outcomes, whether a healthier diet, better home theater, or more efficient use of time. Do it online, through email and voice contact, and via local brand ambassadors who deliver your physical product or service.

Of course, there is a place for broad awareness and activation efforts. However, once converted to a prospect or customer, do not subject people to mass marketing with generic messaging designed to convert. Your customers want service and a safe, supported relationship with your brand. They want to know your brand understands their needs, confirmed by confident and knowledgeable interactions across every market surface, from discovery, through transaction, support, and the first steps of the next sale.

Customer experience must be personal and local, a trend that was well underway before COVID-19 with the rise of pop-up locations and experiential marketing. Most sales are still closed in person at retail locations now closing due to shifts in shopping behaviors and the way we work. Provide personalized service and support one-on-one, which can be amplified by virtual work arrangements. As stores close, small business people who once sold your products at retail can serve as local ambassadors who augment the packages delivered to the front door with local support and service. You’ll need to arm representatives with new tools and collateral to support a local presence in customers’ lives.

The pandemic transformed the customer's world, and marketers must respond. Food delivery has soared. Work-at-home among the employed has become common and will frequently be permanent. As many as 48% of small businesses will not reopen a physical storefront or restaurant, according to a September 2020 Bluehost survey. Yet, 82% of these small businesspeople say they are optimistic that they can build back better. These SMBs are potential local influencers who can deliver your branded expertise and support on behalf of the products they sell. Imagine influencers who are valued not just for their TikTok dancing skills, celebrity status, or ironic snark, but who reside in local markets and maintain intimate relationships with their customers. They may work for your brand full-time or fractionally, delivering in-person and virtual support to people in their area, similar to the in-store brand representatives at department and electronics stores today.

Customers remain embedded in their lives, not our brands. Customers live in locales and trust their neighbors. You must be prepared to meet them where they are, not where you advertise. The initial click is just the beginning of the relationship.

It will require creative, technical, and operational expertise along with the cooperation of local sales, support, and service resources to make your brand a member of the communities it serves. The benefits will transform brand relationships with customers. For example:

  • Same-day fulfillment is assured, whether from local distribution centers or local businesses that carry inventory, deliver the product or service.

  • The local network of SMBs and service providers associated with your brand includes deeply engaged influencers on your behalf. Instead of receiving customer communication at headquarters or a call center, the beginning of the process of identifying internal resources to reply, these local influencers can arrive at the customer's door with an answer.

  • Local influencers will earn their living as a member, whether full-time or fractionally, making your brand a locally represented member of the community.

  • Having a local face and name that represents your brand is priceless. Local, trusted people can dispel misinformation that plagues anonymous online communication. Now is the opportunity to embed your brand in local communities by helping SMBs, individual contributors, and logistics networks revive their livelihoods.

  • Service and support experience delivered immediately and personally create opportunities to upsell appropriately – be sure to listen instead of merely pushing the sale.

"Omnichannel" was a useful description of the increasingly distributed marketing challenge pre-COVID. Marketers must extend the omnichannel concept to take on significant new, physical meaning as consumers shift from the office-centric, mall-centric, and crowded urban lifestyles that, in addition to being dangerous during a pandemic, are unsustainably polluting. Locally oriented marketing that reduces wasteful long-distance fulfillment using renewable energy, electric vehicles, and advanced logistics, including the Internet of Things (IoT), can bring prosperous sustainability to life.

When we join our customers where they are, in their communities and homes, learning to listen and respond with intimacy, the implications of the multi-surface messaging developed for omnichannel marketing will reconfigure our customer relationships. We are learning to be local after decades of globalized business. This does not abandon globalism; it brings the global and local together in a humane relationship.

You must rethink your marketing infrastructure for local engagement. The savings you realize by virtualizing headquarters should be reinvested to create locally accessible sales and support experiences. Growth in 2021 and beyond will build on a revitalized local marketing surface that connects online, retail, and service experience through your brand and its local ambassadors. Metaforce can help you rethink your customer relationship and build customer experiences that thrill and delight through any channel a customer chooses.

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