Agile Brands Best-Positioned To Thrive Post-Pandemic, Say Speakers At Forrester’s CX Event

Businesses that built a strong digital transition during lockdown also are in a better position to manage the next transition.

Train moving fast in tunnel

Marketers who were faster to adapt their customer experiences during the COVID-19 lockdown will face a better road ahead as businesses reopen, according to speakers at Forrester’s CX North America forum. The annual, in-person event convened online due to the pandemic.

“It’s been a wild ride these last three months,” said Francis Perrin, CMO of Ste. Michelle Wine Estates, who talked about his company’s quick transition when COVID-19 closed Washington state businesses. Before the lockdown, he said, most shoppers were not aware they could buy wine online, and now nearly three-quarters are shopping digitally.

That’s unlikely to change anytime soon: According to newly completed Forrester research, 50% of consumers expect to avoid crowds for the next two years and 43% expect to spend less time in stores, noted Steve Peltzman, the consultancy’s chief business technology officer.

The upshot? Marketers will need to rethink their choices and priorities, “bending so they don’t break,” said Joana de Quintanilha, Forrester VP and principal analyst. During lockdown, some once-essential in-person experiences proved to be nonessential, while others — such as e-commerce — were pushed to the forefront, and enterprises had to choose where to focus their efforts quickly.

Ste. Michelle Wine Estates is a case in point. The vintner “doubled down on e-commerce,” Perrin explained, instituting curbside pickup and expanded digital and social media advertising. It quickly experimented with virtual wine tastings, building a new sales channel to replace the tasting rooms where its wineries had done most of their business with wine enthusiasts. For more casual drinkers, the winery organized wine tastings on social media hosted by influencers.

As a result, the winery’s digital business has grown at a pace that would have taken five years under normal conditions, Perrin said. Businesses will need to be able to evolve the customer experience and iterate quickly as conditions change post-pandemic, too, he added.

“It just goes to prove the age of the customer is still here,” he added, “but especially in this new normal.”

The way forward

Indeed, agility and experimentation — as well as empathy — have helped the best marketers through the early stages of the pandemic, and those same qualities will help them adapt as the economy reboots, speakers said.

Businesses that built a strong digital transition during lockdown also are in a better position to manage the next transition and have an opportunity to reshape industries, noted Dina Apostolou, global senior director of product marketing, business applications and global industry at Microsoft.

For example, marketers have been increasingly embracing virtual journey mapping to understand their customers. They’ve also adapted by pulling away from product-focused promotional activity and instead doing more branding, as well as shifting spend from TV and out-of-home to other digital media, such as producing podcasts to connect with customers, noted Forrester senior analyst Tina Moffett.

Enterprises are also rethinking their metrics now that sources such as in-store traffic and receipts are not available. Some marketers are starting to leverage supply-chain data instead, Moffett said.

In addition, businesses are re-examining how they manage their employees, especially those who are part of delivering the customer experience, said Forrester principal analyst James McQuivey. Many will remain remote workers, perhaps permanently, he said, so companies will have to adjust to managing a distributed employee experience.

Indeed, this is the time for companies to rethink operations and “flip marketing on its head,” according to Moffett. The upheaval gives room to break the rules, several speakers noted.

Doing so, of course, must be rooted in a deep understanding of their customers. Forrester principal analyst James McQuivey noted months of lockdown has created consumer tension between a “comfort bias”—feeling reassured by the familiar and comfortable—and a “novelty bias”—the desire for new experiences that will be unleashed as soon as they are able to come out of lockdown.

“Be ready for the idea of pent-up demand” during the recovery, McQuivey told marketers.

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