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Building Brand Loyalty after the Year of the Pandemic

October 11 2021

The pandemic year has changed many relationships, including those between brands and their consumers. This seems quite natural. Over the past year, people have fundamentally shifted their focus from consumption to life and health. The value of individual life, regardless of nationality, age and personal history, transformed from a theoretical, speculative concept into a very applied one. The empathic ability is now valued first and foremost, not only in relationships between people, but also in relationships between brands and their consumers.

The first thing that has changed in consumer behavior is the quick transition to online with the start of lockdowns around the world. According to a research by McKinsey, the growth of online sales in just the first three months of the pandemic, under normal conditions could only be achieved within 10 years. These figures clearly reflect the scale of changes.

While in the past year, these changes forced companies to focus on their own survival and solidarity in the fight against Covid-19, later they had to face the fact that the previous formats of communication with consumers lost their effectiveness. Back in March 2020, McKinsey experts warned about a disconnect between modern consumers and traditional loyalty programs. The pandemic has really increased this disconnect. A consumer has turned into a very discerning user who switches between different sales channels, and his or her choice is most often based on emotional response and successful experience.

Brands have to seek new customer touchpoints in order to build and maintain customer loyalty. In this respect, cutting-edge technologies benefit retailers: bonus programs transform into digital currencies; discounts are automatically calculated at the time of purchase and become personalized. McKinsey consultants describe the shift in loyalty programs as tectonic.

Mastercard says that it has identified three core values and needs that have become critical to consumers in the pandemic year. The company is now building relationships with its customers basing on them.

  • The first one is well-being. A person wants to be healthy, happy, safe and in comfort. The company calls it a completely new platform for developing brand loyalty. For example, in Latin America Mastercard launched a telemedicine benefit for its cardholders.
  • Choice was listed by the company as the second key need. Today, consumers want to be able to choose between various options for their loyalty program. They want to choose between the types of rewards and benefits and to decide independently how to use them. 
  • Finally, the third value is customer experience. The company showed flexibility and when travel and vacation rewards became irrelevant it quickly converted them into more relevant benefits such as home deliveries, entertainment content or medical appointments.

Russian brands faced very similar changes in consumer behavior because these changes originate in a collective fear of an unknown disease, in forced isolation and the subsequent digitization. People around the world and in Russia have experienced severe stress during the pandemic, and now naturally demonstrate an increased demand for maintaining psychological comfort and physical health. Therefore, companies are trying to offer promotions and programs that would fit in this trend, which seamlessly includes a request for health safety, awareness and maintaining a work-life balance.

For example, Kaspersky Lab presented the Cyber Spa project. It is a virtual space for holistic relaxation, presenting different ways to deal with stress and anxiety. According to the company’s representatives, many people faced problems of increased anxiety, depressed mood, burnout and insomnia due to the pandemic.

McDonald’s Russia decided to relaunch its corporate communications to educate potential employees about the unique benefits of working for the corporation. The main idea of the company is to show the importance of adjusting your job to life circumstances, taking into account your interests and acquiring useful skills. The advertising campaign “Work for Life, not Life for Work” was given the slogan “We Can Arrange!” and McDonald’s own employees, talking about how the company became an important part of their active life, were the main heroes of the campaign.

A number of companies started paying attention to parent-child relationships. The pandemic and the universal remoteness revealed the problems that have long been accumulating in families. People who were locked down in their homes had to communicate more with their children, to combine childcare with work. The revealed problems of mutual understanding and maternal burnout, combined with increased empathy, led to the emergence of a number of projects designed to help children and parents.

For example, Russian online marketplace Yandex.Market launched the Mamtra Project to combat the emotional burnout of young mothers. It includes a meditative playlist, image and product videos, merch with positive slogans, as well as a range of goods “for a calm motherhood”. Eight experts were engaged in the creation of the meditative playlist: specialists in various types of meditation, a psychologist who works with parental burnout, and an instructor in breathing techniques.

In the spring of 2021, the Russian TV channel “Friday!” together with Shalash Foundation and VKontakte launched a social campaign “What is your child hiding”. Its organizers urged parents to talk to their children without violating their personal boundaries. A special app provided information on how to determine by external signs that a child needs help from adults.

To sum up, building brand loyalty has become a very creative task. Companies need to consider an almost endless choice of products and services that a consumer can get hold of; offer values that a customer can share rather than a product; and take care of his or her physical and mental health. All this should remain as flexible and personalized as possible so that a person gets a positive experience from interacting with a brand, an experience that he or she would like to repeat.

Ekaterina Movsesyan
CEO, CROS Public Relations & Public Affairs Company
Ekaterina has been working in communications for over 17 years. She joined CROS in 2010 as a project manager. As Vice President and Deputy CEO, she was in charge of comprehensive communication projects, new accounts and practices development, and was in charge of the implementation of the company’s strategy. In the CEO role, Ekaterina carries out operational management of the agency and manages business development and development of CROS competences. Since 2020, she is a member of the expert panel of the “Silver Archer”, the most prestigious Russian PR award. She graduated from the Moscow Institute of Economics, Management and Law, also the European School of Brussels, she got EMBA program at the Moscow School of Management SKOLKOVO and Independent Director program of the Association of Independent Directors.

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