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Marketing Execs and Thought Leaders from U.S. Bank, Sequoia Capital, Pepperdine Graziadio Business School and More on COVID-19 and the New Reality

Authored by ActionIQ Team

On 4/22 ActionIQ hosted a virtual forum where brand executives and industry leaders discussed how they are adapting customer experience management to meet rapidly changing customer needs during the global pandemic crisis.

Moderated by ActionIQ’s Ryan Greene and Tamara Gruzbarg, the panel featured:

  • James Buckhouse, Design Partner at Sequoia Capital, previously holding senior design roles at Twitter and Dreamworks Animation

  • Jennifer Borchardt, VP, Omnichannel Experience & Strategy, Wealth Management at U.S. Bank, previously a digital experience executive and leader at Wells Fargo and E*TRADE

  • Claudio Ludovisi, Assistant Dean, Marketing Strategy & Corporate Relations at Pepperdine Graziadio Business School, previously a senior executive at Disney, NBC, IMAX and Warner Bros.

  • Leslie Doty, Interim CEO at Women in the Boardroom, previously CMO and operating executive at Time Inc., Trusted Media Brands, CVS Health and Mastercard

  • Craig Howard, Chief Solution Architect at Merkle, previously a marketing technology leader at Epsilon, DoubleClick and Accenture

  • Elizabeth Shaw, Advisor to Fortune 500 CMOs, former analyst at Gartner and Forrester, previously a marketing leader at SEPHORA, Constellation Brands and Cisco Systems 

The discussion delivered a series of helpful and insightful takeaways, beginning with thoughts on short term strategies for brands and marketers and moving on to techniques for emerging from the crisis stronger.


#1 — Three Keys to Brand Relevance

As discussed in a previous virtual forum on 4/8, relevance is everything for brands during the COVID-19 crisis. Our panel offered three keys to staying relevant:

  • Rethink Messaging. Many brands are yet to shift messaging and are still talking about growth. Messages should emphasize empathy, acknowledging the customer’s pains and communicating how the brand is helping.

  • Offer Solutions. Brands should move from selling a product to providing a solution, and being helpful, as opposed to opportunistic.

  • Be Ready to Pivot Many brands are consumed with how to slash budget and downsize staff. But brands on track to overcome are successfully pivoting the entire organization to solve new challenges. 


#2 — Examples of Effective Brand Pivots

Panelists went on to share examples of effective responses and creative pivots by brands in order to remain relevant and offer solutions to the challenges of COVID-19.

  • Airbnb launched Airbnb Experiences—delivering transporting experiences true to its brand, but without requiring physical travel.

  • Juice Press transformed literally overnight from a retail juice store into a fresh produce delivery service—filling the vacuum left by grocery delivery services that can’t meet demand.

#3 — Customer Obsession is the Foundation

Our panelists went on to discuss how brands can design the best way to reposition themselves to help customers with real pain points, and stay relevant during the crisis.

It all begins with shifting focus away from product, inventory and channels. Rather, brands should become customer obsessed. This means truly knowing the customer—not simply their “stats and facts”–but what are they going through, what is their emotional state? How are they trying to keep their families healthy, safe, and fed?

Next, brands shouldn’t jump to selling the solution. Rather, they should deeply understand the problem and convey that deeper and differentiated understanding of the problem to the market. It is proof of a superior understanding of the problem that sets brands apart and earns them the right to provide a solution.

Lastly, brands must find a way to convey that the customer will be personally transformed by adopting the solution. Why should you use Zoom? Because your children go from having no connection with their teachers and classmates to being able to learn together from home.


#4 — How Did You Make Your Customer Feel?

In a prior virtual forum held on 4/8, panelists emphasized that after the crisis, people will remember how brands treated their customers and their employees. In this discussion, our panelists continued on the theme, stressing that it’s not enough to provide the product or service customers need right now. What they’ll remember is “how did you make me feel?”

As the financial challenges of the crisis begin to mount, financial institutions are on the front lines. Consumers who are typically anxious about finances are now twice as anxious. People who exhibit avoidance (I don’t want to think about bills or financial planning) are now twice as avoidant. Banks that are customer obsessed are responding–using every available channel from call center to digital to mobile app.

Even though the trend in banking has been to automate and digitize the experience—for convenience and cost reduction—banks are now working to support as many personal interactions as possible to solve customer problems and ease anxieties. This ranges from working to help those without access to traditional banking gain access to stimulus funds, through to helping investors make sense of unprecedented market conditions.

Smaller banks, particularly, have led the way. And when the bulk of the crisis is behind us, and consumers are more free to exercise choice, efforts to make consumers feel more financially secure during the crisis will pay dividends for those brands.


#5 — Going From Customer to Fan

Many brands have become addicted to expensive paid media to support messaging, promotions and launches, but have lost touch with how to use authentic consumer engagement to propel their messages. By going beyond gaining customers to creating fans, brands get an exponential lift from self-motivated ambassadors outside their company.

Creating fandom begins with defining a crystal clear brand purpose, one that touches people deeply on an emotional level. Brands with a strong purpose get more from their customers, suppliers and employees. The next pillar of fandom is storytelling. Rather than communicating in 30-second commercials, a storytelling approach relies on richer narratives that are authentic and willing to go behind the scenes. The kind of content people are willing to pass on to someone else.

Lastly, creating fandom requires data. Through the engagement, purpose and storytelling described above, companies earn the right to communicate directly with customers. Taking advantage of that right means mastering your first party data and using it to deepen and personalize your engagement.


#6 — Test Everything

Perhaps the most remarkable aspect of consumer needs during the crisis is how rapidly and how frequently they are changing.

One panelist described how, at the outset of the crisis, consumers were interested in content about what COVID is and how it will affect them. Then it transitioned to “how can I make the most of my time at home?” with increased interest in entertainment, games, computer products and things like “how to clean closets in 5 minutes or less.” Now, it’s shifted to “how will I survive this health-wise and emotionally?” These are major swings in consumer interests and needs occurring across a span of weeks.

In these market conditions, never before has an organization’s ability to test and learn been more important. Panelists emphasized the need to launch new ideas quickly (“there’s no such thing as turnround time anymore,” commented one participant), measure performance immediately, and then iterate.

Access to data and analytics is fundamental to successful testing. But so is an organization designed to learn and react quickly. Multiple layers of approval for every decision stunt organizational agility. The reason Netflix, for instance, can make smart decisions quickly, is because its organization is flat and employees are empowered.


#7 — Tips for Leadership During the Crisis

Based on their observations and experiences more than one month into the COVID-19 crisis, panelists concluded the session offering tips for being a successful leader in this uncharted territory:

  • Think Agility. Find new approaches, fix broken models, streamline processes & tech and be more adaptable. People will be forgiving right now if what you do isn’t perfect—but they won’t be forgiving if it’s not relevant.

  • Stay Focused. So much is happening, it’s difficult to do new things. But amid the scramble, pick one thing—a data project, an organizational blindspot you need to clear—and tackle it. Then move on to the next.

  • Understand the Journey. Your customer’s journey didn’t begin the day they met your brand. It started way before. Envision the steps in their lives that had them arrive at your doorstep, and think about how you can be more relevant to their story.

  • Act With Empathy. Be open, listen to clients, and be curious. Keep customers and employees at the center. As challenging as these times are, there are powerful opportunities to connect and make a real difference.


Don’t Miss the Next Discussion in this Series

Join our upcoming Customer Experience Management: The New Reality virtual forum on Thursday, April 30 @ 4pm ET featuring marketing executives and CX leaders from American Express, Pearson Education, Boston Consulting Group, Merkle and more. If you haven’t already done so, register now!

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