Gareth McPherson. Picture: Supplied
Gareth McPherson. Picture: Supplied

Customer needs in the past year have changed, driven by a constant need for reassurance. This is forcing brands and agencies to adopt more responsible and sensitive engagement strategies.

Doug Place, Nando’s chief marketing officer for Africa, Middle East and South Asia, tells the FM caution is the new approach.

"We have seen a growth of off-premises channels like delivery and drive-thru due to the [limiting] of seating to maintain social distancing and capacity constraints inside a restaurant. There also appears to be a shift to eating better and healthier food ..."

Former marketing head at Virgin Active Gareth McPherson says: "Our lockdown lifestyles have caused a short-term shift in focus with greater priority placed on essentials, proactive health care and the home environment." The limits and anxiety of physical engagement, he adds, have led to expectations that businesses be able to service customers remotely and seamlessly.

Responding to these changes, McPherson along with self-styled digital maverick Adrian Hewlett and former Saatchi and Saatchi MD Helen Ludwig have started Wonder, a new customer experience agency that it says recognises the primacy of data, content and technology in building "powerful, connected customer experiences".

Nando’s Place believes customers want "useful and frictionless engagement" with brands. But is it a tech-only play? No says Place. "Just because you can do something using tech or build digital engagement touchpoints doesn’t mean you should. This deviation from consumer-centricity to tech-centricity often results in unwanted digital interference and thus unused channels at great cost to the brand and great annoyance to the customer."

Doug Place. Picture: Supplied
Doug Place. Picture: Supplied

McPherson believes customers have become more digitally sophisticated out of necessity, but it is important not to make assumptions. "Engaging online is, for many, still very new and can be intimidating. The best institutions understand this and help their customers make the transition with accessible, relatable support."

Both Place and McPherson say brands in the retail space have more work to do when it comes to understanding the new demands of customers. Notes Place: "Meeting those needs in commercially agreeable ways is often challenging. Brands have never had this much access to data ... which does make real-time consumer monitoring much easier."

McPherson says some demonstrate a better understanding than others. "Those who’ve been ahead of the curve have really stood out, especially when it comes to digital engagement. There has been compelling innovation in the home delivery mobile app space, for example. A focus ... that meets the evolving demands of customers is high on the agenda in almost every C-Suite."

There are interesting moves from a values perspective as well. "Whether it is using older models on e-commerce fashion sites to broaden representation or [making] packaging more environmentally friendly, or finding ways to support local suppliers, we do see retailers taking bigger, more active steps to meet value-based demands."

Wonder’s new operating philosophy is what it terms purpose-and data-driven. "Digital first means we focus on data, technology and content. Data-derived insight fuels our strategy that’s grounded in the customer journey."

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