What We Need to Learn From COVID-19: Customer-Centric Marketing

Credit: DigitalVision / Getty Images by MoMo Productions

COVID-19 has been a jolt to many brands — a three-month time out that no one asked for. But even if you weren’t looking for a break, it’s been a unique chance to reflect on where your business is and where you want it to be. Don’t let this moment pass without considering whether your core business assumptions are still correct.

Is your value proposition relevant to today’s customers? What will the new normal look like in your market? Where do you pivot from here?

The answer to all of these questions comes from the same place: Your customers.

Customer-Centricity Is Winning COVID-19

Customer-centric marketing is an approach that grows from being a customer-centric organization. When a company organizes and builds itself around its customers, it develops a deep understanding that allows it to connect with them in more organic ways.

In true customer-centric marketing, you don’t create your marketing to reach product goals. Instead, you create your marketing to help your customers reach their goals with the help of your products.

If you’ve truly reached that understanding of your market — of your customers’ wants, needs and the why’s that drive them — then you don’t need to be told how to communicate with them through a crisis. The understanding and relationship you build with customer-centric marketing will guide you to the right message for marketing during COVID-19, national protests, and the new normal that will eventually emerge from a trying 2020.

One Brand Following Its Customers’ Lead

Many brands have taken steps through their communications, advocacy and charity work to do the right things during COVID-19. But let’s look at a company that shifted its actual brand marketing to take a customer-centric approach during the crisis.

With retail shoppers drying up, but workers across the country moving their office to home  La-Z-Boy has adjusted it’s marketing three times already in 2020.

The first shift came as retail traffic dried up to respect social distancing regulations, but displaced office workers still came to its website to buy furniture they needed to work from home. La-Z-Boy was in the right place, leading COVID-19 marketing with several classic, discount-focused home-office marketing campaigns.

The customer mindset quickly shifted from focusing on remote work to spending more time at home, and a sort of lifestyle-focused, nesting shopper came into play. Understanding this shift, La-Z-Boy moved its marketing away from straight sales messaging to a lifestyle campaign focused on things like showing parents how to make pillow forts with their kids, offering tips for snuggling up on the couch, and generally glamorizing the comforts of home.

This shift tapped into the changing mindset of La-Z-Boy’s customers, making their experience the focal point of the campaign rather than deals or offers.

La-Z-Boy’s next campaign thanked healthcare workers, who, of course, deserve a comfortable place to rest after 12-hour COVID shifts. Again, this campaign intuitively understood the struggle of its customers and how to help. This time, the brand message is buoyed by a promise that La-Z-Boy will donate up to $1 million worth of furniture directly to nurses working on the COVID front lines.

At every turn, the furniture brand’s messaging has been in-tune with the struggle, wants and needs of its customer base. There’s no magazine or crystal ball that can tell you how to do that; it takes real, deep understanding of your customers to put your brand where their hearts are going to be.

A Moment to Decide Your Marketing Future

It’s a mistake to think the takeaway here is that La-Z-Boy has exploited COVID-19. What La-Z-Boy is really doing right is putting its customers first.

During the pandemic, your marketing can’t be about your products, it must be about your customers and what they’re experiencing. But that’s actually better marketing all the time, not just during a crisis.

In true customer-centric marketing, you don’t create your marketing to reach product goals. Instead, you build a deep understanding of your customers and create marketing to help them reach their goals with the help of your products.

That level of understanding will pay the greatest dividends not only during the pandemic but also as we recover from it and emerge into the much-anticipated “new normal.”

If you learn these lessons now, while you have a pause to really plan around them and build customer connections, it will lead your brand to better success far beyond the COVID crisis.