How to strengthen customer relationships in uncertain times

By Evolved • 6 September 2022 • minutes reading time

Not a day goes by at the minute without a new headline foreshadowing the worrying prospects facing businesses in the coming months. But, research backs up what we’ve seen time and time again in previous periods of downturn and recession: companies that protect, or even up, their marketing investment in difficult times fare better in the long-term.

Against a background of low consumer confidence, rising inflation, and skyrocketing prices, businesses will no doubt be looking to rationalise their budgets to mitigate against the impacts of all of the above. But, to stay profitable and relevant in these most challenging times, it becomes more important than ever for businesses to get close to their customers and respond to their needs, pain points, and overall goals. This is why research has consistently shown that the companies which do best in downturns are those that do not cut marketing spending – i.e. the main line of communication to customers.

Econsultancy’s newly-published report on The Future of Marketing shows that savvy marketers are aware of this – and, in light of the fact, 60% actually feel optimistic that marketing budgets will increase over the next two years. A further 24% believe their marketing budget will remain the same. Even with increased or maintained budgets, there still may be a reorganisation of priorities needed in order to use that budget in the most effective and ROI-positive way.

Here, we’ll be taking a look at what marketers say they’re likely to focus on in this new climate – and, crucially, what we believe they can be doing in practice to support those new priorities and strengthen customer relationships.

Marketer’s new top priority: becoming data-driven 

Moving to data and insight-driven decision-making emerged as the top priority for marketers over the next two years in EConsultancy’s poll. An observation from us: though businesses are collecting more and more data on their customers and website users, in our experience this data often remains poorly organised and badly under-utilised.

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Improving the quality of your own analytics set-up is the necessary (and sometimes painstaking) first step in ensuring your data is fit-for-purpose when it comes to decision-making.

So, where to start with tackling that mountain of data?

We’d recommend an audit on the accuracy, hygiene and reliability of your analytics data – which is likely to be housed in Universal Analytics and GA4. (Sidenote: if you use Universal Analytics and haven’t yet created a new GA4 property, then this is absolutely your priority number one to ensure you can continue to collect data).

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As part of an audit, there are a few things we will do to get that data into tip-top condition:

  • Implement fixes in your current analytics set-up and prevent future issues in GA4
  • Ensure you collect data on key user journeys, which will support current user paths and future ones.
  • Develop a measurement plan, to highlight what data points you are already capturing but – more importantly – which ones are not currently being tracked but will be beneficial and relevant to your business plans
  • Create simple dashboards so it is easier for all of your stakeholders to access and use data in their day-to-day roles

Empathy is the new watchword

As well as becoming more data-driven in the next two years, marketers placed almost equal importance on improving the customer experience. Asked how they are going to meet customer expectations, 92% responded by saying empathy and a deep understanding of customers will be important or very important.

Empathy certainly has been having a ‘moment’ over the last few years, becoming a key concept for marketers looking to institutionalise that deep understanding of customer needs – but how do you actually do that?

A good starting point might be an Empathy Mapping workshop. Empathy mapping involves bringing together internal, customer-facing stakeholders to share and collate all of their unique knowledge and understanding of different (and strategically important) customer segments. These sessions are a great way for teams to collaborate, share knowledge and gain an understanding – and empathise! – with different customer needs, pain points and goals.

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The fun doesn’t stop there though, because it is the outputs and actions off the back of empathy mapping workshops which help you to get really close to what customers want and need. While the workshop itself is all about sharing internal intelligence on customer needs, the follow-ups are all about getting the customer’s point of view and making sure to eliminate all the doubts, pain points and objections that you’ve identified as existing in the customer experience.

Some examples of how we use used empathy mapping outputs successfully:

  • Optimising and developing onsite content and/or content plans that directly address customer pain points and doubts (even more important in light of Google’s Helpful Content update which rewards sites making content for people, by people)
  • Capturing customer and user insights through UX research to hear directly from customers – for example, customer surveys to quantify and validate ideas from empathy mapping, and preference testing new designs to understand what resonates with particular customer audiences
  • Generating ideas and topics for Digital PR campaigns that are relevant and likely to be impactful with customers

Getting more bang for your buck

Another big priority for marketers was maximising overall marketing effectiveness and optimising budgets; becoming more data-driven and customer-focused, as covered above, will of course massively contribute towards this by helping to prioritise decisions on objective measures and customer sentiment. But, we should also talk about making some of your current marketing and ad strategies work harder.

And so, we come to Performance Max – a relatively new goal-based campaign type from Google.

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Google itself has reported that advertisers who’ve already upgraded their Smart Shopping campaigns to Performance Max have seen an average increase of +12% in conversion value, at the same or better return on ad spend (ROAS).

Within the last few months, our Paid team has also found Performance Max to work exceptionally well for lead gen and e-commerce clients alike. Performance Max has consistently driven a higher volume of conversions and revenue and has greater efficiency to help scale the level of investment, return and overall ROAS of results. It’s also incredibly quick to serve, and you could expect to see results within 24 hours of serving with the right implementation.

If you haven’t started experimenting with it yet, a strategic review of your account and audiences can go some way to highlight opportunities for improving results across different customer segments.

Overall, these are what we see as the correct first steps for marketers looking to thrive and spend budgets efficiently in this challenging economy. All of these tactics are designed to ensure you can understand customers and better respond to their needs while retaining good brand visibility.

If you’re keen to hear more ideas on how you can be strengthening your customer relationships and improving ROI during these times, get in touch and we’d be happy to share more.

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