The COVID-19 pandemic continues, and by this time a lot of people have been “social distancing” or “self-quarantined” (or “fill-in-the-blank” with whatever you’ve decided to call this bizarre reality we’re now existing in) for well over a month. My family and I are on our sixth week of staying home except for essential trips to the grocery store; many people I know are on week eight.

This has become everyone’s new normal and purchasing patterns continue to shift apace. Customers may be unable or unwilling to frequent their brick-and-mortar pet food supplier of choice right now, which means they’re going online — and whether they’re going to their preferred store’s website or trying something new, their greater focus (and more time spent) in the online space presents an opportunity for pet food brands to gain that increasingly elusive consumer “hook”: loyalty.

An opportunity to connect with customers

“Most people were going into a brick-and-mortar retailer, identifying what brands were there and choosing from the products that were at said retailer,” said Bethany Gomez, managing director of Brightfield Group, a market research and consumer insights firm focused specifically on the CBD and cannabis industry. “When consumers are shifting to online purchases they’re not necessarily going to the digital equivalent of the brick-and-mortar they were at; they might as well go directly to the brand to identify potential cost savings and things like that. It’s a really great opportunity for brands to be able to develop that direct connection with their consumers to drive up brand loyalty and awareness.”

It’s entirely likely that, having found and decided on a particular brand online, a customer will then remain loyal to that brand long after the current situation has passed.

“Those e-commerce purchases are much stickier [right now],” said Gomez. “When people take the time to do research and find a brand they like and trust, they’re more likely to purchase those products over and over again. [Consumers] are actually going to pay attention to your messages now, whereas before it was a lot more in the way of word-of-mouth advertising. Right now it’s all e-commerce, and that’s a totally different ballgame.”

How consumers feel about marketing messages during COVID-19

PAN Communications, an integrated marketing and PR agency focusing on business-to-business technology and healthcare brands, recently conducted a survey to get a handle on public perception towards marketing efforts during the COVID-19 crisis. After all, if companies don’t say something it might be taken as apathy — but say too much and they might be thought to be trying to profit off of catastrophe. It’s a fine line to walk, but it seems that many companies are getting it right.

According to the survey, 73% of respondents believe that companies are communicating well during COVID-19 and feel those companies should continue to market their products or services.

It is, of course, important to convey not just any message, but the proper message.

“COVID-19 is not a time to put a halt to all marketing activities,” said PAN in its survey results. “Your audience is still receptive to your marketing strategies, but employee advocacy is more important now than ever. Buyers are impacted by other people’s perceptions of a company, not just their own.”

According to the survey, 48% of respondents said the most important message to receive from a company right now is about the steps they’re taking to make business safe for customers. Additionally, 31% said they want to know the steps companies are taking to protect their employees and 21% want to know how those businesses are serving their communities.

Many things have changed in the last couple of months, but the need for transparency has not.

Briefly: Keep up with the latest pet-related COVID-19 coverage

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lbeaton@wattglobal.com