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By Sarah Kuiken

You’ve been writing to the same tried-and-true ­customer personas for years, and it’s been going great. You know your customers inside and out, and they’re responding to your marketing like gangbusters as a result.

Or at least, they were – until the global pandemic hit.

(If you have no idea what a customer persona is, you’re marketing wrong.)

The Basics of Customer Personas

The idea behind personas is simple. Don’t write generic marketing copy designed to appeal to everyone, even if “everyone” is who you’d love to buy your product. Instead, pick specific people who exemplify your target customers, and market directly to them.

To do this well, you need understand your target market on the deepest levels. Their desires, their fears, their pain points and challenges …. And, of course, how your product or service can make all of their problems go away.

All of this should be top of mind whenever you’re creating any piece of marketing or customer-facing content.

Unsurprisingly, COVID-19 has changed everything

If your sales are down post-COVID, it’s probably not a huge shock. Most businesses – especially those who sell things that are “nice to have” instead of necessary – have seen the direct impact of consumers pulling back on spending,

But don’t be too quick to blame the economy for lost sales yet. The problem could lie in your marketing.

Before you congratulate yourself for having sent out a “Our Response to COVID-19” e-mail, know this: just about every business out there has sent one of those. This includes a lot of businesses whose COVID-19 response was frankly not really a concern to their customers in the first place.

What this means to you is that consumers are pretty numb to this sort of thing. Odds are good that people took one look at the subject line and sent that e-mail straight to their trash folder.

We know. The truth hurts.

Messages that are too general, or those that lack genuine sensitivity for the shared experience of fear and grief that’s been everyone’s 2020 to date, are seen as self-serving.

People aren’t interested in that sort of thing, even from a business. Even if they understand that a business needs to make money.

Customer personas have changed their priorities and their purchasing habits in response to COVID-19. If you want your target audience to look at something you’ve written and think, “How did you get in my head?!” (and you do), you should pay attention to exactly how.

Here are 5 trends we’ve noticed in the way that different customer personas are responding to COVID-19 and other socioeconomic crises.

1. There’s a lot of fear

This is probably not earth-shattering news. You’re probably afraid yourself.

COVID-19 was devastating to large and small businesses alike, but small businesses in particular have suffered. Some estimates suggest that 35% of small businesses nationwide are in danger of closing their doors for good within the next quarter. Even if those doors are virtual.

Unemployment hit its highest rates since the Great Depression of the 1930s. A huge percentage of the population finds themselves out of work, or with a partner who is. If they’re still employed, there’s a lot of uncertainty about what the future will hold.

You cannot forget this when you communicate with your target market, particularly if they’re in a segment that’s been hardest hit.

2. Spending habits are changing

We know, this is a pretty broad statement. To know exactly how your customers’ spending habits are changing, you’ll want to look at your specific customer personas pre-COVID, and determine how they’re reacting to the recent economic downturn.

A fascinating article in EY recently broke down personas into past and projected future spending groups:

Each of the squares above represents a specific persona type, often tied to an age group.

For instance, the “Cut Deep” segment are generally over 45 years old, and saw the biggest impact on their employment status. The vast majority of people in this group have significantly reduced their shopping and have limited spending to essentials only.

This means that if you make a “nice to have” or luxury product and a group of now-unemployed parents are your target customer base, you’ll probably want to re-think some things.

3. Most don’t expect to return to “normal” any time soon

There’s a reason why you’re sick of the phrase “the new normal.” It’s here to stay – at least, for the foreseeable future.

Consumers expect their spending habits to change for a long time to come. Only 31% of consumers in the EY study said they expect their spending to return to normal in the next few months.

For everyone else, we’re seeing some new patterns. You know your customers best, or you should. Do some research on how they are responding to COVID-19, and pivot your strategy accordingly.

4. More people are buying local

As trust in bigger companies starts to erode at a quickening pace, lots of consumers are making active decisions to support local businesses. There’s a lot of emphasis being placed on local shops, restaurants, and brands.

People like to support the underdog in a crisis, and especially in a pandemic, they like knowing exactly where the sausage is made.

5. For some groups, value matters more than money

Again, this will depend on your exact customer personas, so do your research. But in general, many consumers are prioritizing the value of something above the cost.

Items are being seen as long-term investments now, particularly if they add to the experience of being at home, for parents and kids alike.

Particularly if your customer base skews slightly younger, you’ll notice a preference for high-quality, local goods that’s stronger than ever.

People might be buying less, but they’re putting more time and attention into the things they are buying.

6. Impact is increasingly important

A third of consumers say that COVID-19 has made them reconsider the things they value most, and more than a quarter are more attentive now to the impact of what they’re buying.

Who knows if this newfound sense of social duty will last. But if you can highlight any details surrounding a positive impact your business is making on the environment or your local community, do it.

How have you seen your customers change after COVID-19?

Let us know in the comments below. We love to hear about your experience!

Shhhhhh… can you hear that? Are you listening?

There is a whole lot of noise and distraction around us these days – now more than ever before. How do we make sure our business is heard amongst all the noise?

The one skill all business owners need to master – listening!

When it comes to marketing your business, listening is the #1 tool we all need to be great at.

Why?

Bad advertising comes from poor listening.

Marketing is all about influencing people’s behavior and perceptions. If your ads and messaging are fake, or inauthentic then you will shut out your audience and disengage them. Your marketing efforts will fail. 

 

If you aren’t listening to your customers, you’re creating something based on what you think they want. Which is often something far removed from what they actually want.

 

Once you’ve built your product or service, you need to listen again to make sure you’re crafting messaging that people will connect with.

 

Interpreting what you’re hearing is also a skill needed in understanding the wants/needs/desires of your customers.

 

Go in with an open mind when you listen to your customers – so you can hear everything, even if it isn’t something you don’t want to hear. Don’t try to misinterpret what they’re saying.

 

The goal is to create images and messaging that will people will see/hear amongst all the noise, like, and remember with when they’re making a purchasing decision. It needs to resonate with their hopes, desires, and fears.

6 ways to become a better listener

1. Schedule the time. Let’s face it, we’re all busy building our businesses, so there is little time to waste. But this is one thing you HAVE to schedule time for – find the time to listen to your customers before you create a new product or service, and listen again to create your messaging.

2. Listen to them, not you. It is so easy to listen to your own voice or the voices of those around you (your colleagues, coaches, friends, and family). But stop. Instead, talk with ideal customers. Find out what their pain points are. In their own words.

3. Hear the jargon. Listen to theirs, not yours! Don’t insert your own jargon into messaging, unless your ideal customer will understand it. What words are your customers using when talking about their needs and your product or service? Use those words in your messaging!

4. Dig deep with your questions. To get beyond the simple ‘yes’ or ‘no’ responses, ask more probing questions of your ideal customers. Ask open-ended questions so people will use their own words. What are the motivations that drive the behavior of your customers?

5. Listen for the descriptors. How do your ideal customers feel about the service or product, and about their needs and desires? What are the exact words they are using to express themselves? Listen for the emotions

6. Don’t judge. When you’re listening to queues and for the descriptors from your ideal clients, ignore your own bias. Remove yourself from the dialogue. This is all about your ideal customer. Not you.

 

Take a tone of notes and then you’ll be armed with all the words your ideal customers use when it comes to your product or service, and their wants, needs, and desires.

 

The next step is to create great copy on your website, on your posts on social media and anywhere that you are trying to attract customers containing these phrases and words that your ideal customer uses.

Listen. It could make or break your business!

 

MY CUSTOMER EXPERIENCE USING WALMART’S “SCAN & GO” SERVICE

I am currently near Destin, Florida and had heard that the new “Scan & Go” service from Walmart was available at the local store. I’m not a huge Walmart shopper, but am a fan of trying new things. I am also a bit of a ‘customer experience’ geek… And really like services that can potentially make my life easier!

Walmart had an initial launch in a few select stores in Orlando, Dallas, and Northwest Arkansas. It expanded the service to an additional 100 stores, of which this new store in Destin is one.

I strolled into the Walmart store, unsure of where to go or what to do. The first thing I noticed was that the carts are all equipped with a bag carrier (for the plastic bags you will need when you’re packing your groceries/items), a cup holder, and a scanner holder.

I grabbed a cart and walked a little further into the store, where I saw a large stand holding the scanners and other information about the service.

I picked a scanner, put it in the scanner holder. And off I went! Ready to scan my way through Walmart.

The instructions were pretty clear. I grabbed some oranges and had a difficult time scanning the barcode because the sticker was wrinkled, but it gave me the option to type in the 4 digit code, which I did, along with the quantity and voila! It worked. After the orange incident, I had no further issues with the scanner.

I continued shopping, packing my own bags as I went and then went to the front of the store to check out. A nice lady near the self-checkout area came and pointed me in the right direction to a checkout, where I scanned a barcode on the screen, then paid for my purchases.

That was it! I gave the scanner back and left the store.

So am I sold on it?

I’m not sure.

  • It does take a little more effort as you’re shopping to scan and then pack everything.
  • A couple of times I forgot to scan items (don’t worry – I remembered and went back in my bags to scan the missed items).
  • I’m not sure that it saved me anytime… Maybe if the store was packed and the lines for checkout were large, then I could see the time savings.
  • For the extra work I had to do versus a Walmart employee, it would be nice to receive an incentive!
  • I was a lot more aware of how much everything cost, and how much I was spending due to the running total showing on the scanner as I shopped. This could be a good thing for budget shoppers.

Apparently, this service is also available at all Sam’s Clubs nationwide. And there is an app that you can use to scan instead of the scanner. The benefit is that your credit card information is stored on the app, so you can check out without needing to open your wallet/purse.

One final note

I left the store feeling kind of duped. I felt that Walmart was promoting this service to consumers as if it were a great benefit to them, but in reality, it is helping Walmart save on staffing. There is a blog post on the Walmart website that lists 5 Reasons to Check Out Scan & Go.

I read the list and I have to say, it really seems to be trying too hard to find 5 reasons!

1. Save Time, Skip the Line: Ok, yep. I’d agree this can be helpful if there are long check out lines.

2. Track Spending: Yes, I agree this was a benefit when I could see how much the items were and the running total of my shop.

3. Cart Gaming: Ummmm. What? Oh, your kids can have fun scanning the items. Okay… ???

4. Forgotten Hero: If you’ve forgotten something in the store, you can run back in and quickly scan and go. Yep. I do that about once a year.

5. Silent Shopper: Walmart is referring to the experience being in your hands. Which it is. So if you don’t want to speak to anyone, you don’t need to.

I think they’re really stretching on these last 3 reasons to fill a list. Clearly, they’d like this to be successful – as they’ve invested so much money in developing the product, and they would save a ton of money by having the customers work instead of employees. If anything, providing an incentive would be awesome. A fractional discount or earn points for each shop and scan you do?

What do you think? Would you use the service?

 

Do you know how your customers prefer to communicate with you? 

I love that quote by Mark Cuban. Making your product easier to buy includes making it easy to communicate with you. It is part of the overall CUSTOMER EXPERIENCE. 

Let’s get really honest. I can count on one hand all the businesses that I have spoken with over the past 20 years that actually knew their customers preferred method of communication. And I’ve spoken to hundreds of businesses. Just a small fraction of them had made the effort to understand who their customers were, how to reach them and then how to communicate with them.

Why does this matter?

The more you know about who you’re trying to sell to, and how they prefer to be communicated with, the better chance you have of selling to them! 

SIMPLE!

I was recently trying to find out some information about a product I was trying to buy. I didn’t want to make a phone call, because my questions were simple and I wasn’t ready to commit to buying anything. They didn’t seem to have an email address or button that I could find. But they had a ‘live chat’ button on their website: “We’re online. Chat now!”

Great! They were inviting me to chat with them. Phew!

We're online - chat now

I had to fill in WAY too much information to start the chat (email, phone and FULL name!) Fortunately I have a Google Voice phone number that I can avoid if I want to, so I filled out the form. Relatively accurately.

Finally someone pops up – nice photo of a young lady and her full name. I started asking my questions and she said “I will have someone reach out to you”.

Ummm…. but we’re already chatting.

Why can’t you help me? I don’t want to talk to someone on the phone…

Well (and here is the clincher…)

“To ensure we provide accurate information, we need to speak with you over the phone.”

So wait. You DON’T provide accurate information via live chat? 

Well that conversation (and sale) ended quickly.

Live chat

I probably don’t need to repeat myself, but I will. If you don’t communicate with your customers with their preferred communication method, then you will likely lose the sale!

Here are a couple of tips to takeaway:

Tip #1: Don’t assume you know! Send out a quick survey to your customers asking their preferred method of communication during the sales process. (You should also know how to communicate with them once they’re a customer, but that is a survey for another day).

Tip #2: Make sure you have a live chat form on your website manned by knowledgable representatives. If you can’t afford to have someone knowledgable man the ‘live chat’ desk, then don’t offer it as an option. A poor experience is worse than no experience.

Tip #3: You should try to offer MORE than 2 methods of communication to provide a solution for a variety of customers to choose from. Consider adding texting as one of those options!

Tip #4: Assign someone to be responsible for monitoring and responding (quickly) to email communications. So many businesses miss out on the sale because they didn’t see the email for a few days.

So, let us know – do you know how to communicate with your customers on their method of choice? How did you determine what your customers preferences were? Share in the comments below…


The Intentional Marketer can provide you with a quick audit of your current solutions and some ideas and recommendations to improve your customer experience.

Just give us a call, email or text! Whichever method you’d prefer.