As the ripples of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic continue to spread across the world, most of us in Europe are starting to come to terms with the ‘new normal’: remote working, social (or rather, physical) distancing, and general uncertainty about a situation that is beyond our control.
While no one really knows how big an impact COVID-19 will have on the marketing industry, here are some of the impacts already felt in Belgium and further afield.
E-commerce on the rise
Despite being slower off the mark than its neighbours, Belgium’s e-commerce growth has been steady over recent years, and this trend is set to accelerate in the current climate.
Grocery and meal box deliveries have obviously seen huge surges, both for the big players like Hello Fresh, but also for smaller enterprises like Foodbag and Crowd Cooks.
And with non-essential shops closed, businesses have been encouraged to continue their activities online, whether via web shops or via social selling.
What’s more, we see an expected increase in purchases related to this period of confinement, e.g. home office equipment, sports equipment, home décor items, children’s toys and books etc. This could trigger the start of an even greater appreciation for e-commerce in Belgium, and be the impetus for smaller businesses to establish a solid online presence.
We already see signs of solidarity during this pandemic, and a greater understanding of the need to support local businesses – perhaps local players can take advantage of this and stake their claim by developing long-term e-commerce strategies.
Lead generation opportunities via social media
With empty streets, empty public transport, and magazine and newspaper sales plummeting, businesses are pulling budget from offline advertising and redirecting it online.
Customers are spending more time than ever on social media, which makes it the perfect place for top of funnel lead generation – people might not be ready to make big purchase decisions right now or change suppliers, but awareness building may still inspire them for the future.
For local businesses offering products and services that meet people’s immediate needs, e.g. local butchers offering delivery service, online language courses for kids, social media ads may even generate new customers.
Live streaming is also performing particularly well in this time of confinement – whether for personal, business or even official use, e.g. by Belgium’s Ministry for Health.
Facebook has even shifted the focus of its product development towards live streaming with a host of new features on the way, including the possibility to watch without having a Facebook account.
Also worth remembering is that Facebook has announced a $100 million budget to support 30,000 small businesses across in thirty countries, with details of how to apply to be revealed soon.
Need for connection and building trust
More than ever, customers will remember how business make them feel during this time of crisis. It’s an opportunity to build trust and connection, and think about the long-term consequences rather than short-term gains.
Being proactive and identifying how they can ease customers situations is a sure way to strengthen relationships, both now and for the future.
For example, Belgium’s telecommunications companies have greatly extended the services available to their clients, including unlimited home internet to allow for teleworking, additional mobile data etc. And even on the entertainment side, concert venue Ancienne Belgique and cultural venue BOZAR are bringing music and culture into people’s living rooms.
Offering the possibility to get a refund or some other form of compensation for cancelled events, activities, flights etc. can also be a relief for those experiencing financial struggles, and is more likely to gain you loyal customers in the long run.
For example, in Belgium, fitness chain Basic-Fit asked customers how they wished to be compensated for not being able to access their gyms during the lockdown period; and Brussels Airlines are offering free rebooking for all tickets that have a travel date before 30 April 2021, with an added financial incentive for tickets rebooked before the end of 2020.
By recognising, thanking and rewarding loyal customers, businesses can reinforce that solid foundation and preparing themselves for a resurgence of demand once the crisis has abated.