A Brave New World?

How the lifting of restrictions takes us into the uncharted territory of customer-led comfort requirements.

Can you believe it? After nearly 18 months the requirement to stretch a face covering, be it fashionable, colourful or just plain utilitarian, is finally, along with a slew of social distancing and limiting measures coming to an end by mid-July. Is this a cause for celebration? Quite possibly, but do you think everyone is as giddy as you about this? And, indeed, will this change actually have the effect of turning some people away from mixing more?

Brands, especially those in hospitality and leisure, will have to consider all of this along with the logistics of reopening their venues back to their full capacity for the first time in over a year. Will all customers return with gay abandon and get back to ‘normal’ or will this, indeed, put off those people who have already decided that they are going to continue to follow social distancing and mask wearing.

The important thing here is to find a balance – ensuring that your audience, no matter their viewpoint, has an enjoyable and safe visit.

Balance in all things

First, I’m not going to lie to you and say there is going to be a one size fits all offer that will please everyone. Instead,  we will all need to think about what actions and messaging will resonate the most clearly to all audiences.

To do this, I’d suggest you’d follow the Three ‘B’s of COVID communications:

Be clear about what your current COVID policy is

From ventilation to mask wearing and cleaning protocols – be clear about what you are going to continue to offer your customers. This isn’t about pandering but being honest about the offer, allowing audiences to make an informed choice

Be upfront about the changes you will be making to capacity

You do not need to apologise for opening up and getting busier, instead be up front about your offer. Do you have particularly busy periods, or quieter times? Showcase them so you audience can make their own  

Be ready to respond to COVID-specific feedback

Think about the types of enquiries, feedback and honestly, complaints as the world opens up. Try and have a structure of responses ready that you and your staff can use to try and answer as honestly and upfront as possible

By communicating clearly and effectively your policies around the ‘C Word’ you can then focus on promoting your full offer and what guests can look forward to experiencing.

Photo by Ty Feague on Unsplash

Your Post-COVID Offer

This then begs the question: what will services look like now we have more freedom? If you are an events organiser, an attraction, a restaurant, a shopping experience do you feel confident to offer full capacity visits in the long term? Do you worry about potential restrictions or is this a little pessimistic? Well, old PW has been called that before, on occasion, but these are important questions to ask.

The simply reply would be – focus on offering the best experience and be ready to augment your offer to match the needs of the time.

Is there a potential for digital engagement alongside your on-site activity? This could be especially impactful for events organisers. Allowing audiences who feel uncomfortable visiting in person, or can’t reach you, think about streaming content –offering a paid-for digital package to help drive engagement and potentially inspire audiences to visit in person in the future.

We have seen some excellent examples of digital engagement during the pandemic, and thanks to these trail-blazers audiences are more aware and comfortable with this offer.

Indeed, all businesses can take advantage of digital engagement to showcase your offer through video content and live-streams. Keep the engagement going, and show what you offer for those intrigued or potentially nervous. The key here is to be as experiential as possible and promote the offer in this exciting format.

No simple answers but lots of content

The next few weeks and months are still going to have challenges.

We have already seen a host of hospitality businesses having to close down due to staff having to self-isolate due to Track & Trace – and this, again, is something that brands need to be open and honest about. Customers will be understanding if they are communicated to as quickly as possible.

We are entering a new era of engagement with our customers, and the most important thing to do is to keep communicating, keep engaging and show your offer and service in an honest, authentic and exciting way as possible. By doing all this we will, hopefully, have a strong summer and go into autumn and winter in a good position.

Keep talking, and listening – that is the essence of good marketing.

Mind Your Language! Because Words Matter

Choose Your Words

Words matter more than we ever think. We may sometimes agonise over which adjective to use to bring a sentence together but do we think hard enough every time? Do we focus on ensuring that what we write is right and that it speaks to the person we are writing for?

Let’s look at how minding your language can help you connect, entertain and build a relationship with your audience.

I love writing. From captions to conference speeches, brochure copy to billboards and even weeks-worth of social media posts in advance. I adore it.

Do I find it frustrating at times? Yes, of course. Do I sometimes hate myself for the lack of creativity and sheer brilliance that should be on display in every tiny piece of writing I do? Only to come back to it and realise that it is perfect for the purpose and we can’t all write ‘The Great Gatsby’ in every tweet, no matter the florid language? Too often, yes.

I also love to read what others have written. Not just books but blogs, news reports and even social media content. As there is beauty to be found in the written word across a wide vast array of media.

However, I’ve noticed a worrying trend starting to creep ever more insidiously into the delicate ecosystem of promotional copywriting. A festering malignancy that is blighting the landscape and I’m trying my utmost to combat it.

“I like good strong words that mean something…”
― Louisa May Alcott, Little Women

The Battle of Overused Words


I loathe this word.

Of course, I didn’t always feel this way. However, much like the experience of my saintly namesake, I had a profound conversion moment that changed my outlook forever.

You see, a former leader of mine, who I sincerely and will forever respect, berated me for using this very word in a piece of copy. Their words are forever burned into my psyche:

“That is a shouting word. FAN-TASTIC. We do not need to shout to get our point across.”

It was as if the scales had been lifted from my eyes. I saw this word for what it is. A powerful word, yes, but an often overused and quite honestly, wrongly used one too. In its truest form it describes something imaginative or fanciful; removed from reality.

Today it is used more as a catch-all word for something or someone that has done anything mildly positive. Don’t just take my word for it: visit your local or regional news website and read any quote from a positive news story, especially a new product launch or special event, and you will see the quotes littered with fantastics. Sometimes it will be used multiple times.

Other words (and they tend to be positive adjectives for some reason) are also suspiciously overused. This includes but is not limited to; amazing, astounding, cutting-edge and unique.

My issue with all of these words are two-fold, and it is not just copywriting snobbery.

Firstly the meanings of each of the words are specific; to be unique is to truly be one of a kind and that is certainly not possible in crowded markets. The same is true for ‘cutting-edge’ as your product or service may be innovative in its approach but if it was truly cutting-edge then there would be nothing like it out there, it would be unique. The same is true with either amazing or astounding. To be lucky enough to be promoting something that truly emulates the meaning of these fabulously-powerful words constantly would be an immense privilege.

It is not to say that many products or services on the market aren’t as brilliant as advertised. Instead, it is the frequency that these words are being used that means they’ve now lost their significance, and that is a terribly sad thing for me. As words have real power to shape minds, inform behaviours and drive change.

“Words can be like X-rays if you use them properly — they’ll go through anything. You read and you’re pierced.”
― Aldous Huxley, Brave New World

Lights within a book
Photo by Nong Vang on Unsplash

Writing for your audience

Let’s leave my considerable issues with ‘shouty words’ behind for a while (but you will catch yourself using them now, you’re welcome) and look at the most important part of the writing process: who you are doing it for.

The one thing I always say to people when they start thinking about producing any kind of content is; “think who will be at the other end.”

Looking at myself and this piece: I wanted to write about why certain words annoy me and to, hopefully, impart some of the things I’ve learnt along the way to help others with their copywriting. I’m hoping it sparks some conversation and debate, that’s why the tone is ever-so-slightly combative and playful, to cause the desired reaction.

That is what copywriting should always be about – creating an action.

You should always have this action (or reaction) in your head before you strike the keys.

Types of Action

  • To inform
  • To persuade
  • To provoke (and be careful with this one!)
  • To celebrate

Setting these objectives gives your writing a focus, and with that in mind, you can then move onto ensuring that your communication style matches your audience.

“I don’t want just words. If that’s all you have for me, you’d better go”
― F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Beautiful and Damned

Build your connection

Words are important, just look at the paragraphs I’ve given over to talking about them in this piece, but they are not the only component in writing engaging copy. Your tone of voice, the way you shape your narrative are just as, if not more, important to the overall experience.

In short: it’s not just what you say, but how you say it.

Things to keep in mind

  • Does your target audience like to keep formal or informal?
  • And, if informal are there any specific ‘slang’ words of phrases used within the community?
  • Where does your audience go to consume information?
  • This will shape the length and structure of your copywriting
  • Are you writing as an expert, as a participant or an outsider?

It is important to think about how the audience will react to your content. If you are trying to break into a new market that has an established culture and lexicon, for example, and you don’t use or, even worse, misuse a phrase then you could permanently lose respect and their collective attention.

Conversely, write too rigidly and formally and you will come across unapproachable and your audience may feel that you and your brand is unapproachable and maybe dismissive or in contempt of the wider public. As such, they may distance themselves from you.

Marketing, at its very core, is about establishing a relationship. For a brand not to communicate effectively with the written word is a concern, as we still read far more than we consume any other type of communication in media. From customer information on websites to weather forecasts on apps, we are constantly reading and consuming. So, it should be engaging, and dare I say, enjoyable too?

After all…

“Words are, of course, the most powerful drug used by mankind.”
― Rudyard Kipling

Let’s have a lot less value washing and a lot more action…

Photo by Paweł Czerwiński on Unsplash

This post was originally published on LinkedIn.

I’m writing this just after the end of Pride month and if I listen very carefully I can hear the sound of social media managers from across the western world taking down their specially prepared rainbow-tinted logos. It was audible due to the sheer speed that this takes place each and every year.

Why do I even care about this? In fact, you are probably asking yourself why you’re even reading this – and both are good questions, but stick with me as I want to talk about authenticity and the pitfall of value washing your brand. 

What is Value Washing?

When a person or organisation uses a political or cultural movement for their promotional activities but doesn’t act on or systemically support the ethos of the movement, that is value washing. 

This isn’t to say that I don’t agree with or celebrate brands that showcase their commitment to ideals, especially Pride, but it has to be more than changing their logo to have a rainbow filter over the top of their existing brand for 4 weeks in early summer. The same is true for important movements that have risen to prominence over recent weeks, especially Black Lives Matter.

Yes, the urge to be relevant and part of the narrative of major events feels important. This always needs to be balanced with what you are doing this for, and if it is only for shallow reasons, with no meaning or actions, you will instead be in a position of value washing your brand and this is detrimental to your long-term brand position.

Why Your Brand Shouldn’t Value Wash

  • Your audience sees right through it – not authentic
  • You will create more questions – what have you done to support, what haven’t you done before?
  • Is your brand in a position to support this cause? Have you always had the same position on the subject in question?

Without any activism or engagement in the cause, you run the risk of looking tokenistic. Indeed, if your brand has a less than savoury history in certain aspects (see Llyod’s of London and their connection to the slave trade) then your promotional use of a movement could backfire spectacularly – and rightly so! 

Think of it this way, if you are a retailer or a visitor experience you wouldn’t just wish all your customers a Merry Christmas on 25th December. No, you would spend months planning your activity – the products, the services, the experiences and ensure everything was in a place with a plan. This plan would link to tangible actions and supported by robust procedures.

Indeed, you would just limit your action to just placing two candy cane emojis next to your brand name on social media and call it Christmas. You would do more, a lot more.

It’s About Action

This is all feeling a little negative, isn’t it? And I don’t want you to feel I don’t support brands that are acting responsibly. I really do – but do you know why? Because they are doing something.

So, let’s make a deal, oh patient reader, for the rest of this article I will move away from the negative and instead focus on celebrating the brilliant and inspirational work brands have delivered to both addresses their difficult heritage and showcase the positive steps they are taking to make the world a little better. 

 Natural History Museum

Personally, I love this approach by the Natural History Museum to both celebrating Pride and addressing their institution’s record on engaging with indigenous cultures and race in general and the deep roots of colonialism. 

They are being honest about the issue and making it clear that both know they need to do more and making a promise to do so. It is a deeply complicated issue but by tackling it head-on they have the opportunity to build more supporters and advocates.

Their Pride content caught my eye too, and just because of the beautiful, bright imagery used.

What they have done here is augment their content to celebrate LGBT+ people and their contributions whilst also keeping to their aims of educating and celebrating the wonder of the natural world. The Pride flag is composed of colourful aspects of nature, creating a stunning example of the beauty of the world and the beauty of Pride in one image.

Trixie Cosmetics

You’re thinking to yourself, Drag Queen makeup?! Yes, a successful makeup range, targeted at a female audience and developed and marketed by a superstar Ru Paul’s Drag Race alum (and winner).

Trixie Cosmetics has strong values at the heart of their brand, they have been donating to bee protection charities since their inception and during the recent BLM protests, they took decisive action on their channels.

For such a light-hearted and frivolously fun brand (they have just released a series of YouTube videos where Trixie cooks using a children’s toy – worth a watch) to change their tone so dramatically showcases their true brand values and commitment.

Again, this reads authentic and is backed up by the actions of Trixie Mattel herself on her personal channels. As a TC consumer, you can trust in their activism.

What you can do to support and celebrate

  • Tell their story – promote ways your audience can support the cause
  • Tell your story – tell people what you have done and continue to do to support – the initiatives, the donations, the products that support the donations
  • Make any statement meaningful – speak from the heart and avoid meaningless language
  • Don’t just do it for the day, week or month of the campaign – embed the cause into your communications all-year-round by promoting your continued activism and support

Remember, when you align your brand to a political or philosophical movement it isn’t as easy as celebrating a season – it isn’t placing a filter on your existing logo or placing two Jack O’Lanterns emojis next to your name for Easter (I don’t have anything against emojis or seasonal activity, I hasten to add!).

It is a much deeper, more meaningful act, one that should be authentic and backed up with action. This action doesn’t have to be huge programmes or donations. Instead, it can and should be about the robust HR procedures you have in place to ingrain diversity and inclusion in your organisation or your ethical purchasing policies. Customers do care about things like this, and anything you do will put you above your competitors, so don’t be shy about showcasing what you are proud of and what you can and will improve on.

Of course, I’m all for marketing that cuts above the noise. You should absolutely take advantage of the news cycle, but only when it really means something.

Trust me, your customers and your employees will thank you for it – with loyalty.

Happy advocacy.

Practice what you preach – click here for links on how to support Black Lives Matter.

A New Independence Day?

Photo by 7shifts on Unsplash

How to Manage the Data Requirements of the Lifting of Restrictions and Add Value for Your Customers

This post was originally published on LinkedIn.

News today (Tues 23rd June) that so many businesses in the leisure and hospitality sectors have been waiting so long for – a date when they can re-open and welcome visitors back after 3 long months. Ironically, or is that serendipitously, the date set is 4th July – famous as the date our cousin’s across the pond celebrate their independence – and this isn’t far off how many business owners will feel.

However, it isn’t total freedom. As with retailers and other businesses already reopened and trading, there is a myriad of restrictions and guidelines to follow. There are similarities to those in place in shops, including social distancing policies (though reduced to 1 metre, where appropriate), using protective screens and face coverings as well as managing numbers within a venue. There is one big difference, and that is data collection.

Can I take your order…. and your name?

Customers contact details will be required on entry to pubs, bars and restaurants, as this information will be used as part of the government’s ‘Track and Trace’ programme – but only if it is needed.

However, this does put a significant data burden on brands, as this is a huge amount of new data to collect, compile and store – and what about GDPR?! Yes, that scary-sounding acronym that kept many a marketer and business owner up a couple of years ago. How will this new data collection fit with existing policies?

I see two real challenges:

  • How to collect the data efficiently
  • How to store the data in a GDPR compliant way 

Both can eat away at your precious time, right at the time you need to be focusing on reopening and promoting your offer. However, this can also be an opportunity.

Data Collection

The easiest, quickest, and I would say safest, method of collection would be online before a customer visits your venue. This could be done at the same time as pre-booking their table at a pre-arranged timeslot. This has many benefits:

  • You have all the pertinent information together, including the date and time of the visit and their contact information
  • You can manage capacity at your venue 
  • There will be no need for your staff to fill in forms on site, further limiting face-to-face exposure and increasing focus on customer service 

We all know there is nothing worse than having to try and spell your surname (or worse personal email address you set up in your misspent youth….) out to a member of staff and it adds more stress onto the team too. Also, with restrictions on handling objects, you may not be able to offer customers the ability to fill in anything on site that they didn’t bring themselves.

I do, of course, understand that it may just not be possible to have customers pre-book their visit, and in these circumstances it is worth thinking about opportunities for guests to fill in their details via an online portal, either pre or during their visit.

This could be a simple contact form on your website that triggers an email to their account to confirm they have registered their visit. This could then be shown to a member of staff when they are served, a reliable way to know you have the required data and a more customer-focused experience.

Another option could be linked to any digital solution businesses are using for in-app or online purchases when at the venue. As another restriction is table service only, many pubs will be turning to these options to help cut down face-to-face staff time but maximise sales and speed of delivery. I explored these options in a past article but it is conceivable that many of these will need contact details inputted before service can resume and their login details can be used multiple times to track customers.

Photo by William Iven on Unsplash
Photo by William Iven on Unsplash

Data, Data everywhere!

All this collection is great, but weren’t we meant to be only holding onto data when we get implicit consent from consumers? Are we allowed to even keep this information?

Short answer, and absolutely no surprises here, you certainly can. The General Data Protection (GDPR) Act lays out a series of clauses where you can process personal data without consent. These are:

  • A contract with the individual
  • Compliance with a legal obligation: if you are required by UK or EU law 
  • Vital interests: if it’s necessary to protect someone’s life. 
  • A public task
  • Legitimate interests

Source: Information Commissioner’s Office

This all makes it pretty clear, and the requirements certainly fit into at least three of the criteria listed above. What is more important is how and where you store this data.

Remember, this is not marketing data, customers are entrusting their information with you as part of a government scheme. It is not there for you to use to keep marketing to them after their visit.

This data will have to be kept in a new, separate database to your current marketing mailing lists and should include all the information we discussed earlier.

You can, of course, prompt your customers to sign up to your marketing mailing lists, and positively encourage them, but this is when you need consent, When they do consent and sign up this data will need to go to a completely new database, there can be no bleed over between databases.

Is your head hurting? I know mine is and I’m writing this, and it can be made simpler:

  •  One database for visiting information, including contact details, kept completely isolated
  • Other databases that hold marketing information but are not linked to the entries in the database listed above

This may feel like an incredibly cautious approach. It is, I’m a cautious kind of guy, especially with GDPR, but it also takes away any potential data headaches, leaving you to focus fully on delivering brilliant customer services and getting customers into your venue.

Building Trust and Relationships

Whatever approach you take make sure you showcase it, and your data protection policies, as bold and visible on your website. Ensure that customers know what they are signing up to and why. There will, no doubt, be more advice from the government on the wording of the data collection but as long as you are honest with your customers and tell what information you are keeping, and why, they will come with you.

Once they trust you on this they may very well sign up to your mailing list, as you’re a brand they want to keep engaging with.

None of this will be easy, but it is achievable and we all have an opportunity to build stronger and deeper relationships with our customers, and that is exciting, and potentially more profitable, opportunity for us all.

Happy Independence Day, mine’s a cheeky beer… 🍺

For support on the latest guidance, advice and requirements for operating during COVID-19 please follow this link to the government’s website.

For York Businesses, please follow the link below to a really helpful booklet put together by City of York Council on how you can get your business ready and fit into the wider initiatives taking place across the city – I highly recommend it.

How to Engage Your Way Out of Lockdown

Photo by Rodion Kutsaev on Unsplash

This post was originally published on LinkedIn.

With lockdown restrictions slowly lifting and the green shoots of more freedom on the horizon, how do you tempt audiences back after nearly 3 months and on-going concerns? The answer is simple, engage.

Simple Answers Require Hard Work

Audiences have had time to evaluate all of their relationships during the lockdown. From their own family dynamics (including who cheats on the video quiz… aunty) and wider friend groups to taking the time to take a forensic look at what brands they support and indeed, which ones mean something to them.

They will be thinking about which brands they simply couldn’t have lived without during this time. Which for many, if like me, would be the numerous food and drink brands that have repositioned their offer to allow for online order and delivery options to keep your cupboards (and drinks cooler) well-stocked. But what about brands that offer an experience that cannot take place at home or are best shared in-store? How can you start to tempt your audience back, and importantly start spending?

Education, Education, Engagement

For all the news of the lifting of restrictions there is still a lot of misunderstanding, and frankly, confusion out there as to what people can and can’t do. There is a desire to be educated and led in what to do and how to act in this new social distanced world.

The objective here is to create comprehensive content that aims to deal with all conceivable questions that your audience may have about visiting your venue. It is important to give as much information as possible, to allay any fears and ensure that customers know exactly what they will need to do to be ready for their visit.

This is not to say you should be speaking in clinical terms. You are aiming to calm nerves, not add to them. Keep to your brand voice and explain what steps you’ve taken to ensure the safety of both customer and staff whilst making sure that the unique experience you offer continues.

This is your chance to tell the story of how your brand is reacting to the current conditions, and indeed, how the needs of the customer are at the very heart of your business.

I would recommend the following suggestions to ensure the messaging comes across clearly:

Content & style

  • Write in clear, concise language, and stay away from acronyms or clinical language
  • Create a series of FAQ pages that deal specifically with questions you think your audience will ask – ‘do I need to pre-book?’ or ‘do I have to visit alone?’ this makes the content easier to digest and you can link to more detailed explanations elsewhere
  • No matter how much you do, remember that customers will always have more questions. Ensure that there are links to contacting you directly for more information and if there will be a delay in responding

Positioning on your site

  • All existing pages on your website that deal specifically with visiting your business should be updated with your COVID-19 information, so it is easy to find
  • Develop banners across your site that link specifically to information relating to COVID-19, so the customer has no issue in finding this information
  • Make contact information, including eNews sign-ups, as obvious as possible – people will want more information
  • Consider the imagery you are using on your site – try not to use shots that appear too crowded. What looked ‘bustling’ before the pandemic will not have the same appeal today

Nothing groundbreaking here, I know, but now is the time to get these simple steps in place in order to build confidence in your audience.

Getting Your Message Out There

Once you have somewhere to send people to you should focus on sharing the message as far and wide as possible. Social Media, as always, is a cheap and efficient way to reach your audience and build interest. My focus, however, would be on your email database, as this will be the key to rekindling your engagement with your most loyal audience and develop your relationship more.

Photo by Onlineprinters via Unsplash

Email it forward…

In a post-GDPR world, your email database (should) be your strongest and most effective direct marketing tool. This is an audience that has consented for your brand to communicate regularly with them – so they should be your biggest advocates. So use them!

According to Campaign Monitor, click-through rates in emails for UK campaigns skyrocketed in 2019, jumping from 0.9% to 2.4%, showing that consumers engaged with content on a deeper level.

Over 2% might not seem very high, but think of it this way instead: imagine all the impressions your social media posts reach, how many of them actually click through? I’d imagine, on average, it is less than 1% in most cases.

Investing time and resources will be worthwhile in the development of a deeper and more profitable relationship with your audience, who will appreciate the work you’ve put in to keep them informed.

Delivering Your Online Messages in the Real World

You’ve done the hard work. You’ve successfully initiated the measures for this ‘New Normal’ and promoted them to your expectant, and thankful audience. Now what?

Well, aside from continuing to offer great customer service, you need to make sure that the messages you’ve been advertising online translate into your physical space.

Things to keep in mind: 

  • Artwork and language should be consistent across all channels. If you are using graphics for social distancing on posters, make sure it is replicated online
  • Wherever possible, ensure that signage pushes audiences online for more information, saving resources on additional, and unnecessary signage

A Relationship Takes Work

This is more than just announcing a reopening though. It is your opportunity to restart your relationship with your audience. Think about what regular messages you will want to share over the coming months and beyond.

Don’t just think in terms of new products or discounts, ensure you continue to update them about changes and (hopefully) further lifting of restriction. Think as well about including them in conversations about the future direction of your brand – how they can become a more integral part of your business. Everything from crowdfunding ideas on new initiatives to even crowdfunding to have more of a stake in your brand, engagement creates loyalty – and loyalty creates profits.

Invest time in producing a content calendar for your brand, charting the main messages you want to share at specific times and which channels would be the most appropriate. I would suggest, again, that email is your silver bullet here, and by promoting your sign up options prominently across your channels you can develop a recruitment and retention strategy of well-engaged and active advocate group.

Remember, people who love brands talk about them, a lot, online. Be that brand.

For support on the latest guidance, advice and requirements for operating during COVID-19 please follow the link to the government’s website.

For York Businesses, please follow the link below to a really helpful booklet put together by City of York Council on how you can get your business ready and fit into the wider initiatives taking place across the city – I highly recommend it.


How Technology Will Help in the Recovery of the Hospitality Sector

Photo by Ty Feague on Unsplash

This post was originally published by Netsells, thank you again for your support. 

We are living in unprecedented times…

Yes, we’ve all read this statement many times before but this doesn’t make it any less true. The global pandemic has changed nearly every part of our lives; from the more mundane but ever-so-important aspects of life including how we do our shopping via enhanced ‘click and collect’ or home delivery options, to how we entertain ourselves and socialise with our friends with regular ‘Zoom’ or ‘House Party’ nights (and who doesn’t love a quiz!).

All of this has been achieved through technology and the road to recovery can and will be eased through the use of innovative applications that allow businesses to connect with, and manage the logistics and flow, of customers.

The New Normal

Let’s start by looking at how brands have already seen a shift in customer engagement. The grocery market is a good example of this, as it has seen a shift away from engagement in physical stores to online. Consumers have taken advantage of the opportunity to complete their shopping online and have their goods delivered to their door, ensuring that they do not have to enter a store. This change in behaviour has, according to GlobalData, seen a 25% growth, and over 10% of total sales are now online, up from around 7%.

This may not look significant but when you consider the size of the total market this rise is substantial.

I know what you are thinking – “online shopping isn’t anything new” – and you would be right, but the pandemic and the lockdown has changed the very nature of how we shop online. Where once it was a convenient method of purchasing products and services it has now become a fundamental extension of how we can access information, services and products. Yes, this activity is due to the lockdown but this forced engagement has meant that many consumers, those who may have only been comfortable purchasing a few things online from a limited number of sites have now educated themselves more on the opportunities online, and as such have become more confident with online shopping.

This newly-savvy audience is now more confident than ever to engage with brands online, and it is this opportunity that leisure and hospitality businesses can use to their advantage to come out of this crisis with a stronger relationship and indeed, an improved and efficient workflow.

Overcoming Those Challenges

Whatever happens over the coming weeks and months, as we leave lockdown, social distancing will be an integral part of our day-to-day lives. Which, for an industry that is built on social interaction, is a difficult issue to overcome. Difficult but not impossible.

I can see three distinct challenges to this:

  1. The ability to manage capacity and the flow of customers through a venue
  2. The amount of direct face-to-face engagement between staff and customers 
  3. Building consumer confidence (peace of mind)

How do we overcome these challenges then? The answer is already out there, but we need to change our perspective a little.

How a Stag Do Experience Can Help…

Please, bear with me on this; last year a good friend from school was getting married and decided to have his Stag Do in Chester. For me, any trip always feels a little like a ‘bus man’s holiday’ especially when you are visiting a beautiful heritage city, one with encircling walls that was first settled by Romans (I have lived and worked in York for 15 years). However, like the majority of trips like this, we didn’t see much of the architecture, unless it was bar-shaped and this is where our story gets back on point.

The first morning, after the night before, we were all sitting at breakfast at a J D Wetherspoons’ (of course) and whilst perusing the laminated menu and discussing the dignified evening we’d all spent sampling continental beers I noticed that one of the group was not fumbling around with his menu to order at the bar they were already ordering their food via an App. I quizzed him on this if only to distract me from a mild-to-medium pain I had at the back of my head, asking how often he used it and why even bother having an App when all you have to do is get up off your chair and totter over to the bar – his answer made total sense.

“I’m out on the road a lot with work and as there are pubs across the country I tend to visit regularly. Having the App means that when I enter a pub I can just sit down, order my food and drinks and just sit back and relax. No messing about queuing, no shouting over other customers at the bar, no waiting around.

He was right. In the same time, it took me to make a decision on the slightly sticky menu, get up, go to the bar, get served and sit down again, my friend’s food and drink (orange juice, it was 9 am) had been brought to the table by the server.

Again, this isn’t anything brand new but it gives us a roadmap to evolve this concept and help beat the three challenges.

By using an application, like the Wetherspoons’ App, hospitality businesses can significantly reduce the face-to-face engagement between staff and customers without creating any animosity or reducing the levels of customer service. The food that my friend ordered on the App came quickly, the order was 100% correct and the server pleasant and attentive. For the pub, the customer ordering via the App meant that the bar staff could focus on other customers or cleaning duties and the flow of orders into the kitchen could be managed easier, through the system. From either side, the transaction was frictionless and resulted in a satisfied customer and even some new converts to the App.

It is this blueprint that could be used for all leisure and hospitality businesses, not just food and beverage.

Roadmap to Recovery

Using a digital solution like an App for customers to pre-book a ‘slot’ – be that a table, the meal itself or a timed entry time to an experience, show or shop visit – will be invaluable in managing flow in a social distancing world. Businesses will be able to calculate how many covers they will need or be able to serve in a given time and use the guidelines from the government to ensure that they are operating safely and legally. This number of slots can be then be released to the market and the customer can make an informed choice.

This approach fulfils the challenge criteria by allowing businesses to sufficiently manage expectations and the logistics of their offer. It will involve blending operations with the digital application at its heart, all supported by an ever-present marketing message that is both about educating and informing prospective customers about engaging digitally to ensure that adequate and efficient social distancing measures are in place for the safety of all.

Sounds like a lot, doesn’t it? Here’s the thing, customers are already used to change, they’ve adapted to not answering the door straight away when deliveries are dropped off by couriers – waiting until they’ve stepped back and then collecting, whilst still having a human connection by waving off their delivery driver. They will adapt to this new way of engaging with hospitality too, as it is beneficial to them as much as it is to the business. Cabin fever is setting in and soon the opportunity to, safely, engage in social situations again, no matter how changed, will be taken up. This is where the opportunity lies, post-lockdown and accessing it through a technological approach will make it easier for everyone.

How to APPly this?

Digital technology can disrupt and evolve all industries, and hospitality is no different. However, for a complex sector like this, there is no one method to adequately cover the many nuances of individual offers and services. So, businesses must ask themselves the following questions:

  • What are we are trying to achieve with an online system?
  • Managing capacity through bookings during the pre-visit stage?
  • Completing orders once in the venue?
  • Will customers be returning regularly to engage with our brand?
  • How will our instore and back-office staff access the pertinent data to complete transactions?

For me, the most important question to think about at the start is the second question, the frequency of engagement. If you are a chain or franchise business then an App would be the logical step into this new world, if you haven’t already got one, as it is a cost-effective way to engage with your audience and create uniformity across your outlets. Its cost-effectiveness comes from the potential market to the business and the reasonable assumption of continued repeat visits but what if you are a standalone brand what would be the best option for you?

My suggestion would be developing your website into a mobile-first e-commerce platform – a site that can both promote what the business is offering and allows the customer to purchase services and products directly, without leaving the site.

Mobile internet penetration has hit over 70% in the UK, so, with most of the population willing to use their phones to search and purchase online, it isn’t a big step for them to engage with your brand online, both pre and post-visit. This approach, when delivered in a user-friendly design specifically for mobile, will be more cost-effective to smaller businesses, as Apps, although user-friendly is not always the best approach.

The Most Important Piece of Real Estate

Someone once described the memory capacity on your smartphone as the most important piece of real estate to a person. I couldn’t agree more. People make informed decisions when downloading Apps onto their phone:

  • How often am I going to use it?
  • What do I get out of using it?
  • Does it make my life better?

So, downloading Twitter, Instagram, TikTok (a new personal vice of mine) and WhatsApp all make sense with these criteria. You will use them a lot and you get some enjoyment from them throughout the day. The same is true of shopping Apps for the well-loved brands that you will use a lot but is that the same for an experience or visit you will only really be able to enjoy sporadically throughout the year?

Probably not. This doesn’t mean that the customer doesn’t love this brand, just their real estate is precious. They would have no problem using your mobile-first site to purchase, especially if Apple / Google Pay and PayPal are integrated into the payment process, and organise their trip without having to give up that much-loved real estate.

Time to Start Planning for the Future

Now is the time for marketers and their operations counterparts to get together and undertake a full and comprehensive audit of their current processes and work together on a recovery plan that will address the logistical needs and translate that into a comprehensive marketing and communications plan that has a digital application, be that a new App, or an updated eCommerce proposition on your existing website. Either option will help you better engage with your audience and build a lasting relationship, whilst showcasing your commitment to keeping your customers and staff safe, whilst offering them the same great experience you always have.

We are certainly living in unprecedented times, but we have the opportunity to recover with a savvier audience and a potentially more streamlined and efficient service, allowing us to offer even better service leading to greater brand loyalty.

It won’t be easy, but it is possible.