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.

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.