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.