The changes that happened to us as customers since March 2020 have been subtle and profound. This will have a significant effect on marketers.

The lockdowns have changed the way customers gather information. It’s easy to overlook how much information gathering we do when we are out in the world. We walk past shop windows and see what’s on display. We see what people are wearing, and that affects our view of fashion. We notice what kinds of people gather in our favorite places, and that gives us a sense of community.

The danger is that the displacement becomes permanent.

When people don’t go shopping, the shops close. And when the shops close, people stay away from retail spaces – which means more shops close. It’s a vicious cycle. The retail property sector, already under threat from digital channels before the pandemic, has seen foot traffic fall 30% and more, year-on-year, between 2019 and 2020.

Clothing was one of the sectors hardest hit. That makes sense. People don’t need to dress up for work if they’re working from home. Selling clothes is harder when people aren’t going to the shops, and buying clothes is harder if you can’t try them on. When people are stuck at home, it’s much more difficult to give them an immersive experience, or help them “bump into” our brands.

The banking sector has been encouraging people to stay away from physical branches and to interact digitally instead. The year 2020 was very successful in that regard, with a record number of customers using banking apps. But from a marketing point of view, it comes with a visibility challenge. How can brands stand out when everybody is stuck indoors, staring into a cellphone or computer screen?

In many places, people are even moving out of cities, taking advantage of high urban salaries and lower suburban or rural costs of living.

Some key questions a bank can ask are: What are the key value points in the physical experience of your bank’s brand? And what is the impact of losing those value points? How can you retain them by injecting humanity into the online experience?

How can banks use technology to create an authentic personal connection?

This kind of thinking reminds me of the early days of the dot-com boom. As brands started moving online and banks started creating websites and introducing online banking for the first time, the catchphrase in the industry was: “high tech, high touch.” Even 25 years ago there was an acknowledgment that high tech solutions could result in alienating experiences for customers.

When people are gathering information from their screens, how will you update your marketing strategy to make sure your brand is visible and differentiated? How are the changes in the main online ad platforms affecting your ability to reach your customer in the first place?

In the banking industry, we place a huge emphasis on KYC – know your customer. But it’s time to kick that up a notch, and to understand how our customers are changing in response to the changing world. Big data can play a role here, provided it is used ethically and with the customer’s best interests at heart.

The lives of our customers are displaced, and we are losing the physical connection with them. There is an opportunity to connect with them again in an even more profound way. But it will take some interesting strategic marketing conversations to make it happen.

This topic is explored in more depth in the 2021 edition of the Fjord trends. To download the report, please click this link.

Haydn Townsend

Haydn Townsend

Managing Director – Accenture Interactive, Africa

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