I think we all might have hoped that 2021 was going to start a little differently. The news pre-Christmas of vaccines was quickly overtaken by the new variant and lockdowns. Any optimism for launching into a New Year with renewed vigour has quickly been forgotten.
We must now, with the vaccinations underway (and seemingly going well), look toward Spring/Summer and prepare to maximise the forthcoming opportunities.
Covid has been about survival. It's been about being entrepreneurial; it's been about riding out multiple back-to-back storms, continually rolling over the waves and taking a big breath as you go back under, praying that you get another chance. It’s been, and continues to be, fucking exhausting.
Some good has come of it, other things not so. Without a doubt though, behaviour has changed, both with the consumer and for operators:
- Brands have had to evolve and we’ve seen some great things. There’s a much bigger sense of community, there’s been more giving and support both internally within businesses and locally. More empathy. CSR used to need a plan but now, seemingly for many businesses, it's simply a given.
There’s going to be many people to thank after this, from within the industry and outside. Those on the frontline who’ve continued to sacrifice so much. Hospitality can and should lead the way to reward, and to bring together the nation in saying thanks.
- New channels of revenue have emerged, with delivery, delivery-only kitchens, cook-at-home kits, retail, subscriptions and product lines. The sector needed new revenue occasions and Covid has helped bring those new opportunities to the fore.
There’s going to be a job to do to keep some of these channels alive, but innovation was required in the sector and it's been delivered. I for one would be disappointed if I can’t buy a box from Hickory's at Home, Pizza in the post from Rudy’s or Dishoom Bacon Naan in a year's time.
It's widely acknowledged that the proliferation of dark kitchens on the back of Covid might bring further pressure on the sector or that they simply will not survive. In my own mind, I can only think that delivery will need to be the cheaper alternative in the future as personally, I’d much rather eat out than in.
- Technology adoption has leapt forward, pay-at-table, curbside collection, click & collect and gift cards are now the norm in most businesses. This, in turn, provides us even further insight into habits as well as building data. It also enables operators to reduce staff cost as well as encourage spend uplift digitally. Consumers are more comfortable using technology to order and pay for food. Even if this is currently negligible in your business, it does present a big opportunity. It enables us to do a better job and reach deeper into loyalty.
- The boom as we come out will be considerable. By Easter, the government has indicated that everyone aged over 65 could be vaccinated against the virus, meaning social distancing measures could be relaxed. The government worries, in fact, that the public will be far less inclined to follow the lockdown rules once vaccinated so the tiers may be back sooner than we think.
There’s rumour of a second Eat out to Help Out - although I feel that launching into a discounting frenzy (even if Rushi pays) would be a terrible mistake. Do we honestly want to set the bar low and do we think that the public will have any reluctance to leave their homes and catch-up with friends?
A lot of people have built up savings that they wish to enjoy. Brexit and the fear of other countries’ Covid rules will ensure people holiday within the UK. The tourist industry will take time to recover but staycations will boom.
- Finally, the industry has galvanised over the last 12 months, and collaborations and deals will be rife in the coming months. The NTIA, led by Michael Kill representing the nighttime industry and UK Hospitality led Kate Nicholls, really have ensured that the industry has always been shouting the loudest for support. We can only hope that Boris u-turns and acknowledges the need for a hospitality minister. Kate Nicholls was deservedly awarded an OBE for her efforts, I think the whole industry was delighted for her.
The adoption of technology is important, not only to engage consumers open to change but also due to the void in new data gathered during this period from WiFi, booking, loyalty apps and feedback.
We’ve yet to see how much of the above will remain post-Corona. Truthfully, we simply don’t know right now, however we can encourage some stickiness.
So, for the umptieth time, let's gaze hopefully into the crystal ball...
The news on the vaccination rollout is positive (but we have learned not to get overly excited). Boris has constantly over-promised and under-delivered, but hopefully the vaccination programme will buck that trend.
Everything is pointing at spring into early summer for the return. We all know it's going to be a slow-ish burn back to normality, but right now I’ll pretty much take anything we can get.
How can you Come Back Strong??
We’ve defined five stages to work on. These should revolutionise your digital strategy and ensure that you come out as strong as possible:
- Set out your stall - The Value Exchange
We bang on about this a lot, but it's really important and will help your overall strategy succeed. The value exchange is simply the branding around your digital strategy. It's what you offer your customers in exchange for them engaging with you. It could be a club, family or friends of.
It can also encompass a customer charter, how you will treat them and what they might expect. Your brand has a story. Post-Covid, it's time to embrace it and bring it to life.
- Reacquaint with your customers
Your engagement rates will have taken a bit of a hit over the last 12 months; journeys have been turned off and on and, in some cases, sequences shortened. You’ll need to start working on re-engagement campaigns to bring your customers back into your brand fold.
There’s going to be a deluge of activity to try and lure customers to brands. Those returning to offices are likely to be doing so slightly differently, maybe for fewer days a week. The urge to eat on the run may reduce, in favour of catching up with friends and colleagues that they haven’t seen for a year. Competition will be fierce.
Our recommendation is to start, by the end of January, with your engagement campaign and use every channel to engage with current customers. If you have mobile numbers stored within your CRM, start with email but if after four attempts with different content you aren’t engaging a read, switch to a different method.
- Create a Flight Plan
For a while now customer journeys have been far too limited. Now’s the time to think like an ecommerce business and build out more triggered journeys.
You’ve new technology that can be marketed to customers within the journeys. For instance, think about serving up a journey that can only be redeemed through your click & collect or order-and-pay solution. You’ve invested in this new technology and hopefully it's proven that it can help you grow sales (if it's not, then you might want to look at a different solution).
As a guide, our recommendation is circa-eight emails as a welcome sequence. You’ve plenty of time to set in place renewed journeys for welcome, birthday, retention as well as the smarter stuff around feedback, customer rewards and referral.
- Get some new customers.
Back to the earlier point around decimated databases, now would be a good time to plan in a data boost. Over the years, campaigns to recruit new customers have become less important with digital engagement growing however, with the lack of channels this year, this has not been the case.
We’d recommend that this comes slightly later than the engagement so that comms are clear for new customers and the engagement comes closer to getting back to normal.
Social media audiences offer a great route for data build - taking your existing customers and uploading to create a look-a-like audience targeted geographically around your locations. It's the hook that’s going to be important (thinking back to the value exchange). My own advice is to go hard and go big rather than death by a thousand cuts (or discounts in this case) . Recently our client Turtle Bay gave away a £10 digital gift card through a splash page on their website and had significant results.
- There’s probably never been a better time to introduce loyalty
I said at the start that I’d be talking about gift cards as a tool for loyalty and this is it. I’m going to go into some simple detail of what we’ve got coming out in the next month or so through Toggle.
With such a change in customer behaviour, there's never been a better time to think about delivering a simple loyalty plan that drives up a frequency of visit.
Many companies fail to implement loyalty because it ends up being too complex. Gift cards offer an incredible opportunity as an entry to new customer acquisition as well as deliver loyalty.
The last year has been extreme. We can only be grateful that if (when) it happens again, the world will be more prepared.