Most of today’s businesses have been forced to shift all customer engagement online. That might sound scary to those with a limited or non-existent digital presence, but don’t fret. Virtual engagement can reap just as powerful, genuine, and profitable customer relationships as in-person engagement can—you just need a few key elements to get it right.
By taking a genuine, human, and customer-centric approach to customer engagement, you can build a loyal community around your brand, even in times of crisis. But how do you maintain that human touch when you can’t engage with your customers and prospects in person?
Virtual customer engagement is a unique way to collect valuable customer data, grow prospect email lists, and drive traffic to your website. With consumers trapped at home and plugged into their devices, brands have the opportunity to engage them online to remain top-of-mind until this uncertain period has passed and they’re ready to buy again.
The most impactful virtual engagement activities have:
- Opportunities for real-time interactions
- Sensory or experiential elements
- Surveys, quizzes, and other interactive content
- Prizes, giveaways, and gifts
Here are some examples of virtual engagement strategies you can try in order to maintain a human, one-to-one connection with your customers while everyone’s stuck at home.
4 ideas to humanize virtual engagement and nurture customer loyalty
1. Virtual Wine Tasting Events
Wine, craft beer, and spirits have the unique ability to bring together people, cultures, and communities with a single sip. If it’s brand-appropriate, hosting a virtual beverage tasting can be a great way to engage your customers with an immersive experience, support small local businesses by highlighting their beverage offerings, and strengthen the trust, loyalty, and emotional connection consumers have with your brand.
For example, Mollydooker is a regional winery based in South Australia that is hosting live virtual wine tastings on Facebook. After they announce the wines that will be featured in the tasting, consumers can go online to purchase the tasting pack and then join winemakers Sarah and Luke Marquis in a live stream to taste and learn about the drinks. Plus, the brand is offering 30% off online orders through April to incentivize customers to purchase the wine for the tasting.
The best part about a virtual engagement strategy like this is that you don’t need to be a winery or a beverage producer to use it. Lexer, for example, is hosting virtual wine tastings to engage our community and support local winemakers who are struggling as a result of the crisis. Although Lexer is nowhere near a winemaker, the events are a fun and educational way to offer our community a respite from the doom and gloom of COVID-19 while drawing on our core values of caring and playfulness.
The takeaway: How can you offer consumers an immersive, sensory experience while they’re stuck at home? Think outside the box (and outside of your product line) to discover opportunities to connect with prospects and customers based on shared values, interests, and lifestyles.
2. Sweepstakes Collaborations
A brand’s community includes not only its customers, but also its peers, partners, and business connections as well. By collaborating with other businesses that have similar or adjacent (i.e., non-competitor) products, you can access their network and achieve greater engagement than you would on your own.
Sweepstakes are always a great idea for collaborations between brands. By offering products from both brands as the prize, you increase the incentive for new prospects and customers to sign up for the sweepstakes. This strategy helps both brands build their prospect lists for future marketing and re-engage lapsed or inactive customers. Additionally, if the sign-up requirements for the sweepstakes includes a few quick questions about consumer preferences and lifestyles, you can collect valuable zero-party data that helps you refine your targeting later on.
The takeaway: There’s power in numbers. In tough times, think about how you can work together with your friends, partners, and industry peers to drive engagement and resiliency across the board.
3. Gifts for Friends and Family
As you work to stay connected with your prospects and customers, remember that the consumers you’re trying to reach are probably preoccupied with trying to stay connected with their friends and family. Providing them with the tools and opportunities they need to do so is one of the best ways your brand can engage consumers during this time.
For example, Australia’s oldest family-owned chocolate maker Haigh’s Chocolates enables customers to purchase gifts online and have them delivered directly to the receiver. A service like this empowers consumers to strengthen their relationships with friends and family, which in turn puts the brand in an incredibly powerful light.
The takeaway: Any opportunity you have to not only connect with customers, but also help customers connect with each other will go a long way in strengthening your brand during a time of great fear, anxiety, and isolation.
4. Virtual Fashion Shows
In the fashion and apparel industry, fashion shows are an important opportunity for showcasing new designs and engaging potential customers in an immersive, one-to-one brand experience—but with stay home orders enacted to prevent the spread of COVID-19, the traditional fashion show has moved online.
Virtual fashion shows aren’t new—women’s apparel brand Misha Nonoo was one of the first to present its collection on Snapchat and Instagram in 2016—but the pandemic has pushed this concept into the mainstream. By presenting your products in an engaging live stream, you can access a much wider audience at a much lower cost than you would if you put on a full, in-person fashion show.
The takeaway: The show must go on! Even if your planned events and community-building activities have been canceled due to COVID-19, find creative ways to adapt those activities to online platforms instead.
Stay home, stay safe, and stay connected with your customers
Frictionless, omnichannel engagement was becoming a staple of the retail industry long before the COVID-19 pandemic, and it will continue to be a staple long after it’s over. Now is the time to rethink your traditional engagement strategies, test and perfect them online, and build a thriving digital presence while your customers and prospects are still stuck at home.
The relationships you build with consumers now—whether it includes a purchase or not—are the relationships that will go on to becoming highly profitable engagements when the crisis has passed. Be creative, empathetic, and collaborative in your efforts and you’ll be able to achieve genuine virtual engagement that nurtures long-term customer loyalty.