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Don’t be that tone-deaf retailer sending the wrong messages

Well there certainly has been some tone-deaf marketing messages that have failed to consider where customers heads are really at in these COVID times. If you are not an essential worker then you are house-bound like the majority of us. Our days defined by a daily walk, managing the expectations of those in your bubble, the 1 pm COVID-19 daily news update and the constant question “are we there yet?”

Tone-deaf communications fall flat no matter what the social-economic climate, but during a global and financial crisis like Covid-19, the missteps and failure to “read the room” will impact a company’s reputation and brand equity well into the future.

Think of what you are feeling now. We are emotional, concerned, fearful, confused and that can make us more irrational than ever. Will I have a job, business, financial security, my health; a whole myriad of emotions on top of confinement in your bubble.

It’s tricky as a retailer. What’s the right balance of being a service (and one that possibly can’t buy or sell product currently) without being self-serving? How can you maintain a meaningful relationship without being seen to capitalise on the situation or looking like you are not genuinely demonstrating a kind spirit?

In times of crisis, we want to connect, but in this one where we are the pathogen, we need to keep physically apart. It requires us to remotely strike the right chord with customers and not appear like a phoney actor.

It’s time to be human, to celebrate and champion our local and employee heroes and to show up with support. Not finding ways to bend the rules to try and make this situation self-serving.

Who's doing it right

Sam’s Club in the United States is doing it right with a commercial showing employees stocking shelves, disinfecting cart handles and loading orders into cars while calling out workers by name and store location to thank them.

And it’s worth noting that in New Zealand, Countdown has a very similar campaign currently running on TV (yes I’ve been watching TV AND the commercials).

Z Energy has done a great job of supporting St John’s Ambulance in this particularly tough time.

Shine-On is a retailer that took the high ground – and we do applaud the intent. The delivery made us understand her angst and position; her frustration but her decisions. The comments and likes/loves are clearly a sign customers will support this brand for a very long time.

TheMarketNZ feels like they got it right with all profits in lockdown going to charity.

Modibodi got everything right. For those of you who don’t know the brand, it is period-proof underwear.

Briscoes should be given full marks. Not only have they delivered positive TV messages around making the most of home, but they also continue to offer specials on essentials so that customers can still get great bargains at a time where affordability is critical. They have introduced another tender type (LayBuy) bringing a third buy now pay later option to their suite. They are still being themselves but with an authenticity that you know, they aren’t trying to make the most of the situation. They aren’t shouting at us and that’s comforting. Ten/ten.

Their TVC was released late last year and couldn’t be timed better. They have cut and diced it to fit without situation right now. They keep customers up to date with at home relevant tips and tricks.

Moochi has got the balance right. Their customers are like a cool club. You know a Moochi piece when you see it and you instantly know that person is from your tribe. And people in tribes love to share and be in the know.

Who has got it wrong

I am conscious I am a little judgy at the moment. The minute I heard The Warehouse announce themselves as “Essential”, as the Alert Level 4 lockdown was announced, I did lose my shit. FFS, as an operator of big box retail, did they not just stop and think. Really, really think.

A recent survey done by leading customer insights agency Perceptive, which undertook two surveys six days apart with a focus group of 1000 Kiwis showed how quickly during a time of mass uncertainty we change our focus. It is evident which retailer have taken a battering by their actions.

I was equally riled when I started to receive a barrage of emails from Cotton-On continuing to try and drive customers to their site, only to confirm they would deploy from Australia and ignore the situation and what Alert Level 4 means in NZ. Customers didn’t like it one bit. But being tone-deaf appears to simply be part of Cotton-On’s DNA. Really – check out the email headline.

But then I started getting comments from friends for when the online storm erupted over retailer Collected. Unfortunately, I didn’t get a copy of the comments and surprisingly they are all gone. Some were pretty harsh but there was absolute frustration from the community. Go online and look for yourself to decide. I have decided to vote with my feet and I had always huge respect for this retailer. Had been the operative word.

So I asked my friends.

What had they seen which was tone-deaf?

In a response from one of my more passionate friends (a seasoned retailer)

“NO. NO. NO. NO. NO. NO !

This is license for EVERY clothing outlet to start selling. More people working. More people packing. More couriers picking up.  More people on the road.

Lockdown= joke”

Another stating that MBIE was a joke and citing this article about retailer Ellie+Rileywith their “essential $759 cashmere dressing gowns.” But hey that might be essential to someone. Who are we to judges.

One punter was flabbergasted that OLA sent an email to let them know that there were available to transport packages between bubbles including Whether it's the essentials, a surprise gift or that puzzle you mastered, you can easily arrange items to get picked-up or dropped-off to their new home with our drivers." This feels a bit off.

Pams was a little off-colour promoting a recipe for playdough to keep kids busy when there seems to be a NZ shortage of flour on shelves.

Sephora with their constant barrage of beauty products as being essential.

In Australia, Macca’s is is now selling bread and milk via its drive-thru service, giving customers the option to pick up some much-needed pantry staples along with their Big Mac.

“From Wednesday onwards, in addition to our usual Macca’s menu, customers will also be able to pick up two or three-litre bottles of full cream or skim milk, as well as packs of English muffins and gourmet bread rolls.” 

It feels more like they are trying to manage their supply chain and get rid of perishable items. If it was sincere we would see a standard loaf of bread available, not their gourmet burger rolls.

As a customer, you have the right to vote with your feet but remember, this is also the time to be kind. Some retailers are doing this out of desperation to simply stay afloat. They aren't evil.

Some humans are nutters - always will be.

But there is no need to be cruel as outlined in this article where some retailers have received death threats for trading online. Seriously. Get a grip.

But as a retailer, you need to be very considered on how you present your position, offer and brand,

What should you be doing?

Be genuine. Be kind. Follow the rules.

Most importantly communicate with sincerity and feel the room. Right now we need brands that aren’t shouting, aren’t pushing, aren’t slamming us. We need brands that are connecting with genuine intent. Giving us an escape, some normality and feel good cuddle.

Finally, if you do a good thing, just do it. Don’t ask the world to give you a pat on the back for it.

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