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Why Your Business Can No Longer Wait to Go Digital—And What To Do About It

Creating a digital experience for your brand was once a nice thing to have. Icing on the cake. A way for clients and customers to interact when they couldn’t get outdoors.

No longer.

The COVID-19 pandemic has turned the world upside-down. The icing has become the cake. Between new rules for quarantining and social distancing, no business can overlook the inevitable digitization of their brands and ways their customers are now forced to engage with them.

In essence, COVID-19’s crunch on businesses could include an acceleration of what McKinsey calls “digital Darwinism.”

It’s not survival of the fittest. It’s survival of the “most digital”.

Even before COVID-19, increasing digitization was a battleground for brands. McKinsey describes “Digital Darwinism” as including:

  • Increasing competition amongst brands
  • Increasing consumer sophistication, leading to digital brand messages lessening in impact
  • A push for brands to reach the most “jaded” customers through word-of-mouth

We’ll all feel the pain of the new changes that arise with the COVID-19 pandemic. But with the world becoming increasingly digital by necessity, expect Digital Darwinism to accelerate. Those with digital branding options can no longer treat these as “nice-to-have” features.

They’re must-haves.

Here is what your business can do if you’ve decided that you’ve waited long enough to go all-in on digital and mobile:

Optimize the Customer Experience for Mobile and Digital Features

There may be no better example of brands that need to migrate their customer experience to the digital environment than banks. According to one survey before COVID-19, 86% already believed that “digital will fundamentally change the economics and competitive landscape in corporate banking.”

There’s no time left for banks to emphasize the in-person experience. The world no longer uses mobile banking for convenience. It uses it out of necessity.

In short, you need to migrate to a simple and robust online banking app. Concentrate on the most popular customer interactions:

  • Mobile deposits. The trend was already pointing this way. In 2018, “43% of all mobile phone users with bank accounts had used mobile banking in the previous twelve months.” In 2019, there were already 57 million mobile banking users in the U.S. 86% of banks offered bill payment via mobile banking. In an age of social distancing, offering mobile deposits is a fast way to ensure that bank customers can keep their accounts afloat.
  • ATM use and support. The average convenience store sees 3,000 ATM transactions per month. Even with social distancing and quarantine, it’s possible demand can go up as consumers move to hard cash. Does your mobile app presence make it possible for consumers to identify compliant ATMs in their area?
  • Local branch access. How much can local branches interact with customers via the mobile app? Does the bank even have ways of informing its local customers that the app has many features that have been migrated online? One of the most important features of any bank’s mobile application is the ability to integrate communications with local branches and make local customers feel secure about their deposits.

“Banks and credit unions that digitize can achieve a 20% increase in revenues and a 30% decline in expenses,” noted The Financial Brand. How much more pronounced will this effect be in an economy of quarantines and furloughs?

Lead Generation: A Digital Mindset

Even before COVID, lead generation was tricky.

65% of businesses identified lead generation as their top marketing challenge. It outpaced other significant problems like not having enough money in the marketing budget and team training.

But with a global pandemic, lead generation got a heck of a lot trickier. For the time being, there’s no more showing up in-person and making the sales pitch. We don’t have to remind you how important lead generation is to keep a company growing—or even afloat. But before you think that you can back to your old pre-digital habits, consider how rapidly these lead generation channels are changing:

  • Networking. Shaking hands at gatherings of 50 or more people will be unrealistic this season—and there’s no telling how much COVID-19 will change the way we think about in-person networking. Expected social media presence to become an even more important way to network between professionals.
  • Conferences. Major conferences and events have been canceled this year: E3, Coachella, SXSW—many of them for the first time in event history. Even already-digital brands have to prepare for lead generation campaigns that don’t bank on in-person conferences and events to build anticipation for product releases.
  • Cold-calling. Even cold-calling, a staple of the home-based business, may be reduced in an economic environment of furloughs and reduced staff, while most employees are now working from home in t-shirts and sweatpants.

The solution? Moving to email-based digital lead generation.

According to HubSpot, “79% of B2B marketers credit email as the most effective distribution channel for demand gen efforts.” The ability to personalize messages (the next best thing to in-person networking) is the “#1 tactic” email marketers use, says HubSpot.

In particular, industries that will be hit hardest by COVID-19—real estate, construction, human resources, and arts & entertainment—note the most success with email marketing efforts.

There’s no time to wait. Building an email networking framework for lead generation is a powerful way to improve marketing ROI at a time when every marketing dollar counts.

Communications: Keeping the Lights On

What if your business is already digital in most of its customer-facing marketing efforts?

You still have to have options for meeting existing clients and responding to customers.

Client engagement and retention will need to move. No more office visits for a while. Instead, expect Zoom meetings to become the norm.

And don’t assume that the need for meetings will automatically plummet. Businesses all over the world will be in “crisis-mode.” You may be expected to help large customers navigate this world by working with them as they develop cash flow issues of their own.

In other cases, you may need to consult with clients to help them sort their priorities.

  • Automate your phone system for fast follow-up. Did you know that if you follow up with a potential lead in under five minutes, they’re nine times as likely to become future customers? Automate your phone system for fast follow-ups with new numbers—and to let existing customers know that you’re standing by.
  • Prepare for a digital meeting infrastructure. The conference room might be empty for a while. You’ll have to be ready with tools like Zoom and Calendly to get on the same page with people. That means unifying calendars, preparing a setup from your office (or, in many cases, your home office) so you can have full meetings as close to the face-to-face experience as possible.
  • Coordinating between teams. If you’re used to the in-person office experience, you may only have some limited exposure to tools like Slack. These tools are becoming invaluable. Not only do they make it easy to organize and stay in the loop, but they can ensure that you have the instant communication necessary to simulate the office environment.

There are some additional tips available at MIT that you can use to run effective mobile meetings: 1) designate a meeting facilitator to herd the cats, 2) prioritize audio over video to prevent issues in communication, 3) utilize a speaker queue for larger meetings, and 4) don’t stress about which meeting technology to use, as most of them are perfectly acceptable.

How to Succeed in a Digitally-Accelerated World

These changes aren’t something that you can defer. The problem is here. The culture has already changed, and if your brand isn’t digital-capable, you’re already lagging. But it is possible to succeed in the accelerated environment we find ourselves in. Here’s how.

  • Establish a digital sales funnel as soon as possible. According to McKinsey, there was a strong correlation between companies with a higher percentage of digital touchpoints and the possibility of customers choosing that brand. The faster you get your brand into these touchpoints—mobile applications, social media, and more—the sooner you’ll establish credibility with digital customers.
  • Work with a partner who understands fast digitalization. You may not be able to do it all on your own. To accelerate your path and lessen the learning curve, work with a digital branding expert who will help you integrate everything you just read.
  • Keep customers and clients in the loop. If you’re successful and your brand makes changes fast, then your existing customers and clients need to know about it. Send out an email blast that informs them of the changes and the updates they can expect. You should also anticipation some time for cushioning these changes, allowing customers and clients to adapt.

COVID-19 is a wake-up call for many brands: if you aren’t prepared to work in a digital environment, you’ll have to play catch-up in a hurry. But this experience doesn’t have to be as abrupt as it needs to be. Work with INK to transform yourself when there’s no more time to wait on the sidelines. The future of your business—beyond COVID-19—depends on how well you adapt.

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