Top 7 Customer Needs During A Pandemic

Fads and Fundamentals: Customer Needs

This is the first post of a series related to understanding how to structure your business based on need and to examine how trends or fads can position your brand over the long term.

As I’m sure you’re already aware, effective market economics is determined by a balanced formula between supply and demand.

Striking the right equilibrium between what you supply and the desire of customers to buy it, is what can make your brand a success.

It’s tempting if you’re a winemaker, brewer or distiller to concentrate entirely on what you’re making and creating.

This concentration and effort, research and technical skill is often about perfecting a flavour, a style, a variety, a type or a category.

In an already crowded market, creating a ‘unique’ product or the ‘best’ product can be a highly analytical exercise based on your competitors and what has already come before.

A great deal is invested in better brewing systems, quality barrels, fruit or ingredients, tanks and presses, elaborate stills or technical equipment.

This work is important, but it does focus entirely on the supply side of the market equation.

Questions about demand are commonly dismissed by thoughts of: ‘If I make it, they will want it’; ‘If I build it, they will come”.

These statements are drivers for high levels of creativity and refinement to satisfy internal or industry recognised standards, but are these the same standards customers need or want?

Needs, wants and desires, trends, fads and phenomenons; what influences us to buy a service or product is continually changing.

The world is undergoing immense change right now. COVID-19 has changed the way we live, the way we do business and we have begun to see a shifting alignment in what customers need.

How often do you ask yourself, what do my customers need?

Demand is not shaped by just quality or price. Understanding what drives demand, requires time and investment, energy and commitment.

At this time of deep uncertainty, I recommend getting back to basics. Build your business and brand based on need.

Needs are fundamental. They are what we need to survive, to meet our commitments and to honour our obligations.

Needs are universal. They are essential and they are enduring. Get these right and true, and you can then give yourself some space to begin exploring trends or fads, which are more fleeting and soon replaced by the next fad.

Here are seven fundamental customer needs to help anchor your business over the long term. And seven needs your business should be addressing right now:

1. Safe

It goes without saying, your product should be safe to consume, first and foremost. But so should the experience.

The effort we have all made in response to the COVID-19 pandemic to work at a distance, socialise at a distance, wear masks, keep our hands and surfaces sanitised and communicate this need, has been remarkable and entirely necessary.

And we can’t afford to get complacent. If your brand or venue is connected with the spread of contagion, it could be detrimental to your business. This is as important to your customers as it is to your staff.

Safety is a fundamental human need, and it is your responsibility to ensure your brand and business is demonstrating the highest standards of safety possible for as long as the community is at risk of contracting COVID-19.

2. Convenient

How do people learn about how to enjoy your product through your website? How easy is it for your customers to order online? And is their order packed beautifully and delivered quickly?

Online shopping is not only here to stay, it’s likely to become the dominant source of your income in future. Customers need to know they can order easily, securely and receive deliveries quickly. Reviews are also a normal part of online shopping and worth including on your site. Enhance your ecommerce capability and shopping experience, and you’ll build trust with your customers for them to order from you again and again.

Beyond your own four walls or online,  how available is your product in suburban neighbourhoods and local shopping strips? Focus your distribution, less on national, and more on local. Reach people where they are now doing most of their shopping – in their communities.

To win consumers over with convenience, another important factor is to not let your operations get in the way of your customer service. Small businesses often say they can’t do this or they can’t do that because of production needs. For example, you might not do deliveries on a Tuesday because that’s a distilling or brewing day. To meet the needs of your customers, you need to be delivering a product or a service every day of the week, and preferably your business is responding to each customer order within 24 hours of the order being made.

3. Connected

I often talk to clients about how everyone wants to be loved. Your customers want to feel loved by you – show them you care, you understand them and you’re here for them.

At a time of pandemic, your ability to show compassion and empathy is a powerful tool for you to establish a long-lasting connection with your customers.

It has been well documented how anxiety and depression are affecting people more as a result of this pandemic (refer to Monash University research). Your ability to demonstrate compassion, therefore is deeply meaningful right now.

How do you do this? A simple thing would be to have an open chat app on your website so you can respond quickly and directly to any queries. You could also provide notes with your orders to say you’re thinking about them at this time. Find easy ways for your business to alleviate financial stress for some, such as providing an extra product surprise with customer orders. You could also donate to a local charity supporting the mental health or wellbeing of your community, or employ local people where you can to help with packing and deliveries.

Connection also relates to inclusiveness and accessibility. Take a stand on prejudice, eliminate barriers for people with disabilities or from minority backgrounds, and be a workplace that celebrates diversity.

In 2019, global management consulting firm McKinsey & Company, found 64 percent of consumers choose to buy from brands they believe are doing good. This was up by 13 percent from the same study in 2017. In 2020, early indications are people are demonstrating even higher levels of emotion in their decision making. We’re looking to buy local, sustainable, genuine and authentic products and services. With more discerning customers choosing to invest in brands they believe in, you can’t afford not to be creating stronger connections with your community and your customers.

4. Reliable

You could also call this consistency, quality or authenticity. What it means to be reliable at a time of COVID-19 is to ensure the risk a consumer takes to invest in you, is well rewarded. Without being able to go and try before they buy, consumers are reverting back to products they know well and trust. So rather than trying to create something ‘new or different’ focus on improving the consistency and quality of the things you already do well.

Milanda Rout reported in the Australian Financial Review’s WISH magazine in July/August 2020 the fashion industry is particularly focused on this right now. Giorgio Armani is arguing for a “careful and intelligent slowdown” and the British and American fashion authorities have said: “Through the creation of less product, with higher levels of creativity and quality, products will be valued and their shelf life will increase”. This approach is to ultimately increase customer respect and enjoyment of fashion products.

Your time and energy is best spent right now in honing your most dependable products and delivering a product, service and experience your customers can rely on.

Create attention by being true to what makes you authentic and connecting with your audience based on their needs, rather than creating the next most unusual beer style or working out what exotic botanical you’ve not yet tried in your gin.

5. Value

What do you offer your customers to demonstrate and reward them with a sense of value? Many companies peg their prices based on their competitors and their own internal perception of the quality of their product. But what does your customer consider of value at this time of COVID-19?

Value means something different to various consumer segments. In general, consumers simply have less money to spend at the moment. Alcohol products can often weather stormy financial times, however the restrictions on the ability to sell via hospitality venues has seen a sharp decline in volume by at least 30 percent across the board.  There have been some surges in consumer spending on alcohol, particularly in April 2020, however it has steadily declined and plateaued from May. Perceptions of value are thus a critical consideration for customers across all categories.

Roy Morgan reported on 22 May 2020, 40.5% of Australians purchased alcohol from a supermarket retailer – BWS, ALDI, Liquorland or IGA. This suggests the best value indicators for this segment is both price and convenience.

Independent retailers Vinomofo and Blackhearts & Sparrows have seen marked increases in online sales of more than 50 percent. Customers who trust the independence and service model of these two retailers is clearly a value indicator to this segment, yet Vinomofo also reported a decrease in average sales price of up to 16 percent, indicating price is still an important factor (Sydney Morning Herald, 13 April 2020).

In the wine sector, direct-to-consumer sales were already on a steady rise, with Wine Australia recording a nine percent increase in 2019 to make it a $1 billion sales channel. In the US, wineries have recorded 30 percent year-on-year growth from June 2019 to July this year.

Direct-to-consumer sales are of significant value to customers who seek premium products, which offer a genuine connection to the source. It feels more personal, more respectable and in some ways more ethical than buying from big, mainstream corporate companies. Price is less a consideration with this segment. Social experiences, personalisation and quality perceptions are much more important drivers of value.

If you can’t compete on price with some of the more aggressive players in the market, can you offer value in other ways your customer is more inclined to seek? Find out by asking your customers directly, by trialling new offers or promotions based on value-added formulas or create experiences to connect with your consumer and their needs they express to you directly or through their behaviours in the market.

6. Functional

What function does your product provide? What solution does it solve?

When it comes to wine, beer or spirits, the function and purpose could be considered controversial. Fermented products have been a part of human life from ancient times. Over centuries, wine, beer and spirits have been crafted from natural ingredients and enjoyed as an expression of flavour, socialisation, ritual and tradition.

For the majority of people who enjoy wine, beer and spirits, these drinks provide a sense of reward, satisfaction and enjoyment.

So if any alcoholic beverage has the ability to meet this need, how does your product provide a sense of reward, satisfaction and enjoyment more than your competitors?

Content marketing can be a core component of meeting the functional needs of customers. Beyond what it tastes like and how it’s made, engage your customers on how to enjoy it. How do you serve it? What do you drink it with? Is it something to treasure for special occasions or could I enjoy it on a casual Sunday afternoon?

Creating an atmosphere, expressing a lifestyle and developing a ritual for what you make can solve the functional need of your customers, beyond what they ever expect.

Craftsmanship and heritage are important elements of the functional equation also. The need to feel rewarded by what we drink, relates to who made it and the connections customers can make to sources of authenticity.

Your content marketing and digital brand is critical to this sensibility of functionality and form.

7. Sustainable

Prior to 2020, sustainability was a trend. It has now firmly landed in the realm of consumer need.

The pandemic has exposed many weaknesses in our society, and it has similarly accelerated some of the behaviours we have needed to change.

The conscious consumer is not just a small segment of our society anymore. The conscious consumer is a segment of fast and steady growth.

The Future Laboratory, a London consultancy specialising in thought leadership on future consumer trends, states:

“When it comes to food and drink, today’s consumers want more purposeful options – both for themselves and the planet.

“As the relationship between our eco-systems and our diets becomes more holistic, concerns such as sustainability, biodiversity and regenerative agriculture are challenging brands to rethink their roles.”

With less money to spend, a life lived less frivolous as we did pre-pandemic and with time to consider our purchases, consumers are exploring the entire environmental footprint of their lives and their purchasing decisions.

Thus you should too. How can you explain or justify your processes, products and purchasing decisions? What carbon footprint does your business occupy?

With a fragile global economy and isolated existence, the questions of source and sustainability have become more pronounced. This analysis of consumption habits and personal values, is shifting our way of living to a more mindful, minimal and simple approach to what is truly important.

Sustainability and the health of the planet are overriding previous desires to be extravagant in what we buy, wear and consume.

Work you do to streamline the number of products you make, and the number of natural resources you require, reduce your dependency on fossil fuels and find more ecologically friendly solutions to what you do, will earn you the respect of your customer.

The lower the impact you make on the environment, the higher the impact you will make on your customer’s need to make sustainable decisions.

If you’re unsure about where to start when it comes to creating a brand and knowing your consumer, the best option is to get back to basics.

What does your customer need? Forge relationships with them, ask them and invest in marketing to give you the tools to track their responses and respond in ways to elevate your brand above the crowd.

Do this and your customers will be with you for the long haul, through the tough times and the post-pandemic times.

– Kerrie