Customer-First Marketing in the Age of COVID-19

Eva Maria Schmidt
June 16, 2020

Relationship Marketing Based on Trust, Empathy, and Relevance in a Disrupted Digital Marketing Landscape

It’s official: The coronavirus pandemic has caused the worst economic decline on a global scale since the Great Depression of the 1930s. According to the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the crisis could reduce global GDP by up to $9 trillion over the next two years. Entire industries have been forced to shut down or rethink their business models in the face of this unprecedented crisis.

For the digital marketing industry, COVID-19 is also a reset moment.

Before the pandemic, marketers were battling for the attention of consumers characterized by equal amounts of disposable income and FOMO (Fear of Missing Out), ready to adopt the latest trends and experiences into their social media-saturated lives. Now, the economic fallout of coronavirus has replaced superfluous purchases with real existential decisions in a marketplace ruled by FOLE (Fear of Losing Everything). And with the resulting communications overload around coronavirus, the battle for consumers’ attention has intensified, so creating engagement (and conversions) is an entirely different game moving forward.

The big questions right now are: How long will it take before the situation goes back to normal? And what exactly will this new normal look like?

Here’s a brief overview of how a customer-first approach can help marketers start building the foundation for a post-coronavirus future today, by making a commitment to trust, empathy and relevance – and placing the individual customer at the center.


The coronavirus pandemic has forever broken the traditional marketing model. From a marketing perspective, social distancing and the loss of real-life interactions renders previously planned strategies obsolete. Moving forward, digital communications will be fundamental in earning (and maintaining) consumers’ attention and trust. More than ever, digital engagement will define consumer relationships and loyalty in a socially distanced reality.

Consumers are paying more attention to digital messages than before the crisis. Because of the crisis, email send volume increased by 19 percent in March over January 2020, while the number of companies sending emails grew by 18 percent.

With more eyeballs on messages, using your full digital reach to build strong customer relationships today will pay dividends in the future. What this new normal will look like remains to be seen, but an emphasis on Customer-First Marketing provides a critical way forward against the uncertain and complex realities of COVID-19. Instead of starting with the product or communications channel, this strategy focuses first on individual consumers. With Customer-First Marketing, marketers implement engagement strategies that are based on trust and empathy, to ensure that every communication is meaningful and relevant.


Now that digital engagement has become the primary mode of customer interaction, staying close to customers and their individual needs will be paramount. This will require a step change in marketing strategies, placing the most recent customer data at the center of every interaction in the digital customer journey.

In a Customer-First Marketing approach, brands build programs that communicate authentically with individuals using an approach of committed customer service. To do this well, marketers must understand the consumers’ goals and use campaign elements like messaging, data, and channel selection that are most relevant and contextual at the moment of engagement. And they must use the latest omnichannel marketing technologies – including marketing AI, dynamic content, and real-time marketing capabilities – to deliver this level of personalization at scale.

With Customer-First Marketing, marketers put themselves in the consumer’s shoes, placing unique consumer needs, passions, and emotions ahead of immediate transaction goals, especially in times of crises.


Now more than ever, consumers gravitate towards brands they can trust in uncertain times. Communicate your brand mission in honest words. Prioritize relationship building over transactional value. Be honest and transparent. Communicate business policies and data practices in easy-to-follow language. And always adhere to the latest privacy legislation, to safeguard consumer data.


Empathy builds connections. It starts with putting the consumer first, placing yourself in their shoes. It’s about understanding what drives and motivates consumers, respecting their actions, supporting their needs, and putting long-term loyalty over short-term business gains. It means showing that you care even at a time when consumers are postponing major purchases and controlling their spending. As more and more households face financial hardships and insecurity, companies are showing empathy by making crisis-appropriate accommodations around financing. Others, including big luxury labels, show social responsibility by going beyond their core business models to produce scarce items such as hand sanitizer and face masks.


Relevance is a relationship accelerator. Consumer purchase paths have given way to a much more complex process that can best be described as a series of micro-moments: points of opportunity for marketers to engage with consumers in context, such as a search for product information on their computer or a scroll through a news feed on their phone. Location, channel, mindset, recent activities, current environment; these elements make up the consumer’s micro-moment.


By adopting Customer-First Marketing, you are not only embracing a set of values and practices that will outlast the crisis. You are also pivoting to a data-driven approach that will make your entire marketing infrastructure more responsive to consumer needs and current trends. And by consistently serving trust, empathy, and relevance at a time when customers need stability, you are building loyalty and long-term relationships for years to come.

For more insights on Customer-First Marketing, and some actionable tips for how to deliver this type of marketing in a post-COVID-19 world, grab a copy of our new white paper, using the button below.