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COVID-19: “Businesses must prepare now with a focus on customer-centric relevancy to survive the imminent recession”


Obtaining and retaining customers is the crux of what marketing is about and the core to great marketing is relevancy. As a company tasked with ensuring our client’s brands remain relevant, we built a framework for identifying the building blocks and actions that need to take place.

Our Pivot, Prepare and Position framework covers the critical need to pivot immediate services and systems in the short-term, how to build internal agility that prepares companies for multiple future scenarios and finally, how to position the brand for the recession. Yes the recession – it is definitely coming and the time to prepare is now.

Not all aspects of this framework are going to be applicable to smaller businesses but within it there are some fundamentals we recommend all businesses prioritise.

Know Your Customer

Big businesses often talk about being customer-centric or putting the customer first. This shouldn’t be a revelation. It’s about building your company backwards from the customer – their needs, their feelings, their behaviours. Too often businesses are a reflection of their internal dynamics; when that’s the case they can get easily caught out by changing customer needs.

That’s the reason small and medium businesses need to get closer to their customer. They need to monitor customer sentiment in a way that helps them get a feel for changing perceptions and feelings around their business, their industry and even patterns of behaviour. Big businesses have the luxury of investing in specialised customer-tracking research and monitoring tools but there are ways for smaller businesses to get on top of this requirement.

For small, local businesses to start building a better understanding of their customers Google is at the top of the list. Services such as Google My Business, Google Webmaster Tools, Google Surveys, Google Ads, Google Trends and Google Alerts provide powerful insights into how to better position your business for maximum relevance.

Mid-sized companies can choose to scale up to customer engagement tools like Sprout Social or Hootsuite, both do a great job of social media monitoring and tracking, as well as media management.

Whichever tool you choose the point is to make sure you’re actively engaged in listening to your audience and customers, learning from them and tailoring your messages (and even your services) to their requirements.

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Reward Loyalty

During a recession, it has been repeatably proven that customer retention should be a company’s primary objective. Why? Because it costs less to keep a customer than to acquire a new one. So, before you think about how to get your message out to new prospects, make sure you have a robust way to reward loyalty.

Small companies can either create their own programme and work their customer network or opt to engage in third-party loyalty programmes designed for smaller businesses like Perkville. Alternatively, you can go for larger programmes like Fly-Buys but be very mindful of associated costs.

Another option is to look around your community, area or industry for partner networks that group like-minded businesses together to create ecosystems that are better at incentivising customers than one business alone – think ‘Shop Local’ initiatives.

While loyalty needs to rewarded, remember that happy customers form one of the most powerful media channels – word of mouth. This ‘earned media’ may not get the scale of ‘paid for’ media but makes up for it through the credibility of peer endorsement. Track your customers’ comments and reviews and do something about any negative ones. Think of it as your Uber driver score – you need to retain your 5-star status.

Your existing customer base is the most important weapon you have during these times. Treat them well, reward them, market to them first and use them as ambassadors.

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When I first came to New Zealand I was amazed at the proliferation of sales messages. I was told time and time again that New Zealanders love a bargain. Driving price advantage is fine. It works. To a point. What it doesn’t do is create a defendible point of difference. A balance needs to be struck between short-term marketing goals like sales and long-term goals like differentiation. Small businesses need to use their marketing to also tell their customers about who they are, what they stand for, what makes them different? These are the elements of marketing that help build emotional relationships between a company and its customers and what helps customer separate your business from your competitors. This brand storytelling provides context to the value equation that every customer is working through when they’re thinking about choosing you, staying with you or endorsing you.

Bruce Gourley is Head of Brand Experience at Stanley Street and has worked in creative strategy for various agencies across multiple regions with global blue-chip clients like Coca-Cola, Unilever, P&G, ABInBev, KFC and others.

Get in touch with Bruce


The next eighteen months are going to be rough. Small businesses will be especially hard hit. We all need to make sure we use what we know to help every level of business survive. The three fundamental drivers to make sure you are on a strong platform that can ride out the storm is to get closer to your customer, reward them and tell them about yourself.

To get your copy of our Marketing Through The C-19 Crisis & Beyond framework. Please email Patrick Hancock at

Stay safe, stay strong.


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