Everyone remembers that fateful broadcast on 23rd March 2020, when the PM announced that we were officially ‘locking down’.  That feeling of panic, dismay, confusion – everyone wondering what would happen next.  Nothing like this had happened in living memory so, naturally, everything was in complete disarray.   Then, as the weeks went on, individuals and businesses started to realise that this was becoming our ‘new normal’ and that we either had to learn to adapt, or risk losing everything.

For many industries it was very difficult.  The travel and tourism industry was exceptionally badly hit, as no one was allowed to go out, apart from a quick visit to the shops for essentials (socially distanced of course!) and/or one brief exercise session a day at a location that was walking distance from home.  This meant that even UK holiday firms were, essentially, grounded!  In its June 2020 report, The Office for National Statistics recorded that the Air Transport sector had shrunk by 92.80% and the Travel Agency, Tour Operator And Other Reservation Service And Related Activities industry by 89.20% in April 2020, compared with the previous month.

Even the retail sector was struggling, as consumers weren’t able to shop in store for non-essentials and were reticent to spend on non-essential items anyway, while they waited to see how their incomes were going to be affected by the pandemic.  Supermarket queues were huge and essential items were running out, as customers ‘panic bought’ their hand sanitiser, pasta and toilet rolls!  The June 2020 report confirmed that predominantly non-food stores had seen trade shrink by 41.7% in April 2020, compared with the preceding March.

There was a glimmer of hope however, as non-store retailing increased over the same period by 18%.  Customers were turning to online shopping as a way get what they needed, whilst still keeping themselves safe and following the government guidelines.

Furthermore, in the weeks and months that followed some businesses weren’t just surviving – they were thriving!

With almost nothing to do as the seemingly perpetual lockdown continued, consumers were looking for more and more ways to keep themselves busy.  Many workers had been furloughed and even those that hadn’t were working from home, so were keen to keep themselves occupied and keep boredom at bay.

Enter…home improvements!

Online gardening and DIY supplies companies were suddenly swamped with more business than they could keep up with as, all of a sudden, all of the ‘little jobs’ that people had been ‘meaning to do’ became priority!  Some companies were recording as much as a 500%+ increase in online sales, compared with 2019 and, equally as encouraging, was an increase in new audience demographics.  For example, gardening supplies companies, whose target market customers had always traditionally been retirees, were seeing a key, younger audience segment emerge.  This meant that, whilst it was imperative to keep their traditional, loyal audience happy, to prevent them from going to the competition, there also needed to be a focus on keeping these ‘gardeners of the future’ engaged post-lockdown.

Recommendations such as ‘minimal effort for maximum effect’, ‘herbs that top off your cocktails’ and ‘how to encourage wildlife into your garden’, would be key to maintaining the engagement of time-poor, friend-focused, environmentally-conscious young gardeners, as well as raising company profiles on social media sites such as Instagram.

Other success stories included online pet supplies (everyone seemed to be getting new furry friends, now that they had more time to devote to them!) and online fashion retailers.  Whereas, previously, consumers had been buying from stockists and resellers, they were now cutting out the middle man and shopping direct online.  This gave brands a fantastic opportunity to talk to customers directly and build brand identity and loyalty.  By reducing reliance on resellers, it was easier for businesses to identify trends, build their profitability and cut their costs.

Regardless of industry segment or vertical, by investing time and thought into how to motivate new audiences, businesses would give themselves the best chance possible of increasing market share during this most difficult of times.  It would then be essential to keep a close eye on the results, to make sure that their tactics were working and to be prepared to make tweaks to strategy where necessary.

So, how do businesses go about identifying and targeting potential new audiences?  Here are 3 key tactics to maximise success:

  1. Always be vigilant! Constantly analyse Google Analytics or your analytics software’s reporting to identify anomalies, things that are out of the ordinary, how things are changing quarter on quarter and/or year on year, etc.?
  2. Having identified a new audience segment, take the time to understand what makes them tick! Research the typical behaviours of this new demographic – what channels do they like to engage with? What are their interests?  What motivates them and what potential objections could they have to buying from you?  You could conduct a survey of a suitable number of potential customers from that demographic and ask them directly what products they are interested in, how they like to communicate with brands, and so on.  Additionally, behavioural targeting software on your website and/or Google Analytics reports can provide invaluable insight into how you can meet the needs of your emerging audience.
  3. Once you’ve done the groundwork, decide how to target them – do you need to change your messaging as a whole with specific blogs, social campaigns, product lines and offers relevant to this new demographic? Or do you simply need to make some tweaks to your current communication to increase its relevancy for them?

One of the key takeaways of lockdown for me is that nothing stays the same and you can’t always predict what will happen next with 100% certainty.  You have to be continually evaluating what you are doing and adapting to suit changing conditions, or you’ll get left behind.  Make sure that you are analysing failures to find out what went wrong whilst, at the same time, keeping a constant eye out for opportunities.  Only then will you be truly successful.