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Crafting a customer strategy for market entry and growth during a pandemic

There is no question that Australia has had a difficult year. A detrimental bushfire crisis that engulfed land, livestock and converted clean skies to a grey haze, soon followed by the threat of the contagious COVID-19 infecting at-risk individuals and communities. These back-to-back national crises have resulted in unprecedented change for the national approach to health, hygiene and social behaviours forcing organisations to re-frame business models and value propositions in the hope of discovering new growth and revenue opportunities in a ‘post-COVID’ climate.

Discovering growth and revenue opportunities in the midst of multiple crises

Flashback to November 2019. Bushfire smoke is polluting the air at a rate 12 times more dangerous than the ‘hazardous’ level as defined by the Air Quality Index. How did Australian’s react to this news? Well, we were shocked, but we didn’t act. We continued on with our normal day-to-day routines without consideration for our health or the health of others. It’s an interesting observation that raises questions about Australian cultural perceptions and attitudes toward protection and hygiene, compared to eastern cultures that seem to take these airborne threats a lot more seriously. Protection in the form of face-masks has always been an ethical behaviour reserved for eastern countries with denser populations at a higher risk of transmitting illness and often with a history of poor air quality. Western cultures on the other hand, avoid wearing face-masks for lack of compelling reason and credibility, or because of the social barriers and negative connotations attached. It is this behavioural insight that sparked a genuine curiosity for The Strategy Group to explore the cultural barriers to mask-wearing in Australia. The opportunity to develop a customer strategy for face-mask products to enter the Australian market as an aid to health and wellbeing, rather than posing as a threat to our social norms and cultural identity.

An opportunity for customer strategy and go-to-market growth

The Strategy Group partnered with a leading mask manufacturer in January of 2020. The opportunity was to cultivate a clear customer strategy for the client to enter western markets by promoting and providing face-mask products to western consumers. The objective was to understand how to engage Australian consumers with mask products, enhance customer acquisition for global expansion, and open up new initiatives and revenue streams. The challenge was in understanding the cultural barriers and connotations attached to face-masks in Australia, and identifying the opportunities to shape consumer behavior and attitudes, so that the client could enter the market knowing what products to enter with, which customer segments to target, what channels to distribute their products through, and how to engage customers with their unique value propositions.

A deeper adaptive approach to understanding customers

The Strategy Group provided a clear go-to-market strategy by first deepening our understanding of consumers in the context of a rapidly changing Australian market. Utilising the design thinking framework, we conducted research through a triangulation of qualitative and quantitative methods from in-depth interviews and ethnographic observations to journal entries and market diagnostics. Analysing these various forms of data helped us better visualise the journey a mask-user experiences from the moment of consideration to purchase intent, ultimately identifying a distinctive range of personas with diverse behaviours, needs, motivations and barriers toward face-masks. Overall, we engaged with over a thousand participants located in different parts of Australia.

Empathising with customers in a rapidly changing social climate

Initial research findings showed instances that compelled users to purchase a face mask and gave insight into users previous experiences with face-masks. The consensus of the research at the time showed that Australia was just not a mask-wearing country. Face-masks had only increased in their adoption slowly after the bushfire crisis started but were still rarely used. They were only perceived as necessary if there was a compelling reason to wear one, or if it was deemed ‘necessary’ by a credible source, such as the government or a medical professional. Generally, face masks were used by Australians with pre-existing respiratory conditions or in occupational settings that dealt with dangerous toxins, chemicals, smoke, or infectious droplets. To wear a mask outside of these task-oriented contexts had adverse effects on public perceptions and cultural identity. The reality of face-masks as a norm in Australian culture was far from the culturally embedded compliance of mask-wearing behaviour seen in eastern cultures.

The role of context in customer experience

At the time of the research conducted, the accelerated emergence of COVID-19 swayed initial customer insights and cultural barriers for wearing masks. An increase in mask use influenced an expected surge of competition in the market alongside the growing pandemic. Our quantitative diagnostic illustrated that younger generations were more open to adopting face-masks and price was an imperative factor for purchase intent. Accessibility to masks increased rapidly, giving little time for consumers to digest the value between predominantly basic product options. This left most first-time mask users dissatisfied with having to wear a mask outside of the pandemic context, damaging the opportunity for adoption beyond the necessities of the COVID climate.

An agile, iterative, and adaptive approach to crafting a customer strategy

Defining an effective customer strategy meant validating the product offerings, costing channels and value propositions. The Strategy Group executed a number of agile experiments to test and validate product, channel, and costing preferences so that the client could not only compete, but stand out in the growing Australian market. We engaged research participants using an online research platform to validate preferences, cost, packaging, and product concepts with current mask-wearers. The results informed the client of consumer desirability for mask-products and validated the feasibility and viability of entering the Australian market.

Validating the unique value proposition

The test results informed customer purchase intentions and desirability of the client’s products, whilst validating the feasibility and viability of entering the Australian market. The differences in eastern and western consumer behaviour were clear from the research. Products that were highly desirable in the Japanese market were not nearly as desirable in the Australian market. The opportunities in entering Australian markets were fairly dependent on the circumstances and policies in place. Mandated policies for wearing masks is still not cemented across Australia at the time of writing, but other western markets like the US have taken action, increasing equally valid opportunities for market entry.

Crafting a clear customer strategy and opportunity for growth in the face of unprecedented change

The unique challenge faced across each phase was in how the insights were incrementally shaped by the accelerated shifts in consumer behaviours as media coverage, government recommendations and relevance of the bushfire crisis decreased as the threat level of COVID-19 inflated in the public eye. Through the barriers of a shifting social climate, The Strategy group was able to provide two horizons for our client’s go-to-market customer strategy. The strategy cemented the first steps for our client’s global expansion into western markets with a clear emphasis on customer-centricity, design and behavioural insights. Any organisation wanting to accelerate growth in a post-COVID market can learn from this engagement in that growth opportunities can be successful even under the stress of changing market trends and economic transitions. A strong focus on customer-strategy will always produce tangible business outcomes and the momentum to open up new market, growth and revenue opportunities.

Author: Liam Hoffman, The Strategy Group

Photo by Leohoho on Unsplash

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