In the last 18 months, COVID-19 has overwhelmed our lives and livelihoods. The immediate changes to customer needs emphasised the importance of care and connection, with an unprecedented migration to digital bringing brands and consumers closer than they’ve ever been. Certain brands went above and beyond business as usual, boldly tapping into emotions and embracing technology – we’ve seen this approach allow some brands to survive, and even thrive, despite new waves and variants. In other words, it’s exactly one global pandemic later: your screen time is off the charts, you haven’t seen your mother in a year but you’re on first name terms with the Amazon guy.
Last month, a report was published on consumers and COVID-19 which examines the strategies organisations can use to engage audiences in a world that’s seen traditional consumer behaviour turned on its head. The research revealed that the majority of consumers (more than 53%) would prefer retailers to showcase a strong sense of purpose and give back to society in some way. Coronavirus has changed what we expect from brands and consumers want to feel connected to a cause, part of something greater than themselves. As humans, we tend to pride ourselves on being reasonable, rational and deliberate. But about 95% of our decisions are made unconsciously which means that most of the time, we react rather than respond.
Build connection to create a community
Call it art, call it science, consumer interactions evoke emotion and emotional branding works. And in tough times our reactions are amplified, so it works even better. When brands attend to these unconscious emotional experiences, it creates a more engaging customer experience. And a more engaging customer experience leads to a stronger bottom line for brands like Rapha.
Rapha didn’t want to be another clothing company. Founded in 2004, the UK-based premium cycling brand has cultivated a global community. The members-only cycling club offers coffee, discounted bike hire, exclusive kit, access to events at their clubhouses around the world, and a social network for cyclists. The focus has always been on building a community of customers around the brand. Build a strong enough connection and those customers become advocates that share that vision beyond the inner circle.
Maintaining focus on community and connection has put Rapha in prime position post-COVID. As Rapha CEO, Simon Mottram puts it,
Rapha Clubhouses exist to help our customers to find the products they want, but more importantly to help them get closer to the cycling community and closer to the sport itself.
The number of London cyclists have increased by nearly 120% since March 2020, and Rapha is capitalising on this influx of potential members and celebrating the culture of cycling by relaunching its flagship destination.
Nurture emotional connections
Much more than a store, the ‘Clubhouses’ are places for those who have been isolated from their community to reconnect and meet for cooking workshops, after-work drinks, or even a barbecue. Even when it comes to brick and mortar it’s not about peddling jerseys; it’s about nurturing an emotional connection that separates Rapha from the rest.
Living through major historic events gets old fast. And fathoming out what new, next, or next-er normal might be is exhausting. Making an emotional connection with consumers used to be a happy coincidence, but now we’ve spent a year living our lives online, it’s a necessity. That’s why brands like Rapha are so powerful – without an emotional connection, you risk being just another tile we scroll past on our way to something more interesting.