7 marketing tips to help you retain customers beyond Covid-19 

Has your food enterprise seen overwhelming growth since lockdown began? 

The upside, in what has been a devastating experience for many, is that the Covid-19 pandemic has boosted the profile of small-scale and local food distribution. This means more people are choosing to support local and fair alternatives for their food – which is great!

We have seen your sales explode through your OFN shopfronts – in many cases tripling or more. One outcome of this increase in demand is that many food enterprises scaled their operations. Given this, a return to pre-Covid sales could be risky for many – especially if you have rented new premises or hired a new team member.

If you are seeing a dip in sales, it could be that your customers are simply moving from a panic-buying mindset to a more ‘normal’ buying pattern. Or, it could be a return to previous buying-behaviours as delivery slots begin to open up with the supermarkets.

By providing food throughout lockdown, It is likely you generated a deeper level of trust, appreciation and connection with your existing customers. Furthermore, the latest research indicates buying-habits formed now will remain post-pandemic. All of which presents an opportunity for you to create stronger relationships and promote customer loyalty to your food hub in the long run.

Strengthening your relationship with your customer, or ‘relationship marketing’ is at the core of any retention strategy. With this in mind, here are seven ways to help you keep your new customers and maintain loyal existing ones.


1. Take a human-centered marketing approach

It’s useful to consider what your customers’ needs and issues are at the moment. For example, during lockdown many people are afraid of not getting enough food. You may have disappointed some current or potential customers who have not been able to order from you. They may have a stronger emotional response to missing out on your order cycles than usual.

Ultimately, this is why it is so important to have clear communication around what to expect for order cycles, stock risks, etc. Try to set customer expectations which you can deliver and keep your customers informed.

For example, you may have had to cap orders due to packing capacity and or have implemented a priority ordering system for those who are quarantining or in a vulnerable group. So, when your order cycle closes, you could send an email to your mailing list explaining why some of your customers couldn’t order from you.

Moreover, if you sell out fast, some customers may think you are closed all the time and might not come back. An email or note on your closed order cycle page is an opportunity to keep your customers looped into what’s going on. Also, this is an opportunity to reassure your customers you are working hard to get food to as many people as possible.


Going the extra mile for your customers builds long-term loyalty. Mull over how you could recognise them in unexpected ways – like a thank you email or handwritten note. In addition, you could identify customers who haven’t purchased anything in a while and reconnect with them – check they are okay.

Make their experience personal to strengthen the bond with your hub.

Try to understand the way new customers first experience your hub and consider new ways to improve your on-boarding process. After purchase, your customers will trust you more if they have a better impression of you in the first few interactions. For example, it may be the first time they have bought a veg box. In which case, you could offer helpful advice, share recipes or explain ‘how-to’ prepare tricky vegetables (here’s looking at you celeriac). Which takes us to our next tip…


2. Offer valuable content as consistently as as you can

Regular communication is key and consistency is much more important than perfection when it comes to content creation. This is because consistency generates trust – which builds loyalty and keeps your customers connected to your business in the long run. Be real – customers are increasingly looking for transparency and authenticity from the businesses they buy from. To avoid blocks, approach your content creation with the mindset:


“done is better than perfect”

With this in mind, get into the habit of taking 15 minutes a couple of times a week to write down some simple content ideas for social media. If you have a team, next time you have a catch up, spend 10 minutes brainstorming ideas together with someone taking notes. Commit to taking a couple of photos or a short video every day if you can – it will get easier the more you do it.

To instantly improve your content, consider if it is one or more of these three things:

    1. Does it provoke Emotion?
      Does it reach the reader/viewer on a personal or deeper level? Does it make them feel something? Write content which helps your customers form a personal or emotional connection with your business. Tell your Covid-19 story, for example, and you can improve customer understanding of the achievements and challenges you have faced throughout this crisis. New Dawn Traders do storytelling really well.
    2. Is it Educational?
      Does it provide useful information or give a unique perspective? Identify what topics interest your customers and give them relevant, interesting and useful information. At the very least you know they like food, so you could simply share some recipes. If they are also engaged with the wider issues around sustainable food systems, you could do an interview or “a day in the life of” type story around your enterprise. Also, don’t underestimate how interesting a simple behind-the-scenes photo or video can be. Cotswold Mushrooms, for example, do lots of simple educational posts and videos – and are quickly growing their audience as a result.
    3. Is it Entertaining?
      Is it readable? Fun? Imaginative? Does it make people laugh? Don’t be afraid to use humour. Of course, this is all totally subjective, but you will get to know what works for your customers. For example, Sims Hill Shared Harvest get great engagement to follower ratio with their humorous posts.


3. Generate trust 

Do this through communicating shared values and key messages which remind customers why they can trust you. Consider why your customers buy from you and  why they care about what you do. When you understand your customers’ “why”, think about what you want them to know about you.

Then, write down the key benefits of buying from you and include anything which makes your offering unique. With all of this in mind, write down some key messages you can use across your social media, emails and more.

For example; “our veg’ boxes are packed full of freshly picked and delicious veg for you and your family”, “With us you get exceptional quality food with convenient delivery to your door” or simply “no quibble refunds, good old fashioned customer service, always there to help”.

Storytelling is a valuable tool which helps you to show, rather than tell, customers why they can trust you. Increasingly, customers are more committed to businesses who actively support or contribute towards shared causes. Explain, through positive stories and case studies, why what you are doing is important or making a difference. This will help your customers feel part of something bigger and inspire them to get engaged and take action – as well as buying from you.


4. Word of mouth recommendations

Engaging your customers and building great relationships is a worthy time investment.  This is because, when your customers are happy and engaged with what you are doing, they will naturally become advocates and want to share their enthusiasm with others too.

According to Nielsen, 92% of people trust recommendations from friends and family more than any other type of advertising. This is a great reason to encourage word of mouth in your communities. Team members and volunteers are a great place to start with this.

Next, consider who your best customers are. If you have a strong relationship, don’t be afraid to ask them to spread the word for you. In addition, testimonials and reviews are a great way to take the word of mouth benefit online. Positive social proof generates trust, so ask for a written review or testimonial to share on your website or social media.


5. Get to know your customers with surveys

If you don’t know what your customers want or how they feel about your offering, how can you expect to keep them happy? Ask for feedback so they know you care about their experience with you. Try to uncover what they need and want. Ideally, you want to understand what makes your most loyal customers stick with you. Find out what they love – and do more of it.

For your new customers, it would be useful to understand their motivation for beginning to shop with you. What were the barriers before Covid-19? If you are losing customers, who is leaving and why? Are there any pain points with your service or produce? What can you improve?

Here are five simple ways you can get feedback from your customers:

  • Face to face
  • Use a survey builder and share on social media and to your email list
  • Do a quick poll on Facebook or Instagram stories
  • Put a feedback form on your website
  • Ask for an opinion via email


6. Email marketing

Email is a powerful customer retention tool. Don’t just send newsletters or reminders to order – use email to connect with your customers as well. This is a big topic, so we will stick to some simple suggestions here.

The first step is to begin segmenting your audience – for example, who are your new customers, who are your best customers, who are lapsed customers. Then, you can target customers with personalised emails designed to support customer retention.

Here are three ideas to get started:

  • You could start with onboarding new customers with a welcome email for a personal touch.
  • Offer extra-special thank you emails for extra-loyal customers.
  • Encourage your lapsed customers to come back. Perhaps a nudge, reminder, or a soft “let’s reconnect” or “we miss you”.


7. Loyalty programs and offers – use with caution!


“Consumers are moving away from transactional-based reward schemes to a much more experiential type of loyalty where they want to engage with a brand and form a relationship… Rewards alone are never going to make you the brand of choice.” – Rachel Barton, managing director, advanced customer strategy at Accenture Strategy.

To put it another way, customers want an honest, deeper relationship with you more than they want financial incentives to shop with you. Recent research supports this, showing that loyalty programs aren’t creating loyal customers.

In the words of Riverford’s Guy Singh-Watson:

“…recently we dipped our toes into the cesspool of discount marketing, being persuaded that this was the only way to compete. Two years ago I could bear it no longer. I declared I would rather go bust than follow this path.”

Ultimately, it is much better to share your stories, show how amazing your response has been to the crisis, and help your customers belong to this movement which contributes to their local communities. Generating true loyalty, through building trust and connection, is the simply the best strategy for keeping your customers coming back.


And finally…

If you would like to go deeper (or lighter!) on any of these tips, join Kay (OFN UK marketing support) for a Q&A on this topic – time and date TBA.

To register your interest for upcoming marketing support from the Open Food Network UK please enter your name and email below.

Kayleigh Reed