No organization has escaped the pandemic’s impact, but for many companies, the experience has allowed them to learn more about their own customers. In many ways, it’s been an instant exercise in building empathy for them.

For Eventbrite, the global ticketing and event technology platform, the growing recognition of customer needs occurred as the company focused on helping event creators and attendees adapt to rapid change. I recently spoke with Eventbrite’s chief marketing officer, Tamara Mendelsohn, about how deepening customer connections has reshaped her team’s marketing efforts throughout the pandemic and what opportunities might lie ahead when it comes to changing customer attitudes and behavior.

The following is an edited and condensed version of our conversation.

MIT Sloan Management Review: The pandemic meant that many companies and industries went virtual overnight. How did your team pivot when it came to your customers who use the Eventbrite platform to bring people together for live events?

Tamara Mendelsohn: The fact that we were experiencing something so similar to what our customers were going through was a very important bond between us and our customers, because it gave us a North Star — something to focus on in a moment that was very chaotic.

In a time when no one knew what was going to happen next or how long lockdowns were going to last, it was clarifying to have our customers at the forefront of our decision-making. We knew if we could help our customers succeed, we could succeed. So, for us, the measure of success became how well we could help our customers redefine what gathering meant in this new normal. To do this, we aligned with the goal of helping our customers navigate uncertainty, we lobbied for our creator customers, we worked with Congress to secure relief for them, and we quickly shifted our product road map to make sure that we could support the move to virtual events.

We found that we actually increased our connection to our customers in these early months, as we wanted to make sure we were getting their feedback in as close to real time as possible.

In a time when no one knew what was going to happen next or how long lockdowns were going to last, it was clarifying to have our customers at the forefront of our decision-making.

I’m interested to know more about how you think about weighing different types of customer concerns and challenges that may arise in times of uncertainty. Some feedback might lend itself to a long-term or permanent change to strategy, while other feedback during the pandemic has prompted very quick — and often temporary — solutions. How does this feedback loop play a role in shaping new offerings on the marketing side?

Mendelsohn: The experience has reinforced the importance of being able to empathize with the customer. When connecting with customers on a more frequent basis, we realized that in many cases we needed to rethink the data or reporting being used, to help make decisions or even to change goals and metrics to be more customer-centric.

We’ve also put in place new processes and practices to address customer needs that will be here to stay post-pandemic. An example is our Reconvene event series, which launched in May of this year as a virtual summit for our event creators. Even with the hope that the spring of 2021 was bringing with vaccines and reopening, our creators were telling us they were feeling more isolated than ever. They were craving connection and learning. They wanted to know, what were other event creators doing? How were other people navigating uncertainty? How would people manage the shift between in person and virtual? Are they planning to keep virtual in their programs? What is the future for events?

By keeping close connections and listening to feedback, we were able to develop this into a whole marketing program to provide resources for creators in the way they wanted to be supported.

We often think about the impact of COVID-19 at a global, national, or industrywide level, but it’s also the case that the pandemic has posed incredible challenges for companies that operate across different regions, where restrictions may differ greatly. For your team, how has locality come into play when it comes to meeting customer needs and crafting marketing strategy?

Mendelsohn: We realized that reopening was not going to be a linear event. It was not going to be a strike of lightning but rather a series of waves that ebbed and flowed by locale. To respond effectively, we needed to be nimble and watch the data very closely. For example, we knew that the moment it felt safe to gather again in person, for both event creators and consumers, there would be pent-up demand, and we would want to be able to serve those customers. Thus, we needed to focus on designing our product for speed and flexibility, so that when a community had reached a level of safety for in-person gathering, a creator in that community was empowered to get up and running with their business.

We focused on speed, flexibility, and driving audience, because many creators had not been able to reach or connect with customers and needed help reviving and rebuilding their audience and their communities. On the local side, we were watching data, sometimes down to the city level, to help predict when people would start to feel safe to gather again. Here, we were looking at everything from external metrics, like COVID rates, to internal metrics, like the number of searches on the platform for in-person events.

Clearly, data and analytics have played a huge role in helping your team adapt to change, as is likely the case for most marketing teams today. Has there been anything illuminating in terms of new data approaches your team has used?

Mendelsohn: Given our need to stay nimble and help customers quickly, this experience has taught us to focus in on the data points that are the most actionable. Our company likely has the largest data set on global events in the world. When you’re working with this much data, it becomes critical to determine which metrics really matter most to meet your goals.

As an example, we realized that we needed to monitor search behavior on the site to understand where people were searching for virtual events versus in-person events. When they reached a certain threshold for either type of search, we could then switch the default of the homepage to surface more of the type of event they preferred.

It’s also important to remember that what’s most critical or actionable now might not always be. The data points that are the most meaningful to our business are constantly evolving as our business evolves. This reinforces the need for teams to be consistently evaluating the data and assessing which metrics are the most meaningful.

As many companies are returning to some form of in-person work, we’re learning more about what employees and companies want out of different types of connection. Given everything your team is learning about Eventbrite customers in the pandemic, what do you see as the best opportunities of in person versus virtual?

Mendelsohn: What we’re seeing is that virtual events are here to stay. More than half of the consumers that we surveyed said that they’re going to continue going to virtual events, even once the pandemic is over.

We’ve learned that virtual events have a very important role to play both in our lives as consumers and also in the businesses of these event organizers. Virtual events create an opportunity for a hybrid business model and give companies and creators the opportunity to expand their audience or increase their event size in ways they might not ever have been able to do in person.

This provides an exciting new opportunity for businesses to lean into. A fun example of one Eventbrite creator is Daybreaker. They host morning dance parties — and they have done so for years, pre-COVID — but since the beginning of the pandemic, they have doubled the number of livestreaming attendees and reached more than 80 countries.

Just as there are new opportunities for virtual and hybrid models, there is also a new appreciation for in-person connection. The desire to gather together has never been stronger.