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Innovators Q&A: How Blink Fitness Embraced Digital Transformation During the Pandemic

Can you think of a global event that shook the fitness industry as much as COVID-19 did? With no option to continue business as usual, fitness gyms across the world were forced to contend with digital transformations– and fast – by developing apps, delivering content, and finding new, creative ways to provide value to members that were indefinitely stuck at home. And while some succeeded, for many, the weight of the pandemic was too great, and they were forced to shut their doors.

 

In fact, the IHRSA estimates that the US gym and health club industry lost $20.4 billion in 2020. By May 2020, about 500,000 people in the gym industry had been laid off; and by July 2020, 60% of Americans reportedly planned to cancel gym memberships.

 

On the flip side, brands who invested in and focused on delivering digital-first experiences saw a boom of success. With 74% of Americans reportedly using at least one fitness app during the pandemic, home fitness app downloads saw a 46% increase between quarter one and quarter two of 2020, while companies like Peloton, Beachbody, and Tonal (as well as businesses that produce at-home fitness equipment) reported massive revenue growth.

 

Alas, it was fitness gyms that had formerly relied on in-person experiences and only dabbled or recently entered the digital space that were given an ultimatum: Hurry up and create new experiences that put members’ needs at the core or throw in the towel. One gym that experienced this first-hand is Blink Fitness. With 100+ franchised gyms in 10 different states, Blink Fitness strives to change the narrative – and emotional landscape – often associated with gyms.

“Blink is a motivating space with a staff of mood-lifters. We take pride in challenging fitness industry norms and celebrating every unique body,” their website reads. “It’s what’s on the inside that counts… Blink offers a sparkling clean, spacious design with bright colors, scientifically proven to enhance your workout and elevate your mood.”

 

Sounds cool, right? Well, definitely. Except when you can’t actually access the space.

 

So, as the global pandemic reared its ugly head, Michelle Horowitz – Blink Fitness’s Senior Vice President and Head of Marketing and Communications – was tasked with ensuring that the uplifting, body-positive brand could transcend and traverse new digital demands.

 

To learn how Blink Fitness tackled the challenge, our own Partner Robert Wallace sat down with Michelle for our Innovators Q&A Series to discuss the evolving consumer journey, member-first mentality, data-backed strategy, and the future of the fitness industry.

Q&A with Blink Fitness’s Senior Vice President & Head of Marketing & Communications Michelle Horowitz

Robert Wallace: Hello everyone. My name is Robert Wallace. I’m a partner at we’re a customer experience design company, and I am pleased to an honor to be the host of our fourth installment of the new interview series that we’re putting on called the innovators. I’m really happy to have a conversation today with Michelle Horowitz, which she was named one of Brand Innovators Top 100 Women in Brand Marketing, and she’s a visionary in e-commerce marketing and leader experience in a variety of industries – B2C and B2B. She’s built high performing teams that and [has been] really customer obsessed throughout her whole career in marketing communications. And now she is the Senior Vice President and Head of Marketing and Communication at Blink Fitness, which is a premium and affordable fitness brand that challenges conventional fitness stereotypes. [Michelle is] responsible for leading the brand and digital evolution of the company through innovation and movement.

 

[Michelle], obviously that is a timely industry that you’re in and we’ve all gone through a tough year, and an interesting year. So, first of all, welcome, and thank you so much for taking the time. I just went through [your] standard bio, but I’d love to hear in your words a little bit more about your professional journey. You’ve been through sales and marketing… I’d love to just hear really briefly about your career and your journey and how you landed where you are.

 

Michelle Horowitz: Yeah, for sure. Thanks. Thank you, Robert. I’m super excited to be here and it’s an honor to have this conversation with you. So, thank you for having me. I took a circuitous route to be where I am today and where I am today is completely passionate about the health and wellness industry and obviously the impact that fitness can make. It’s never been more apparent than right now about how important it is for us to stay well. And certainly, you know, it’s not just the physical impact of what we’ve been going through [but] also the mental impact. So, to be with a brand that [lives that] ethos is super exciting.

 

Previous to this, I spent some time in fashion and then retail-specialty area, particularly in lifestyle. So, I’m super proud of the work that I’ve done during that time. And it really was all about customer centricity as we built and developed the Loft brand and expanded beyond the US borders into Mexico and Canada. And then I was part of the team that created the Lou & Grey brand, which was really the first foray from a specialty retail perspective that moved into lifestyle. So, it was a big, bold step that the brand took prior to being acquired, and was part of the growth from a D2C brand into 12 stores. So, that’s been the majority of my CMO experience – in the fashion space – but always with an eye to customer centricity and the impact that a brand can have on its consumer base.

Similar to how people feel about the e-commerce experience, they want [fitness] to be there when they want it to be there.

RW: How would you say you’ve segued that customer and member-first mentality, so to speak, in your new role at Blink?

 

MH: Yeah, it’s interesting. I recently took responsibility of the customer service center, as well. So, I think it really speaks to a marketer’s responsibility of the customer journey and thinking about it from the moment of acquisition through to retention and then, obviously, loyalty. So, to put the consumer at the center of it all, from identifying the issues that come through customer service and then being able to be really thoughtful about how we treat our customers and how we have that sort of member-first mentality. But I would say that, stepping back – as we hopefully are through that gateway of the end of the pandemic – that we really pivoted quite quickly at the beginning of the experience, which is more than a year ago, where we had to close down the business and had to really think about how important it was for not only our employees, but also our consumer base to keep them actively engaged and to put their health and wellness first.

 

So, we were very fortunate that we actually have an app – a fantastic app – that was created in 2019, that has three functional areas. One is obviously about the capability to have access to classes, where we partner with a lot of brands, but also create our own content. And then we have nutrition and rejuvenation. So, to be able to sort of engage fully behind that and share it with the community and really open it up – because at the time, it was one membership that had access – we opened it up to everybody. And then, as an engagement vehicle, we actually worked very closely with our personal trainers to create our own content. We began to host live stream content every day that really allowed people to [make] their health and wellness [a priority] as we transitioned to working at home.

 

That was another example of how we did it. And now, as we come out of this pandemic, or we’re traveling through hopefully the tail end of it… As we reopened the gyms, we actually, again, used [and are using] the app as a vehicle to help people feel more comfortable coming back to the gym. And, obviously, health and wellness was the priority for our employees, our communities, and the members that we serve by following all of the CDC guidelines, as well as local guidelines. But, in addition to that, we wanted to use the as a vehicle to help make it easier for everybody. We had that frictionless entrance where they didn’t have to touch or engage with anything. They could use their app. But, in advance of even doing that, they could still reserve their space in the gym, [and] look at capacity.

 

And if they’re not ready to come back to the gym, which some people are not yet ready… They can actually currently take personal training classes through the app. So, we’re constantly trying to think about the consumer experience. And, I think, a natural evolution of this is: “How are we going to continue to marry the digital world with the in-gym experience?” Which I think, until we find stasis, is definitely an “and,” I would imagine that people sort of live in both of those worlds.

RW: It’s interesting because it sounds to me that it boils down to – or what has happened – is it’s almost what does Blink Fitness really stand for? Meaning what businesses is it really in? And the delivery mechanism has changed. So, it has forced you to think about, “Oh, we’re about accessibility and democratization of really high-end health and wellness and fitness. And that used to be delivered through the gym, and now, when the phone goes away – at least partially goes away or has fundamentally changed – how else are we going to fulfill our brand promise while they can’t get to that particular delivery vehicle?” And it’s really interesting how you’ve thought about that and broadened your perspective. The only way you can do that is by putting [the] customer first.

 

MH: I think, even as people sort of flex and figure out what it all looks like, the nice thing about it is, if you [are] coming into the gym and [are] enjoying – whether it’s the weights or the elliptical or whatever the machines are that you choose, or even the stretch area – you might not have time, or you might be doing it in-between appointments or whatever. [But] you can always go home and continue that journey, whether it’s doing a yoga class or a meditation class or more stretching from home. So, I think, similar to how people feel about the e-commerce experience, they want it to be there when they want it to be there. And the app is definitely a vehicle that gives our members what they’re looking for.

 

RW: That’s fascinating, too. The idea of a 360-degree brand is one that that has come up. It came up in my footwear experience, and you probably saw too, where– and I’m dating myself here – but there was a time when you started selling online or selling catalogue or whatever channel is new, there was this fear that you would be cannibalizing your existing channel. And that never happened because it really just made it a 360-degree brand. I can buy whatever it is I want to buy whenever and however I want. I can do it on my phone. I can do it online. I can order through the catalog, if you still want to do that, or I can go into the store. So, it’s fascinating that fitness is going through that same thing.

 

MH: Yeah. And interesting, too. I remember from my retail days, it’s like that haptic social community feeling that you get when you’re walking through a retail store or you might have the urge or that window of time that you’re able to do it at home through the digital experience. I think there [are] some similarities there, for sure.

When you look at the true customer journey, that's not a marketing thing. That's not a product thing. That's not an operations thing... It's everything. The customer – or the member, in your case – doesn't much care what departments or silos exist.

RW: There’s an emotional connection that you touch on, in some cases from actually shopping, but certainly I think a lot of gyms – you have an emotional connection. How do you cultivate that? First of all, how do you think about cultivating connections with your members, but [also], how have you thought about how that has changed online or how you had to evolve that?

 

MH: Yeah, that’s an interesting question. It’s a very community-focused brand, right? When we come into the community, we are committed to the community and the local members. And we think a lot about local. When we first come in [to set] up the gym, we partner with a lot of nonprofits. We work very closely with local government to really engage and let them know that we’re here and we want them to come in and be part of that community. We have – what we call the people that work in the gym – we call them “Mood Lifters,” and they really set the tone and the feeling for coming into the gym.

 

We want people to come in and feel like they’re part of something… The music sets the tone and the friendliness of the Mood Lifters and the personal trainers really create that local community touch point. And often people obviously establish relationships, whether it’s with their trainers, their Mood Lifters, or their local managers. So that really, in and of itself, was really the ethos of the brand that was built. And when we went through COVID and started to create those live streams, we really began to allow the personal trainers – when they taught the daily classes – [to let] their personalities, their excitement for their brand, and for health and wellness, really shine through. And we actually included the capability for people to ask questions and engage, whether it was during the workout or after the workout, so we could really create that continuity.

 

Obviously, in the digital world, it becomes a little bit more difficult, but in the same way that we want to help people curate or navigate their fitness IQ, we see that as a lot of potential in the digital world to sort of [help] continue people on their journeys in the digital world. So, I think part of it is the content that we provide on the app by curating from the nutritional, from the rejuvenation, and then from the classes. And the partners that we’ve chosen, whether it’s Daily Burn or SworkIt or Aaptiv, it’s been very thought through. Of course, there’s tons of opportunity to continue to personalize that experience and really think of that journey. But we look at one as being an extension of the other.

 

RW: Yeah, fascinating. When I think about personalization, I invariably get to the data issue or the data situation. How are you thinking about data? The collection of data? We may soon be in a cookieless world… How does Blink think about this? How do you think about it?… Tell us a little bit more about the personalized experience that you touched on.

MH: Yeah, I think that’s a great question. And, you know, obviously from a brand perspective, it’s a member-first mentality, right? So, you know, and it’s a value exchange, by understanding more particularly, [it] becomes a lot easier obviously in the digital world – through the app – to understand what content appeals to people, where their interests lie, and we can begin to really curate that.

 

So, for us, it’s all about making the experience [and] constantly evolving the experience to make it better: Being really thoughtful in the data-sense from a marketing perspective – obviously, in addition to focusing on the member experience – we have to be very attuned to the applicable laws, legislations, and I think an ever-changing landscape.

 

Also read: How Johnson & Johnson Is Pairing Data With Creativity to Connect With Customers Like Never Before

 

At the beginning of the week, I was listening to Kara Swisher’s podcast “Sway” from the New York Times and she was interviewing Tim Cook. Tim believes that privacy is at the forefront of what things are going to be about. And certainly, from Apple’s perspective, you know, they’re introducing the ATT – the ability for people to choose their privacy settings. So, I think it’s still an interesting time. There are many different things happening at many different levels, from the policy perspective – around section 230 – and, you know, there are some… Amy Klobuchar is very involved with making refinements [to] – I think she’s calling it the Safe Tech Act. You have Virginia announcing that they’re going to be doing very similar [things] to what California did with the CCPA. That they’ve now adopted their version of that. And, I think, from what I heard, there’s another eight states following suit.

 

So, a brand has a responsibility to align with and be aware of that. And then, in addition to that, you also have the platforms, right? Like, Facebook has a lot of responses to Apple and there’s a lot of activity. I look – from a marketing perspective – the importance of staying on top of it and putting member privacy at the forefront is what we are looking at. And staying in tune, too. But there’s, there’s so much going on from a marketing perspective, we work very much in line with our legal department and technology [teams] to make [sure] everything aligns. So, needless to say, I guess there’s a lot going on, Robert.

RW: The ground is shifting, too. I mean, what you just spoke about is going to be different maybe even by Monday. Every day you see that there’s new legislation, or just new technology, and how companies – all of them – are reacting to it. To me, the brands that at least make it, first and foremost, “Hey, we’re paying attention. And we’re doing our best to put you – the member – first.” That starts to build enough of a trust factor that, “Hey, we may not keep up with every single thing, but we’re trying and your first, so you – the member – are first,” I think that’s critically important for most brands to think about, because it’s not necessarily possible to keep pace with everything.

 

MH: Yeah. But I think it’s our responsibility to, as brands, to do that. But I think it also speaks to, you know, the agility and the cross-functional partnership that takes place now, certainly through this time… We’re in it together and navigating through it.

 

RW: So, for sure. When you look at the true customer journey, that’s not a marketing thing. That’s not a product thing. That’s not an operations thing. It’s all of those things – [including] service. It’s everything. The customer – or the member in your case – doesn’t much care what departments or silos exist.

 

MH: One hundred percent. I love that you say that. I mean, we work so closely together – the Head of Operations – we all work so closely together to create this member-first experience and we’re, like you said, it’s an evolution. Simon Sinek talks about “The Infinite Game“. It’s this constant [goal of] doing it better and putting the member first.

 

Also read How to Holistically Map Your Customer Experiences

 

RW: I think organizations are being forced, especially during COVID – because [the] customer became front and center, whether you thought about it or not – and it forced a lot of companies to think about, “How are our departments interacting with one another? And how are those interactions even touching the customer? How do we need to maybe be more agile?”

Our North Star really is thinking about the member first and that member experience.

MH: Yes, I love that you said that. I was just going to say, I think these keywords came out of the pandemic, right? Like, the acceleration of behavior or technology, resiliency, agility. And, obviously, from a leadership perspective, empathy is at the, at the cornerstone, which I think has only made us better and stronger as individuals and teams. So, I agree with you. I think those are some of the keywords that are definitely coming out of this moment in time.

 

RW: Ultimately, that’s a good thing. So, there’s some silver linings. I think it’s all good. So, we’re almost at time, but if you cast your vision forward a little bit, what do you see in terms of the fitness industry, or technology, or any trends, or any combination of the three? What do you see out there in the market? Where do you see things going?

 

MH: Yeah, I think – just touching back on what we started talking about – I really do believe it’s this constant continuation of the member experience. And what does it mean to offer that member experience? From a technology point of view, from a people point of view. Bringing that all together and continuing to deliver that. And, I think, it’s about understanding this moment of stasis: When, you know, the technology and the digital world and the four walls live together. What does that look like? So, I feel like we’re on a journey that was accelerated by COVID, for sure. I don’t think we’re the only industry. Obviously, there’s many that we can point to that have been [impacted by] this acceleration. But, again, a lot of the behaviors that you’re talking about, and that we’ve touched on – the agility, the resiliency, the cross-functional partnership – will be key in this experience. But I think our North Star really is thinking about the member first and that member experience.

 

Also read: Trends Driving CX Design In the Hospitality Industry: Q&A with Marriott International’s Christine Kettmer

 

RW: Yeah. Awesome. Well, I I’ve been fortunate enough to have a few conversations with you. Each one is awesome, and each one, the time sneaks up on us. We could keep on going for a while. But I do want to thank you, again, for taking the time. This has been wonderful. I know our audience is going to appreciate it and learn a lot from it. Is there a URL for Blink Fitness that [people] should check out?

MH: [Yeah], it’s just BlinkFitness.com. Right now, we actually are allowing people to download the app for 60 days trials, no matter where they live. So, I welcome anybody that would be interested. Just go to our website and download the app, or to the app store and download it that way.

 

RH: Excellent. Everyone go do that, go download [the app].

 

MH: Stay healthy, stay well, right?

 

RH: Yeah. Everyone: Stay fit and stay well. That’s exactly right. This will help you do that. So, I’ll do that when I hang up here. But thanks again. It’s really been a lot of fun.

 

MH: I look forward to continuing the conversation. Thank you so much.

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Trends Driving CX Design in the Hospitality Industry: Q&A with Marriott International’s Christine Kettmer

Prefer a high-level recap of the conversation? Read it here.

Q&A with Marriott International’s Christine Kettmer

Jesus Ramirez: With me today is Christine Kettmer, Senior Director of Global Enterprise Insight and Strategy at Marriott International. We’re going to be talking about the future of travel, but before we get to started, I did want to share some sad news. Many of you may have seen that Marriott’s president and CEO Arne Sorenson passed away. I wanted to acknowledge this unfortunate news and also send a heartfelt condolence to his family, his friends, and everyone at Marriott. Christine, is there anything you would like to add?

 

Christine Kettmer: Thank you so much, Jesus. Thank you for those sentiments and to everybody who’s reached out so far. It definitely is a very hard day, and a tremendous loss for the hospitality community and the Marriott extended family. Arne was just an amazing person. He was incredibly approachable, humble and brilliant and just such a visionary. He transformed our company. He was the first non-Marriott family member to serve as CEO and only the third CEO in the company’s history. We’ve been around for 94 years. Mr. Marriott said it really well: [Arne] was an exceptional executive, but [even more], an exceptional human being. So, [it is a] huge loss. Thank you for those sentiments. We’ll definitely be continuing to pray and think about him and his family. Our thoughts and prayers go out to the entire community.

 

JR: Thank you, Christine. Perhaps a good way to start our conversation is for you to tell us a little bit about yourself and your professional journey.

 

CK: Sure, I’m happy to do that. Thank you for the opportunity to be here. As you said, I’m the Senior Director for Global Enterprise Insights and Strategy, which is a function at Marriott International. I’ve been at the company for about seven years now in different roles… I’ve always been interested in marketing and communications and consumer insights and behavior, so started off working at a nonprofit at the NGO in Geneva, Switzerland. right out of college. I moved there and did [marketing and communications] work for a human rights organization. Then I pivoted to working on different campaigns for health and education and safety accounts here in Washington, DC… I used to tell people all the time that I worked on social marketing. I [could] teach people to brush their teeth, but I [didn’t] know how to sell toothpaste.

 

I really wanted to get back into the product side and the innovation [of business], that allowed me to pivot and go back full-time to business school. After business school, I [took] the traditional CBT route. I worked at Johnson & Johnson for three years on [their] baby brands [and] a couple of the beauty brands, and really learned how to run a PNL [and] be responsible for new product development. But I always just loved the “Why?” – [why] people purchased different brands or were attracted to different products. So, that’s really what led me into the consumer behavior space. As I said, I’ve been at Marriott for about seven years now in a couple of different roles. I went back to brand management for a little while and worked on the GW global brand team, and the JW Marriott global brand team for a couple of years, but I’ve been in different roles related to insights, strategy, customer experience, [always focused on] helping to represent [the] voice of the customer? What is it that’s important to [them and] where [can] we take their travel experiences… in the future?

 

JR: That’s awesome, thank you for sharing that. It’s a great journey. Maybe you could tell us a little bit about your teams, responsibility and what you do at Marriott [now]?

 

CK: Sure. Ours is a relatively new team, but it’s a great group that basically thinks about where we [are] heading as a company. What are we seeing in the trends and [what are the associated] implications for our business? How do we create strategic opportunities for our leaders and for our brands for the different business lines that we’re involved in? [We focus on] leaning into the perspective of what’s happening in the marketplace, what we’re seeing in the data, and what our guests are telling us, and [try to represent] that point of view. So, we’re thinking a lot about all the things and information that are happening right now, as a result of our business, but also, [identifying] where opportunities [are]. Where are those bright spots are? Where are the things that we can lean into and where can we go in the future, so that we’re meeting the guests where they are, but we’re also [driving] loyalty and commitment to our brands [for] the long-term?

 

JR: The travel and hospitality industry [was] hit fairly hard [this past year] but there have been some bright spots. You and I have spoken [previously about] some really interesting [themes]… What have been the bright spots for you and your organization during this time?

 

CK: People are definitely looking forward to booking their next trip. And if anything, they’re going to be more appreciative and [more] cognizant of what that will mean when they’re first on that airplane ride, or they’re checking into that hotel, or even if they’re getting a rental service [or] mode of transportation. So, I think one of the bright spots is – even though [it took] a little longer than obviously anybody would have hoped or anticipated – there is that excitement [and] enthusiasm, that when people want to plan a trip, they’re willing to do so. They’re looking for that next vacation, or even [feeling] excited about conferences or in-person networking opportunities to reconnect with colleagues.

"I am optimistic that travel will come back, and I think it's going to come back with a vengeance. I use the term 'revenge travel'. People are willing and excited, but they're also ready. And so again, if it's taken a little bit longer than the anticipated, I think people will be certainly more appreciative of it."

So, the enthusiasm, that’s something that really strikes me as a blind spot. I would also say, in general, there are lots of opportunities for our guests, when they have a good day, they’re more inclined to tell other people about it. So, we’re seeing some bright spots in social media and in our Guest Voice, which is our platform. We look at all of the survey responses that come in, once they’ve had a really good experience… [We’ve found that they’re] more inclined to book something, and either stay longer or post about it [and] share with others. It really is about restoring that confidence. Making sure that we’re doing all the things we’ve always done – the standards are incredibly high – but reinforcing cleanliness and safety protocols, and really making sure that we’re still enabling that high-touch high-tech service combination. So, leaning into our associates: Making sure that they’re feeling trained to demonstrate the [right] protocols, but also like deliver or welcome [guests] with a smile, even if [when] wearing a mask. [We’re] really trying to make sure that the experience is still there and that we’re ready to welcome our guests, whenever that time is right for them.

 

JR: One of the things that I found really interesting in our last conversation was that Marriott was one of the first to mandate mask requirements. To me, this is an indicator of leading through values, and really placing an importance on not just guest safety – obviously that’s important as we go forward – but also your associate and employee’s safety.

 

CK: Completely. Yes. The founding principle of the company is all about putting people first. So, we always have said that if you take care of your associates, they’ll take care of the guests, and the guests will come back. That’s been the underlying business model since the beginning. So, it [seemed] really groundbreaking last summer, [but] we look back on it now, and it’s almost a no brainer. Of course, [employees] would wear [masks]…. But at the time, when it was announced in July, it was really forward-thinking for the industry. And it was in the spirit of “We’re all in this together, but we’re trying to protect each other and do [whatever we can to] allow our guests to feel more comfortable, but also reinforce the fact that we [prioritize] health and safety so much…” We really want to make sure our guests feel comfortable. However, that might look, we’re doing everything on our part to make it happen.

 

JR: That’s fantastic. There are signals that indicate there’s pent-up travel demand. There’s an uptick in consumer confidence as it relates to travel. So, how are you anticipating and preparing for this eventual resurgence of travel?

 

CK: As I mentioned, our brand standards and our maintenance and safety protocols are certainly paramount. We want to make sure that we have those physical cues, that they’re being demonstrated on a regular basis, and that our guests are prepared. They know expectations going in – from the time that they’re planning and booking a trip, to the pre-arrival communications, [and] the on-property experience. And then, hopefully [providing] something that really feels positive and resonates with them, so that when they’re wanting to rebook, or that they’re sharing with others, they have a good story to tell. [We hope that sentiment will make them more] inclined to come back again in the future. I think, also, just in general, it’s about like flawless execution of the basics, right? Meeting our guests where they are.

 

So, you know, making accommodations [and doing] all the things that we had in place before, but now [elevating them]. So, [for example, updating] our technology with keyless entry, or [allowing guests to] get keys downloaded [through] the app; [messaging] through the app for housekeeping requests [or ordering] in-room dining or room service. Just making sure that we’re still providing that high-tech high-touch service model, and that our guests [feel like] our associates… care: They want to make sure that they’re comfortable with their stay, and that they feel like they’re being taken care of. When guests come, [we don’t want them to] have to really think about much. It’s all sort of available for them… And hopefully, again, having a great experience.

 

Also read: What’s In Store For the Future of Travel?

"The little thoughtful gesture, and small touches accumulate. They really go a long way. I think that gets remembered, and then guests sort of expect that elevated level of service.

JR: I want to double down on something that you had mentioned, which I found really interesting. There’s this talk of contactless and, obviously, that’s important given some of the safety concerns, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s not personal and the experience and those moments of truth and those touch points are still opportunities to create personalization. I think that’s something that you guys have really focused on.

 

CK: Absolutely. Yeah. I mean, a lot of our associates are tremendous detectives. They’re really good at getting information without people operating too much. They do a great job of just making sure that the little elements and experiences and touch points, they feel really personalized. But it’s not something like, “Oh, we just happened to have extra of this…,” or “This is something I’m going to do to be nice.” It’s actually through an authentic and genuine kind of connection. And so, I think a lot of our properties… I can think of examples when I was working on the JW Marriott brand. I hear stories like it’s almost expected, if you check in, you mention [you’re there for an] anniversary or birthday – that you’re celebratin –if somebody happens to find that out ahead of time, and there’s a special amenity or gift, [like it’s recognized by the on-site] restaurant or something. It’s just a nice touch. And I think, you know, a lot of our hotels do a good way of making the guests feel uniquely recognized and special, but also, in a way that it’s not burdensome. It’s just actually a true pleasure and [an] opportunity for our associates to shine and to do something that they feel is really unique, too.

 

JR: Yeah. It’s those little moments of delight that are really human in nature, and they don’t have to be big things. They can be small little things, and they make a big difference.

 

CK: Exactly… It sounds obvious, but sometimes, if you’re waiting for a car to pull up as you’re checking out of the hotel, [providing] cold towels available, or bottles of water if it’s a hot day. When people are arriving, [giving] them like a little cloth or something, so that they can wipe the airport [off of] them, or whatever it is. [The] little thoughtful gesture and small touches accumulate. They really go a long way. I think that gets remembered, and then [guests] sort of expect that elevated level of service. But it’s really foundational at the end of the day. It’s about getting those basics, right?

 

JR: That’s fantastic. I’m going to switch gears a little bit… Travel just isn’t about travel. It’s always had a larger meaning and, you know, it’s quite possible that the meaning of travel is going to change or has changed during this time. What are your thoughts on this?

CK: Yeah, it’s interesting… People are definitely planning still for that next big trip. [Maybe it’s] something that they wanted to take five [or] 10 years from now, but [now], it’s more immediate. So, once the timing again is right, they’re taking advantage of it. But I also think that people are going to be a little bit more intentional with their travel. They’re not necessarily [going to] try to go… Like if they go to Europe and do seven countries and seven days – [travel] might be a little bit slower, a little bit more focused and deliberate. And certainly, I think a little bit more introspective. People might just be more appreciative of the opportunity to travel. And we’ve seen this shift towards, what I would call: The intentional or the slow travel, where people pace themselves, again. Maybe they take a longer route – it’s a little bit more scenic – or, of course, [they’re] blending business and leisure travel… People are taking more extended time to have some time maybe for work, but also tacking on a few extra days to spend with family members or friends… Everybody is just excited to be with their loved ones… People are comfortable, but they’re kind of experiencing virtual meeting or Zoom fatigue. So, having the opportunity, nothing replaces in-person connections. We know that, whether it’s a chance to go visit extended family members or at our hotels [at] conferences and meetings [or] events: People miss being with other people, and you can’t ask them to replace that in-person connection. So, having the opportunity to really foster those moments, I think people [will] be more appreciative of them, in general…

 

JR: Inherently, we’re social creatures.

 

CK: Yeah, exactly.

 

JR: I heard somebody say a little while ago, I can’t remember where I read it, but it was something along the lines of: “Travel used to be for escape. And now, it’s more for connection.” That’s connection to others or connection to yourself, which [aligns with your idea of] introspection and slowing down and being more intentional.

 

CK: I think, in general, people are just more appreciative… We’re just going back to our roots and a little bit more appreciative of the gifts of the world around us and what we can give back, in turn.

 

JR: That’s fantastic. So, in your role in particular, you mentioned this at the top of the session… in your role, you’re really looking at insights and trying to have a pulse on your guests and travelers, in general. So, what are some of the things that you’ve seen? What are some of the new consumer trends or needs or behaviors either that you didn’t expect and were sort of a surprise [about], or things that you’re seeing that are thematic?

 

CK: In terms of behaviors, I touched on [this] briefly earlier, about “B-leisure:” The blending of different trip purposes. Whereas before, people might’ve tacked on an extra day or two, now, because of the extended breaks that people are taking, or even temporary relocations – you’ve heard the stories of some of these different countries that are offering temporary work visas or opportunities for people to scoop up a house for a dollar in different markets and stuff – I think people are really being a little bit more deliberate with their tips and trying to blend the experiences. So, then it’s that balance. And I think in general, just focusing on their personal and mental wellbeing has been tremendous. It’s been really important. So, I, I would say leaning into some of the more wellbeing-focused travel. That’s something that we’ve seen pick up quite a bit. People are thinking, “Okay, how can I incorporate physical exercise or mindfulness experiences and our hotels?”

"Focusing on their personal and mental wellbeing has been tremendous. It's been really important. So, I, I would say leaning into some of the more wellbeing-focused travel. That's something that we’ve seen pick up quite a bit."

I have to say, they’ve just done an amazing job pivoting and re-purposing different spaces. [For example], we have family yoga sessions. There are hotels where they reconverted old rooms into spots and sanctuaries… It’s really been interesting to [see] what guests are wanting and requesting, and how we’ve been able to accommodate… And then, I think also just in general, one thing that is so important for our guests is feeling very comfortable when they come to the properties through all elements of the journey. So, from the moment that they arrive, they have a good experience, to the times when they’re enjoying some of our food and beverage outlets… [it’s also important to] make sure that like we’re offering opportunities for work arounds. Some of our hotels, again, have done an amazing job when it comes to redesigning some of their guest rooms to be private dining spaces or [hosting] evening social events where we have like cocktail cards or places where people can choose to have a happy hour kind of experience…

 

And then just also being able to [provide] partnership [experiences in] local areas if they want to leave the hotel. We have this great program called Eat Around Town. Guests can go, earn points through local establishments and partnerships and restaurants. I don’t know if people realize this: We have over 7,000 hotels globally. Multiply that times the communities in which those properties are located, and you’ve got lots of chances to really enjoy your points, [and do stuff] off property, as well.

 

JR: Let’s talk about the whole notion of transforming spaces. I think that’s a really interesting thing that we’ve seen, [and] not just in the travel industry. It’s been a common theme. Restaurants, as an example, have had to rethink their floor plans [and] their entire delivery system. It’s also created an opportunity for different businesses [and] industries to really rethink their spaces and things that are not being used. How do you repurpose them to really serve your customer? I thought that was really interesting… I’d love to learn a little bit more about your partnerships and what your perspective is on how partnerships will evolve going forward, given that there’s [not] a single entity that owns the full end to end customer experience, but there’s a lot of alliances and partnerships.

 

CK: We have so many different types of partnerships. I think some of the ones that really resonate with people right now are the ones where, again, you’re drawing meaningful connections or experiences, too, or that it’s relevant or applicable to what they’re doing every day. I think about last summer. We launched a program where you could earn a grade. It was, like, six times the amount of points for groceries, and again, it was through our credit card program. It was meeting people, our guests, where they are and what they’re using their different points on, or their credit card dollars with, at this point. Our Marriott signature brand [also] partnered with Ted. I think some of the talks that are out there are [focused around] those meaningful moments or connections or experiences – just taking the chance for people to feel like travel really enriches the soul. And when they’re traveling, people feel a little bit more open to new experiences and to opportunities. And so, if it’s that intellectual stimulation or learning [opportunity], I think that’s a great way for people to feel like, “OK, I can be more balanced and full of life and present in the moment.” And I think that some of that comes through in those little moments or those different pockets of inspiration that we try to activate through partnerships.

 

JR: I think that hits on a couple of things. It hits on this notion that rethinking travel – the partnerships that you’re forging are – different than they were even several years ago. And it’s more about learning in these really meaningful and intimate experiences. I think that’s really interesting.

 

CK: Definitely. I think the balance is now a little different… You touched on things like our spaces and the redesign, you can’t necessarily always do it in community or with others. So, thinking through, “How do you benefit individually, but then share that out collectively?” How does that balance occur, where you’re able to do something for yourself, but you also can share it with others, even if you have to be a little bit more socially distant or physically not in the same space? There’s still a way to feel that enriching experience.

"How does that balance occur, where you're able to do something for yourself, but you also can share it with others, even if you have to be a little bit more socially distant or physically not in the same space?"

JR: What are you doing or what is Marriott doing to really position itself to be able to offer those types of experiences or be a part of that experience?

 

CK: There are a lot of different things that our hotels have done. We have a partnership where we do tours and activities. There are off property chances where people can take advantage of different versions or experiences. Some of our properties have farms where you can go and pick your own food, almost [be a] farmer for the day, which is pretty cool. [Also], when [people] go to a hotel, they don’t want to stay at [the] hotel the whole time, so having the chance to experience some of those off-property locations. I can think of one of our hotels in Thailand, [it has] a great partnership with a local aquarium. They do an activation where they actually bring kids who are staying at the hotel to the site and they teach them about all the different animals that are there.

 

[Also], I think [it’s] the Ritz Carlton down in Amelia Island. they have an onsite Marine Biology, which is pretty cool for families. It’s [about] trying to bring some of the elements of what’s around them, [and weaving it into] the experience at the hotel, or even off-[property], if it’s a partnership or local activation. I think, in general, people just want to [have] tangible, sensorial experiences, really getting back to [their] roots and back into nature… I think people are feeling a little bit more appreciative and intentional with that nature perspective.

 

JR: Yeah, that’s great. You mentioned being a farmer for the day. I went to this [goat] farm in Pescadero a couple of years ago [where you could] pet the [animals]. That’d be a great experience through one of your hotels.

 

CK: Totally. I mean, I remember a couple of years ago, goat yoga was all the rage, right? One of my colleagues said something the other day that. There is a local alpaca farm here in DC, and you can bring people there. It’s just amazing that, connection to animals [and] sense of nature. It’s just really important to people. So, that’s fantastic.

 

JR: One of the things that I’d love to spend a little bit of time on is this notion of understanding your traveler and understanding your guest and understanding customer sentiment. [I’m] curious to hear your thoughts on what can brands do to get closer to their customer, to really understand what are their needs [are], and what role does data have in this?

 

CK: I think a lot of it is, just like I was saying earlier, going back to the basics. Really listening to your customers, understanding what’s important to the guests and paying attention. And I think this comes through. We have great resources that we can utilize from social media where we’re getting that real-time feedback as people are staying in our hotels, but also just looking at the data like the post-day surveys, and looking at what worked well, [and where] could be opportunities for improvement? We always love it when our guests are recognizing special associates, or they share an experience that they’ve had. [It’s about] really paying attention to what’s important and making sure that we’re doing all the right things. So, it’s a combination of… signage in the right place or the high-tech service that’s available, or just ensuring that we’re adapting and adapting, [again].

"I think a lot of it is going back to the basics. Really listening to your customers, understanding what's important to the guests, and paying attention."

[For example], I think all of our restaurants pivoted really quickly to offer QR codes, instead of having tactile menus or having different technologies… The app was able to [accept] housekeeping requests on demand – people could [message] through the app and the interface [to] request services. A lot of it is just recognizing, what are the patterns or the trends that are emerging and the common themes? And therefore, ensuring that we’re doing it right. [Are we] setting the expectations so that our guests… [know what they] can expect to have happen? … It’s really just about getting the basics right. And making sure that we’re listening to them and meeting them where they’re at and delivering [with] flawless execution wherever we can.

 

JR:  You and I had a conversation earlier this week, and you were mentioning that you’re a founding board member for the women leading travel and hospitality group I found [that] really interesting and fascinating. I’m wondering if you might be able to share a little bit more there.

 

CK:  Sure. Yeah. I’m happy to talk about it. And thank you for the opportunity. So, Women Leading Travel & Hospitality is a relatively recent group. We just launched in January. So, if people are looking for it, they can find more information on LinkedIn. We have some social channels through Instagram, [and] they do a newsletter that comes out once a week on Tuesday mornings. And it’s really a network of different women throughout the different hospitality industry. So, of course, [there is] me from the hotel space; there are a couple other women leaders who are from other competitor companies, or peer companies, but then it’s also about representation from airlines, from transportation services. We have some relative startups, like where people are working on things that are related to RVs and alternative accommodation. There’s a woman who is running the innovation center at DFW at the Dallas Fort worth airport.

 

So, I mean, it’s the whole gamut of different experiences, but one thing that I’ve really appreciated… We have peer groups where we talk about all sorts of different topics. What we’re seeing in our respective industries and sectors, but then also like, what are some of the challenges that we’re all facing in this remote environment? Or how are we going to lead performance evaluations this year, or even just like, you know, what does it mean to be a really effective leader? And so, it’s a whole gambit of different topics, but I think that there’s a tremendous amount of respect and appreciation for people’s different viewpoints and their input. And it’s just a great way to network with other people. So, I would really encourage people to be looking at their website. We have an event actually next Thursday, which will be February 25th. [Anyone] can participate in that, but it’s a relatively nominal membership entry point for people to join. And it’s just a great network and a way for people to really [come] together from different industries and different perspectives.

 

JR: Yeah. I love that. I love the fact that there’s this spirit of partnership and it’s not competitive. And, you know, I think that was a topic that was hit on in the previous session as well, that I think this time has really shown that the industry is stronger as a whole. When everybody comes together and partners, it’s much more operative…

 

CK: Yeah. I’ve been very impressed with a lot of the different groups. I know, in particular, the U.S. travel Association has been really pivoting to get all of the different sectors involved in terms of planning a vacation day or thinking about like that next trip… IT goes through all the different stages [of] that customer journey experience.

 

JR: I have a few more questions and then I think we should probably pivot over to the question in the Q&A… What are you optimistic about? What are you most excited about looking forward?

CK: I am optimistic that travel will come back, and I think it’s going to come back with a vengeance. I use the term “revenge travel”. People are willing and excited, but they’re [also] ready. And so again, if it’s taken a little bit longer than the anticipated, I think people will be certainly more appreciative of it. I think in general, I’m optimistic that people are going to be a little bit nicer, a little bit more patient… We know that travel is such a gift, and that people won’t take it for granted… And so, I’m optimistic that every time that people travel going forward, you’re just going to realize what a tremendous gift it is and what an experience it is to be able to do it, whether it’s personally, or professionally, or some combination.

 

JR: One of the things that we’ve seen probably over the last year is also the approach that companies have had to take days off. There’s been a lot more flexibility and acknowledgement that it’s an important thing – that people’s wellbeing is important. There’s going to be challenges, as we go forward. And I think I’m optimistic and hopeful that companies will value that going forward or will continue to value that.

 

CK: I agree. I definitely think so. And I’ve seen, even among our leadership, people taking advantage of opportunities to have those blended experiences… But that balance is really critical.

 

JR: Yeah. So I know we’re wrapping up. I can I ask a few of the Q and A’s. One of them is: How has your loyalty strategy been impacted over the last six months?

 

KC: Sure. So we’ve made a couple of different changes to our loyalty program. And if people are curious to know a little bit more, they can certainly go online and see about some of the requirements as it relates to status and tiers and weeknights and all that. But I mean, as it is today, of course we want people to love our brands, to be those brand ambassadors, to have great experiences. [We] focused on what I was talking a little bit earlier, in terms of [providing] opportunity to earn points [at] different ancillary revenue sources. But also, we want to give our guests the chance to burn points, to use their points, [and] actually take advantage of those redemption days. To really plan that next big trip [and to] be excited for it. So, it’s just more of a shift in terms of where the spending is. In general, I think our five-point program has been consistently recognized as a really amazing program with wonderful perks and privileges, and members just love it. So, we want to keep that train going, I would say.

 

JR: One last question. What is the pivot at Marriott that you’re most proud of in the last year?

KC: The last year? I would say the authenticity that people are showing. I think that people are really just so genuine in terms of their experiences now. It’s a little bit vulnerable, but people have shown their home lives; It’s intersecting with their professional lives. But I think a great example of going back to what we were kind of talking about at the beginning… Displaying empathy from the get-go and really acknowledging and recognizing that people are going through all of those stirred up emotions: The ups, the downs, the peaks, the valleys. And so, just having the courage and conviction for people to say, “I can’t be on-call at six o’clock at night because that’s the time that I put my kids down for a bath,” or at 7:00 AM… It’s just, again, “That’s not going to work for me because that’s the time that my husband and I read the newspaper together and have coffee.” The little things like that, it’s showing everyone’s authenticity, but also the expectations that people will continue to give their all and that everybody is working together and we’re not going to let go of short and long-term plans, but we want to be supporting each other. [Whatever] that looks like.

 

JR: Yeah, yeah, we’ve really sort of brought down the facade that everything is flawless. It’s not.

 

CK: It’s real.

 

Are you actively trying to plan or strategize for the future of plan? Contact us now to see examples of our work with travel & hospitality clients.

Categories
Mindfulness

Why Tallwavers – Old & New – Say Tallwave Is a Great Place to Work

The very first sentence in our brand manifesto is “Experience is everything.” It’s on the front page of our website, written on slides throughout company decks, hashtagged in every social media post and repeated again (and again) during business calls.

 

At Tallwave, the experiences we create and deliver aren’t just for our clients and their customers – they’re for our employees (or our first customers), as well. You see, we believe it’s all interconnected: The culture we provide for our employees directly impacts the way they do their jobs, the dedication they give to their work and the overall fulfilment they feel in their lives. No matter the project, we always approach our work through a holistic lens that puts human needs first, and business needs second.

 

On LinkedIn: Tallwavers reveal what they were most proud of in 2020

We always approach our work through a holistic lens that puts human needs first, and business needs second.

To ensure we’re on the right track of living up to the title of Best Place to Work, we asked our employees to share why they take pride in being a Tallwaver.

 

Here’s what they said:

 

  • Jimmy Walker, Sales Executive:  “Tallwave is a purpose disguised as a company that’s built around intrinsic core values of integrity, belief, passion, authenticity, transparency, camaraderie, and trust… that has the most indelible group of people who always looks out for each other and share the same dedicated culture, value, ethics, mission and vision. There’s not a single element that can be matched and I’m just ecstatic to love what I do and who I’m surrounded by every single day. I’m living out my dream.”
  • Kristen Laird, Project Manager: “Tallwave’s culture is top-notch. Employees that work at Tallwave are not only insanely smart and talented, they’re also fun people to be around. Triple threat.”
  • Brendan McInerney, Former Paid Media Team Manager:  “When I first came to Tallwave, I was asked how I feel about ‘change’. Being a commonly asked question, I, of course, said I was open to it. But aside from the canned response, I was actually deeply motivated by it. And it did not take me long to realize that the underlying question was really, ‘How do you feel about being a driver of change and growing the organization?’ To me, Tallwave is a place where we are all empowered to come up with a goal/idea, and relentlessly pursue it.”

"Tallwave is a place where we are all empowered to come up with a goal/idea, and relentlessly pursue it."

  • Hillary Low, HR Manager:  “I can let my freak flag fly! I grew up with a background in (musical) theatre and in a fairly artistic family. Other companies seem to value you only as far as your work ethic, but Tallwave values the whole individual. I am free to be me and ‘me’ is appreciated.”
  • Martha Schulzinger, Senior Project Manager: “Tallwave embodies a growth mindset mentality. It is so awesome to work for a place where you are encouraged to try things, make mistakes, learn from them, and then share your learnings with your peers. I’m sure many of us have experienced working at organizations that claim they want employees to learn and grow, only to find out later that is not exactly true. Instead, you have to do things a certain way and it’s not made clear as to why. As a result of being a growth mindset company, I feel like I’m growing and learning leaps and bounds since I’ve started. It’s invigorating!”
  • Lauren Franklin, Paid Media Coordinator:  “I started working at Tallwave in the middle of the pandemic. I haven’t had a chance to work with anyone in person yet, but what I love about Tallwave is how much they care about their employees. It was a weird time to start a new job, but I haven’t felt disconnected from Tallwave, at all. Instead, I feel like I have been a part of the Tallwave team for a long time.”

If employee experience is not something you’re actively monitoring, you should take steps to do it today. There’s no time to wait.

  • Chelsey Gloetzner, Senior Product Designer: “Tallwave is a great place to work because there is a proactive culture of respect. Across the company, teammates are equally respected, appreciated, and valued, regardless of experience, role, or responsibility.”
  • Jessica Hickam, Senior Content Strategist: “Everyone on the team truly cares about both the work we do and the community we have built. I am grateful every day that I get to create with this innovative, dynamic, passionate group of people.”
  • Alexis Reed, Project Coordinator: “I’ve only been with Tallwave for a couple of months, but it’s already been a really great place to work! Being on-boarded remotely, during a pandemic, was challenging and isolating, but the whole team at Tallwave made me feel welcome and included. I received private messages welcoming me to the company and inciting great conversations. I always feel comfortable messaging someone to ask for help, even if I’ve never spoken to them. I have particularly enjoyed participating in company ‘events’ like the virtual Thanksgiving talent show and the virtual cooking class! I really appreciate the lengths Tallwave has gone to to keep everyone connected.”

Also read: Solving For the Lack of Diversity in CX

 

The people who make up Tallwave are just as great – actually, greater – than the company itself. They are the ones who breathe life into our company core values:

  • Maverick attitude: A maverick embraces an unconventional way of thinking and takes a few calculated risks to find the best outcome for each other and our clients.
  • Relentless pursuit: Tallwavers never stop being curious. It’s this curiosity that leads us to learn, grow, and persevere through even the toughest challenges.
  • Selfless teamwork: None of us are in this race alone. We know combining our efforts leads to better work. And in the end, we celebrate the efforts and contributions made by all.
  • Thoughtful rigor: We solve difficult problems with thoughtfulness by examining every angle. We believe details matter and take pride in our work.

If employee experience is not something you’re actively monitoring, you should take steps to do it today. There’s no time to wait.

But like anything else pertaining to personal or professional development, you can’t set and forget the employee experience (EX). What do our Leadership and People & Culture teams do to ensure we continually evolve? They send out anonymous surveys to create a space for real and honest feedback; invest time and money into offering self- and professional-development opportunities; emphasize the importance of exercising vulnerability and empathy in everything we do; regularly check in with employees directly to gauge first-hand just how happy and healthy they are; and encourage giving credit whenever credit is due (our #tallwaveSWAGGER basecamp channel is always full of shout outs). We love our team and what we’re continuing to build. Think you’d be a great fit?

 

Learn more about our culture and open positions here.

Categories
News

This Week in CX: Nat Geo Goes Extinct, Salesforce Gets Some Slack & More

What a week for our inaugural blog of “This Week in CX!” Industry publications were busy covering numerous acquisition and merger announcements, digital advancements in AI/AR, omnichannel user experience updates, and new innovative products created to serve a socially distanced world.

 

While it was hard to choose just four, these are the stories that got our Tallwavers talking and all CX connoisseurs and designers should know. 

CX – also known as customer experience – defines how people feel about brands and businesses. It encompasses every stage, conversation and interaction that takes place over time and across a variety of channels and ultimately informs and drives customer acquisition, retention, loyalty, and advocacy.

Verizon Unleashes a New Replacement for Third Party Cookies 

Shock coursed through the publishing and advertising worlds in early 2020 when Google announced its plans to ban cookies. Before media traders could even finish asking, “what do we do?”, companies were working on building alternative tools to replace the default online targeting tactics. On Tuesday, Verizon announced the launch of their solution: ConnectID, a unified ID that “helps advertisers buy, measure and optimize ads while enabling publishers to manage, monetize and navigate audiences – all without third party cookies.”

 

Fueled by direct relationships with their 900 million global consumers, a diverse IDgraph that runs on 200 billion content-based data signals daily, and a full-stack DSP and SSP. ConnectID provides nearly 900 billion customer touchpoints and is already receiving praise from brands, including Newsweek and Adstra. 

 

“Necessity is the mother of innovation,” says Dallas McLaughlin, our Director of Performance Marketing.  “In my opinion, cookies are an archaic technology. There’s all this panic around the idea of cookies going away. It does a great job at driving article clicks, link shares, and driving fear across clients, but the reality is that most modern agencies and media buyers aren’t — or shouldn’t be — heavily reliant on cookies anymore.”

 

Instead, Dallas suggests more consistent and insightful forms of tracking be used, like persistent logins, mobile device ID technology, and businesses leveraging their first-party data (CRM, POS) for targeting. 

 

“Cookies are one source of data among a sea of data points. When they go away, it will go largely unnoticed to the media agencies that have already advanced their tracking and targeting well beyond what cookies offered. After all,” he says, “media buying is a giant game of cops and robbers. Tracking and targeting technology will always out-pace rules and regulation. As cookies and any future technology gets regulated away, better, more advanced technology will quickly take its place.” 

National Geographic Introduces Interactive AR Instagram Filter as New Form of Experiential Content

National Geographic also released something new with an archaic twist – an interactive AR experience that allows people to see what Spinosaurus, Deinonychus and Yi Qi dinosaurs looked like based on new information uncovered by recent discoveries. Available as a filter only on Instagram, the unique content flips the script on the selfie-filter culture and offers an augmented storytelling experience to reach and engage new audiences – and it was smart.

Also Read: How a Powerful Brand Works as Insurance

“With so much competition within newsfeeds and stories, brands continuously need to find new ways to engage with their audience and learn how to use available technologies to do so,” says our Manager of Content Strategy Holly Ringerud. “The more that brands use interactive videos, VR, and AR experiences to bring their ideas to life, the more their competition will work to surpass those experiences. Brands that aren’t embracing interactive content should pay attention because they risk getting left behind.”

 

But how can brands who’ve yet to venture into the world of audio and video content, let alone AR, enter the arena? “Start small!” Holly advises. “Video doesn’t require expensive production to be effective. If it’s a good idea, short, simple videos or animations can be just as attention-grabbing.”

Instagram Announces a New Keyword Search Tool

While we’re on the topic of Instagram, this news is a tad older but keyword search has arrived, no hashtags required. That means when users search for something like “CX tips,” posts that feature said tips will surface even if they don’t have the hashtag #cxtips in the caption, username, bio, or comments.

 

“It opens so much opportunity for SEO,” says Tallwave’s Content Optimization Specialist Anna Fiorenza. “The option to add alt text within advanced settings has been around for a long time, but hasn’t had much value without the ability to search for keywords. It will be important to monitor if and how users interact with this new feature, but there is a chance that this type of capability could turn Instagram into an experience more like Pinterest.”

 

For now, the keyword search functionality is available in the UK, US, Ireland, Australia, New Zealand, and Canada. It is currently optimized to only surface results for terms, topics, and keywords that fall within Instagram’s community guidelines, so if you’re searching for content on vaccines or the recent presidential election, you might want to search somewhere else.

 

Also Read: Social Media Mission Statements: What Are They & How Do They Help Your Social Strategy?

Salesforce Acquires Slack

Last but not least, we couldn’t ignore the story of the week: Salesforce acquired Slack – or as our Partner and Executive Vice President put it, “Bad CX buys good CX.”

Slack announcement from Salesforce Instagra

Paying $27.7 billion, Salesforce co-founder and CEO Marc Benioff called the purchase “a match made in heaven,” saying, “Together, Salesforce and Slack will shape the future of enterprise software and transform the way everyone works in the all-digital, work-from-anywhere world.”

 

While opinions of the acquisition varied, Robert says it shouldn’t come as a huge surprise. “It’s a common situation. A software company needs to grow, they acquire a software company with new capabilities to expand their footprint.” The transition ahead, however, may be a bit bumpy ride. “Often companies clip those new capabilities onto their existing product without really mapping the CX and UX first. The next thing you know, your product is a Frankenstein that no one really likes, needs tons of customer support, and is underutilized by customers.”

 

Well Salesforce, if you need help building an integrated roadmap for strategically planning and executing the next chapter of your digital transformation, you know who to call.