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Strategies For Pandemic-Winning Businesses to Maintain Momentum After COVID-19

2020 will go down in history as a year that vastly changed customer behaviors, expectations, and needs for good. And while that was bad for some industries and businesses, others whose products and services were ripe for digital-only and socially distanced environments saw major increases in customer acquisition, engagement, bookings, and overall sentiment.

 

For example:

 

  • Companies like RVshare & Cruise America saw an 846% increase in bookings, as homebound individuals and families sought out adventure and reconnected to nature.
  • Vacation and short-term rentals including AirBnb, VRBO, and AvantStay saw their numbers reportedly triple, and struggled to keep up with the demand.
  • Subscription services experienced immediate growth just weeks into the pandemic, seeing monthly customer acquisitions increase as much as 85%.
  • Grocery stores saw “double digit profits” compared to 2019.
  • The pandemic reshaped the fitness landscape as health and fitness equipment revenue more than doubled from March 2020 to October 2020.

But, as the world returns to some sort of normalcy and consumers begin to venture outside their homes, pandemic-winning businesses are forced to answer the question: What strategies will help sustain recent customer acquisitions and growth? As consumers get tired of doing things they were forced to do during the pandemic, and a resurgence of options become available, pandemic-winning businesses will have to rethink the customer journey and uplevel experiences to avoid their recent success from tapering off.

Business who opt to maintain rather than innovate and improve customer experiences, risk being left behind.

6 Ways Pandemic-Winning Businesses Can Carve a Path Forward

1. Identify Industry Changes & Trends That Will Continue Past the Pandemic

Understand what changed within your industry due to COVID-19, but more importantly, focus on identifying what the staying power of new and emerging trends really are. This will help ensure your business’s time, money, and energy is focused on creating change where it matters most, rather than reactively and wastefully catering to temporary trends that won’t drive long term ROI.

 

For example, according to an analysis conducted by the budgeting app TrueBill for The Washington Post, subscription boxes and services aren’t going anywhere. “Power subscribers” – consumers with 10 or more recurring payments that add up to an average of $145 spent per month – is growing exponentially. In fact, the subscription economy is predicted to grow by $1.5 trillion by 2025, says financial services firm UBS.

 

By understanding the staying power that subscription services have, you may be able to find ways to incorporate unique and convenient subscription-based experiences. Creativity is key. Take for example Tripadvisor. In an attempt to bounce back from hits the travel industry took during COVID-19, they’ve launched a $99 annual program that offers exclusive deals and dedicated service lines to subscribers as a way. Six Washington, D.C. restaurants found a way to play in the subscription economy by joining forces and creating a “supper club” that delivers gourmet meals prepared by different chefs each week to subscribers’ homes.

 

If there’s a will, there’s a way. And there’s a lot of money you may be leaving on the table if you don’t take time to identify trends that are here to stay.

2. Reevaluate Consumer Groups & Update Your Ideal Customer Profile

Consumer groups have inevitably changed, due to COVID-19. Whether it’s just the needs and wants of your existing customers that have evolved, or you find that a completely new customer mix now engages with your products or services, it’s crucial to understand exactly who you’re serving, and how you can create better experiences for them in the future. By gathering and mining audience data, you can uncover new behaviors and update your core personas and customer profiles to inform future customer experience design.

 

For example, the experience and relationship restaurant owners need and want from their produce suppliers changed due to the pandemic. As part of a larger customer journey initiative to better understand everyday business needs and experiences of existing customers, we created and executed a customer survey focused on 1-2 restaurant locations segments for a food distribution company. The intent of the survey was to understand unique attitudes and behaviors that could provide more opportunity to focus on increasing share and loyalty, and to further understand segmentation differences within customer groups. By gathering insights directly from our clients’ customers related to technology and tools, COVID-19 impacts and competition, and perceptions associated with our clients’ existing services, we were able to update attitudinal segmentation within their customer mix and uncover future opportunities for improved experiences.

3. Consider New Customer Behaviors & Usage

With limited options during the pandemic, many customers found new ways to use products and services than originally intended. For example, many rental homes that were typically reserved pre-pandemic for short-term vacations turned into long-term homes away from home. Cars that were previously used to get from point A to point B became safe-havens and temporary escapes for overworked parents. Video communication softwares such as Zoom, Google Hangouts and Skype evolved from connecting business colleagues to hosting virtual game nights, happy hours, and family celebrations.

 

As you mine audience data to uncover new and update existing consumer groups and personas, it’s also important to pay attention to how behaviors or usage shifted during the pandemic. Did customers engage with your products or services in new ways? Were they seeking new results or using your business to complete unprecedented tasks?

 

Use this information to expand the customer experiences you provide by designing, imagining, or inventing new uses for your product or service that provide added value.

 

Also read: 6 Factors Influencing Customer Behaviors in 2021 (With Original Research)

4. Pinpoint ‘Aha!’ Moments Within Your Customer Experience

The “Aha!” moment is when your customers truly “get it.” They understand the value that your product or service provides and realize why they need it – or simply want it – in their lives.

 

Evaluate and pinpoint where “Aha!” moments take place within your current experience by mapping the customer experience using both qualitative and quantitative research methods . Then, using the map, identify ways to either optimize, improve, or manufacture completely new “Aha!” moments to ensure continual value creation and engagement.

 

It’s important that customers perceive value at every stage throughout the customer journey to ensure repeat behavior. Don’t miss opportunities to drive an emotional bond and connection and establish a healthy customer-brand relationship by closing the loop too soon. The experience doesn’t end at the purchase point – the experience you provide creatively continue to drive value far beyond that.

 

Also read: 9 Quantitative Research Methods With Real Client Examples

5. Create New, Innovative, and Added Value For Customers

This is where we bring things full circle, and if you opt to maintain rather than innovate and drive your customer experience further, you’ll get left behind.

 

Through evaluating consumer groups and updating customer profiles, you may find that your business acquired new customers during the pandemic that wouldn’t have considered your product or services in a different time. As they start to return to pre-pandemic norms and habits, how can your businesses ensure you can convert newly acquired customers into repeat customers long-term? Well, using your customer experience map and analyses, look for ways to add value.

 

For example, new customers may not know how to use your product or service fully. If that’s not intuitive, you need to add value in the form of content (think opt-in texts, email nurture strategies, website quizzes and tools) or A.I. assistance to help customers use or leverage your product or services in new ways. By doing this, you can help educate consumers and push them closer to realizing value without selling them anything new.

 

Also, find ways to build community. Now more than ever, people are craving connection and want to support brands whose values align with their own and they can see themselves in. Consider connecting with and reaching new and existing customers by leveraging platforms such as Instagram, and TikTok to start conversations, allow people to attend offline events digitally, provide a look into your business “behind the scenes,” and more. The more authentic and human you can make your community and digital presence, the strong connection and support you’ll forge.

 

Also read: Developing Nurture Strategies That Decrease Time to Value 

6. Help Customers Navigate & Transition Into a Post-Pandemic Landscape

Lastly, be helpful. This is just another version of value, but in this case, it’s selfless. It’s not about acquiring, upselling, or converting. It’s simply about doing what’s right and holding empathy for your customers by extending value beyond the reason people are (or were) forced to use your products or services during the pandemic.

 

Play a part in helping them navigate the bounce back to pre-pandemic life in a way that feels aligned with your brand but puts the wellbeing of consumers at the core.

 

Need help envisioning and implementing strategies to maintain success in a post-COVID world? We can help. Contact us today.

Categories
Customer Engagement Innovators Series Interviews Value Realization

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.

Want to be featured in our Innovators Series? Reach out to us now!

Categories
News This Week in CX

What’s In Store For the Future of Travel?

Airports, airlines, hotels, and businesses that rely on local tourism are rapidly trying to build new and innovate old customer experiences to make customers feel safe, and encourage the resurgence of travel sooner, rather than later. Just this past week:

 

  • Air France announced plans to test new ICC AOKpass health passes starting March 11 on all flights from Paris to Pointe-à-Pitre and Fort-de-France. The tests will be provided to travelers willing to volunteer, and be an opportunity to assess real-life application and gather consumer feedback. The ICC AOKpass is one of many solutions being evaluated to manage digital health documents. If successful, it is meant to improve the customer experience and streamline the airport journey so that the skies can safely reopen and traveling without fear can resume.
  • Emirates announced a new partnership with GE Digital Aviation Software and TE FOOD  to trial a new smartphone app that empowers safer and easier international travel. The app, currently titled TrustOne, will house all medical screenings of employees and travelers. Additionally, users preparing for a trip will be able to use the app to find testing and lab locations, book appointments, and review test results. Use of the app will cost money – around $40.84 – but a representative for GE Digital said in a press statement, “This is the first step in making international travel during the pandemic as convenient as possible by facilitating pre-travel requirements.” As trials ensue, the GE Digital team will continue to iterate to ensure the app meets government testing and verification requirements.
  • FlySafair, an airline dedicated to transporting travelers to South Africa, also released an app that they hope will simplify the customer experience and in turn, increase their pandemic travel market share. “Customers can manage their journeys on their own devices,” explained FlySafair’s Chief Marketing Officer Kirby Gordon. “Boarding devices are kept on the device which supports our ‘No Touch’ approach at the airport and live updates through the app will keep customers abreast of any possible schedule changes.” Individuals who wish to visit South Africa can also use the app to search for and book flights.

Reimagining the Hotel Customer Experience

While airports and airlines scurry to announce new plans and fight to be the first to lead pent-up travelers into the new normal, hotels are also planning for what the future may hold. According to Christine Ketter, the Senior Director of Customer Experience and Innovation for Marriott International, the forecast for future travel is bright.

 

“We know that people are definitely looking forward to booking [their] next trip,” she told our Vice President of Strategy, Jesus Ramirez, during a Brand Innovators live discussion. “And if anything, they’re going to be more appreciative, [and more] cognizant of what it will mean when they’re on that [first] airplane ride or checking into that hotel. I think [that’s] one of bright spots, that – even though it took a little bit 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 [proactively] looking for that next vacation, or even [getting] excited about conferences or in-person networking opportunities to reconnect with colleagues.”

 

To ensure hotel visitors have exceptional experiences, Christine said it’s important for hotels not only to personalize the visits, but provide them with socially distanced yet engaging opportunities on-property and off.

 

“[Marriott International has] done an amazing job pivoting and repurposing different spaces. We have family yoga sessions [and] old rooms [that have been converted] into sanctuaries. [It’s all about] what guests are wanting and requesting. It is so important for our guests [to feel] very comfortable when they come to the properties through all elements of the journey, from the moment that they arrive to the times when they’re enjoying some of our food and beverage outlets. Some of our hotels [have redesigned] guests rooms to be private dining spaces or [spaces] for evening social events.”

 

Local partnerships are also creative ways to improve guest experiences. For example, Christine says various Marriott locations allow guests to be farmers for a day or take Marine biology courses for intellectual stimulation.

 

Also read: 3 Companies Launch New “Unparalleled” Experiences Aimed at Improving Common Life Events

 

“Travel used to be for escape. And now it’s more for connection. That’s connection to others [and] connection to yourself,” Jesus said, pointing out that intention and introspection will all be themes that travelers weave into their vacation plans. “So travel just isn’t about travel. It’s always had a larger meaning,” he says. “it’s quite possible that the meaning of travel is going to change or has changed during this time.”

 

Christine agreed, saying hotels need to spotlight guest’s mental health and wellness by providing options for them to engage in both physical and mindfulness exercises.

 

To learn what else Christine and Jesus predicted for the future of travel, watch the full conversation below or read the full transcript here:

What Our Travel Expert Predicts For Airlines & Hotels

We wanted to pick other Tallwaver’s brains so we reached out to our Senior Consultant Matthew Kiesel, who worked for two airlines at headquarters (United and American Airlines) and did airline management consulting for Sabre prior to joining our team, for his take on the current and future state of travel.

 

What is your perspective on the travel industry right now?

I think the piece that’s still been hit the hardest is corporate business traffic. And there’s a couple of reasons behind that. One: Companies have travel restrictions for health and safety reasons. They don’t want their employees traveling when there’s liability and risk. Two: Many companies have faced extreme budget cuts, so travel is one of the first things to go in terms of controllable expenses. And three: People have just adjusted to the Zoom world in a way that no one thought was possible. Some of those meetings where professionals may have flown somewhere for just a day or hopped across the world for a sales pitch, that’s changed because everyone is surprisingly comfortable meeting virtually now.

 

Do you think travel is going to return anytime soon?

I think the segment we see coming back quicker than others is domestic travel and leisure travel. People are anxious to go somewhere. The fares and room rates are unbelievably cheap right now, so people that feel comfortable taking small risks are willing to take advantage of those deals. I think international travel is a bit of a different story, though. There are so many restrictions going between countries – you have to research what countries are allowing travelers and inbound traffic, or even where you are allowed to make connections. Additionally, there are so many additional travel requirements. You need a test before you get there, then you need a test to get back into the United States. Some places have even instituted mandatory quarantines. So, that type of travel will be slower to come back.

 

What do you think needs to happen to increase traveler confidence and make the experience easier to navigate to support a resurgence of travel?

Airlines, airports and hotels have done a surprisingly good job of being nimble and dynamic. Airlines, in particular, are typically slow to react because they’re massive companies and kind of old school in their management style. So, they’ve really used the technology and tools at their disposal, like apps, to be more nimble, change more quickly and adapt to the various updates in rules and regulations. And I think the apps, when they’re official and a part of the travel journey, will really help out. Travelers won’t be tasked with figuring out the rules or where to get tested by themselves. If travel and hospitality organizations integrate those requirements into the process at a reasonable cost, people will likely be willing to accept that.

 

What do you think the customer experience associated with travel will look like as we enter into a post-pandemic world?

For both health and safety reasons – and, equally so, cost reasons – airlines have stripped away nearly every component of onboard service. They’re barely even offering water service unless you need it. They’ve been able to make that work, and have forced passengers to lower their expectations even further. But I think as travel returns, the airlines will have a difficult time figuring out how to bring back the onboard experience. They have to really evaluate what their model is going to look like. Are they going to return to exactly the way they were before? Or do they use this as an opportunity to reset their customer and onboard experiences in terms of identifying what people are willing to pay for?

 

Are there any data insights you think organizations within the travel & hospitality industry should be paying attention to?

When airlines first started coming back, they were all blocking the middle seat, that way travelers knew there wouldn’t be anyone directly next to them. Now, I believe all the big carriers except Delta have eliminated that feature. What’s interesting is that we haven’t seen any data that suggests Delta outperformed other carriers by keeping that customer friendly component. That proves that people are still primarily price conscious when it comes to traveling – and that might transcend airlines and relate to hotel accommodations, as well. All organizations in the travel and hospitality category need to experiment to figure out what people are willing to pay for and, therefore, what customer expectations they need to strategize around and plan for. More than ever, organizations need to understand consumer behavior and what’s driving them to travel, either now or in the future.

 

Also read: Qualitative and Quantitative Data in CX Design: Everything You Need to Know

 

As travel and hospitality organizations seek out solutionists and partners to help innovate their customer experience, what should they be looking for?

A company who can look at the experience holistically, starting with journey mapping. In the airline world, we often performed customer journey mapping. It’s an exercise that traces every touch point, from booking or searching all the way to picking up your bag and getting into your car after a flight; a good journey map should even evaluate the post-flight experience and communications. Travel and hospitality organizations should look for partners who have experience evaluating the various touch points and illuminating moments of friction and opportunities for improvement. Further, for any project, the recommendations from partners should be substantiated by strong qualitative and quantitative data to ensure they’re not only giving customers what they want, but also predicting what they’re going to need and how their behaviors and expectations are going to evolve.

Is your organization looking to grow, optimize, or digitally transform your customer experience? Reach out to us today. We’d love to help. 

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Accomplish Your Advertising Goals Amid the Coronavirus Outbreak

There’s no denying that the Coronavirus outbreak has impacted individuals and organizations across every sector. Since COVID-19 was declared a global pandemic, there has been an increased effort to prevent the spread of the virus with a slew of immediate precautions, which included cancelling large scale events like basketball games, Coachella, and even the 2020 Summer Olympics. While the promotion of social distancing and event cancellations is intended to impact the trajectory of new Coronavirus cases, its uncertainty also has businesses on edge. Companies are reacting by cutting their marketing spend. While this is a very natural reaction, now is not the time to halt all marketing and acquisition efforts.

Now, more than ever, brands need to get smart about their budgets and evaluate the channels that will allow them to endure and grow during this time.It’s challenging for everyone – there’s no doubt about that – but the horizon remains wide open for marketing, it just requires a little extra focus, effort, and creativity.

 

To help guide where you should consider shifting your budget, we’ve created a high-level assessment of the channels that will see changes, what that means for your marketing budget and business, and how you can act now to accomplish your goals and reach your bottom line.

Now, more than ever, brands need to get smart about their budgets and evaluate the channels that will allow them to endure and grow during this time.

Here’s What We Know for Sure:

Since Coronavirus was declared a pandemic:

46% of American businesses have implemented a work-from-home policy.

What does this mean for you? With more people working from home and social distancing, these numbers indicate that the digital landscape is steadily increasing.

What Part of my Budget Should I Consider Reallocating?

If you’re currently running any of these advertisements, you may want to consider reallocating them elsewhere:

Out-of-Home and Radio Advertisements

Currently, the CDC is recommending avoiding large public places and gatherings, prompting some cities to have a “shelter in place” plan. Due to this, many workplaces have moved to a virtual workforce. As both out-of-home and radio ads are well suited for commuters, it may be worthwhile to reallocate your budget for these areas elsewhere for now.

Experiential Marketing

Experiential marketing includes event sponsorships, trade show participation, and community events. Given the circumstances, a lot of these events have been cancelled, postponed, or turned into virtual events. We don’t recommend attending or hosting a large gathering at this time, but you can cut your losses and reallocate your budget elsewhere.

Linear TV Advertisements

Linear TV refers to the traditional way of watching tv where a person tunes into a specific channel to watch a scheduled broadcast. While Linear TV and advertisements took a hit when sporting events were canceled or postponed, television may actually benefit from people staying home. However, it’s likely that consumers will shift to Connected TV (CTV), also known as streaming services, such as Hulu, Roku, and Apple TV.

If we were you, we’d recommend shifting your budgets to CTV or Over-the-Top (OTT) channels to cater to the significant spikes we’re seeing in this area. More on this later.

What Channels Should I Reallocate my Budget to?

If you’re advertising on any of the channels listed above, we recommend making the switch to the following channels. Here’s why:

We believe that brands who act quickly and decisively today will come out stronger after the storm by using these tactics.

Streaming Channel Advertisements

 

Streaming services (CTV and OTT channels) have been rapidly garnering subscribers in the last few years and are projected to grow even more with people spending more time at home. 

 

Streaming services are a great place to advertise as they allow brands and advertisers to get in front of consumers with targeting capabilities that are unavailable through Linear TV buys. If you already have quality resources in this space, you should consider expanding into this channel.

 

PC and Mobile Game Advertising

 

PC and mobile gaming are more popular than ever right now. As of March 15, 2020 global PC streaming platform, Steam, reached a new concurrent user record of 20 million users. Their big spike in users is attributed to people staying home due to Coronavirus. Showing banner ads, pop ups, reward ads, or in-game billboard ads are a few of the ways you can use the popularity of online gaming to your advantage.

 

If your customer base has an affinity for tech and is between 18 and 40 years old, this might be an innovative space for you to place your ads. Some verticals that might fall into this category include car insurance companies, automotive companies, companies that produce electronic devices like computers or cell phones, entertainment companies, such as TicketMaster, gaming event hosts, or Hulu, and quick service and food delivery services, like DoorDash, Pizza Hut, or Chipotle.

 

Display and Social Advertising

 

Traffic across social channels is increasing consistently right now as more and more people stay home and connect with each other through these platforms. Currently, we’re seeing Facebook ad spend take a hit as small businesses, restaurants, travel, and retail companies have pulled their ad spend due to Coronavirus. We’re also seeing a rise in Coronavirus-related advertisements right now. A lot of consumers think it’s unsuitable for a brand to advertise adjacent to Coronavirus content, especially in the food and beverage, travel, and finance verticals. While this is not good for these industries, the lack of ads also allows social advertising to become a less-saturated market. If you’re in the health, government, or education spaces, however, your advertisements are better received among consumers when it’s aligned with COVID-19 content.

 

Although the food and beverage ads aren’t faring well near Coronavirus ads, there has been a spike in demand for curbside pickup and delivery services that more and more brands are quickly adopting. Brands that are new to this space should incorporate high impact display opportunities that are available through Facebook, Google Ads, and Programmatic buys to drive awareness for these services.

 

Podcast Advertising

 

During this time, podcasting is maintaining its popularity on a global scale. For example, podcast giant, Acast, recorded its biggest weekend for listeners. In just one day, their listeners increased by 7%. While sports-related podcasts are down about 2% in listeners, other genres  like education, entertainment, science and medicine, and health are all up 10%.

 

Direct Mail

 

We’re gonna be honest – this one’s up in the air right now. While people are home and are looking for things to do, they may be deterred to interact with mail due to germs and spreading of the virus. While there isn’t any current data to sway us in either direction, it’s still a channel that has a possibility of success if you think outside the box.

 

As we all navigate through these uncertain times and enter the holiday season, there’s no reason to completely stop ad spending for your services. The key to being successful is to remain flexible and get creative with where you place your ads. We believe that brands who act quickly and decisively today will come out stronger after the storm by using these tactics.

If you have any questions on what kind of strategy to take, contact us. Our paid media experts are ready to help figure out your situation in any way we can.