Reinventing Connection Amid a Global Crisis


15, Apr 2020. 11:40am

Over the last 45 days, we’ve witnessed a complete shift in the way society works.

Through the haze of uncertainty, brands are transforming their messages and emphasizing digital outreach to their customers. We’re seeing that those efforts are designed to inform people, dispel fear, and call out misinformation about the brand. It’s all built around the feeling of empathy.

Here are a few examples from leading brands that are not only sending out good information but are doing so with their customers’ well-being in mind.

Gold’s Gym communicates a unique challenge to members…

With over 700 locations in 28 countries, including the United States, Adam Zeitsiff, President and CEO of Gold’s Gym International, released a message to gym members. After closing company-owned gyms and corporate customer care centers, Zeitsiff acknowledges the crisis, then offers resources for the 2020 Gold’s Gym Challenge: free, at-home fitness options that will help members stay active and healthy wherever they are. More importantly, he cites the safety of his members and his team as the impetus for closing.

Helping members continue to work toward their health and wellness goals amplifies the brand’s commitment to fitness, even when they aren’t profiting by it.

GoodRx takes to social media to reassure the brand is doing its part…

GoodRx is a smartphone app that gathers prices from more than 70,000 pharmacies across the U.S. It brings its users up-to-date information about the cost of pharmaceutical drugs and points out potential savings. Co-founder Dough Hirsch posted a video on the GoodRx Instagram account to tell app users that he is doing his part by staying home, and recognizes that people all over the world are thinking about their health and their wallets. “As co-founder of GoodRx I’ve spent the last decade working on these two things,” Hirsch said in the video.

With the help of GoodRx people can make economical prescription purchases from the comfort and safety of their homes. With video Hirsch was able to push their brand’s message in a personable way, while highlighting the fact that the company is adhering to nation-wide guidelines.

Blue Shield of California doubles down on telehealth…

Blue Shield of California serves over 4 million health plan members and nearly 65,000 physicians across the state. The subject of a recent crisis email communication was “Coronavirus (COVID-19): We’ve got you covered.”

“At Blue Shield of California, your health is our top concern, especially now. That is why we are waiving all your costs for screening and doctor-recommended testing for the novel coronavirus (COVID-19). This includes copays, coinsurance, and deductibles.”

Further down in the email, they mention their home-based healthcare platforms, such as NurseHelp 24/7 SM, Teladoc, and Heal™.

Blue Shield reiterates that their customer’s wellbeing is their top priority, while informing them of the newly added benefits. Waiving fees for COVID-19 related issues is a big value add. They also mentioned their robust telehealth platforms, which, even before the crisis, were fully functional. The bigger benefit now is in funneling members to telehealth platforms. By reducing physical visits to hospitals and care facilities, Blue Shield is seeing enormous cost savings and reduced risks while allowing people who are ill to get the care they need.

Blue Shield had the technology infrastructure in place. Maybe it’s time for other brands to improve how they are interacting with current, potential, and future customers. Not only will it improve the customer experience and create lasting impressions, but it can also make the business stronger.

Fitbit utilizes user data to keep people moving…

Fitbit technology on the wrists of over 30 million people around the globe tracks their activity whether they’re running, walking, swimming, or cycling.

On the brand’s website is an established blog where Fitbit staff have been posting wellness tips (such as clean eating), and updates on their products. The brand is now using the platform to communicate how the pandemic has affected their product. The initial blog post focused on how COVID-19 has changed the average step count today compared to the same day last year.

“Fitbit data scientists established a baseline for normal activity levels around step count in each area by analyzing the activity of millions of Fitbit users with similar characteristics during the same week from the previous year. According to this analysis, during the week of March 22, 2020, the United States saw a 12% decline in step count.”

The blog goes on to tell users that Fitbit can support them during this time with tips and offerings to help them keep up healthy habits.

The message is clear. Fitbit is taking note anecdotally and through research that although its customers’ physical health habits have been disrupted, it can continue to support them. What’s unique in their message is the data Fitbit has used to remind people that there are other ways to stay healthy.

Earned media for charitable pursuits…

Despite serving a purposeful cause, brands that are pivoting to address COVID-19 challenges are building goodwill with existing customers and are attracting the attention of new customers.

Take, for example, Savor Health, a digital health company that developed a knowledge-based platform to deliver personalized nutrition interventions to patients with chronic medical conditions. They announced free unlimited access to Ina, Savor Health’s “Intelligent Nutrition Assistant,” throughout the entire COVID-19 crisis so that homebound cancer patients and caregivers can access personalized nutrition and symptom management support on-demand, 24/7, by text messaging.

Savor Health quickly identified a new need and adapted their business model to fulfill it. At no cost. The offering was featured in Food & Wine online (with a readership of over 7 million), among other media outlets.

By not only switching gears but keeping their customer’s current needs at the forefront, Savor Health has been able to remind current and future customers of their goal of providing safe and accessible healthcare. The brand will continue to be thought of in that way now and into the future.

BurnAlong on the main page…

BurnAlong is a health and wellness online platform that is used by municipalities, universities, hospitals, and companies of all sizes. Its pitch is that it seamlessly brings online two things that work well offline: an inspiring and relatable instructor, and social motivation. With hundreds of instructors across 45 categories, users can choose to take a class alone or with others.

On the platform’s home website page is the title “Remote Work? Meet Remote Wellness.” The brand recognizes that the crisis is calling for people to hunker down in their homes, and the challenges that isolation brings.

The message reads “With BurnAlong people get the health and wellness online programming they need, and—critically—the social motivation of friends, family, and co-workers to do it.” What follows is a button that says “contact us to learn more” which leads you to a form.

It’s simple and to the point. It’s the first message you see from the brand. BurnAlong is reminding you of its mission while attracting new users to its platform. The program’s name recognition alone makes it stand out from the rest, through features in Forbes, Men’s Health, The Wall Street Journal, and The Washington Post.

A household name takes a stand…

Walgreens has been trusted since 1901. It’s their mantra. Who else would you go to for your pharmacy, last-minute groceries, and even gift needs? With trust in mind, Walgreens announced it had begun working with U.S., state, and local health officials to help provide and expand access to COVID-19 testing.

Not only did the brand announce its intention to be a part of the effort to aid the nation, it followed through. Eight days after its initial message, Walgreens activated its first drive-thru testing site in the Chicago area; and announced that they were working to get 15 more up and running.

Walgreens let customers know that responding to this crisis requires collaboration across industries and sectors. It wrote, “Walgreens is proud to be playing an instrumental role in this public-private partnership, and to do everything we can to help ensure the health and well-being of Americans during the pandemic.”

Brands should take note of how Walgreens was not only transparent about their effort in joining the aid for the pandemic but kept consumers’ needs first. Currently, all people—not just their customers—lack testing for COVID-19 across the nation, and Walgreens has used their resources to be part of the solution.

Nordstrom demonstrates acts of kindness…

Nordstrom might not be a health and wellness brand, like others we have highlighted here, but their recent act of kindness is worth mentioning.

Through their Instagram account, the brand posted a picture of two nurses with masks on and signs that read “Thank you Nordstrom for keeping us safe.” Nordstrom Inc. partnered with Kaas Tailored—an upholstery solutions factory based in Washington state—to sew masks that will be used and distributed by Providence Health in Seattle.

Through the photo, consumers can see the work Nordstrom is doing to help keep nurses—a vital piece of the current healthcare puzzle—safe while simultaneously thanking them for their work. 

Brands that aren’t in the health and wellness industry should be asking themselves what they can do on a larger scale to help their nation in need. Not only will the people who receive the aid directly be reminded of their effort, but Nordstrom consumers will remember why they are loyal to the brand in the first place.

Strategy with empathy…

As quickly as these brands have pivoted their message to emphasize their focus on their customers and the customers’ well-being, we should be asking ourselves why we aren’t always doing this? Why aren’t we always aligning the customer’s physical and emotional needs with that of the brands’ business mission? Now is as good a time as ever to rethink your brand strategy to re-focus on your customers.

We always advise clients to develop an empathetic understanding of their target customers, including their current and future needs, and how that aligns with your product or service. That’s even more important during a crisis and possible recession. Understanding your customers will allow you to send out timely and relevant messages and make it possible for you to pivot with new offers. How your brand interacted with customers before is irrelevant. You’ll need to rethink your marketing plan for the rest of this year and perhaps into 2021.

Key takeaways ….

  • While updating your consumers on the ongoing changes to your business, focus on their needs currently and in the future.
  • Mention what you are doing as a company internally to keep employees and team members safe at this time.
  • Don’t just send an email blast, use other platforms such as videos on Instagram or blog posts to give the message a human face.
  • Ask yourself who you can partner with during this time to lend a hand in the effort to aid those in need—this will open the door to lasting professional relationships

In fact, this might be an excellent time to increase your brand’s mindshare. If you want to lead your market, look at this as an opportunity to get ahead of your main competitors and marginal players in your market. Despite the culling that follows every boom/bust cycle, the smart and the great will rebound stronger than ever. Always have. Always will.

“In a booming economy when business is good marketers want to advertise; in bad times they have to.”