The Sledgehammer

A GPS for the COVID-Era Customer Journey

May 5, 2020

At any given time, there are 200+ actual sledgehammers present in the Heartbeat office. To celebrate their first year on the team, each HB’er receives their very own sledge—a nod to our daily pursuit of tearing down tiresome healthcare marketing. To determine what is built in its place, we often turn to outside industries, cultural forces, and personal experiences. We eagerly share them with one another, and now we’re sharing them with you. Clear the way—here comes The Sledgehammer.

Whether you’re going for a walk, a jog, or even just a meandering drive, there are times when the journey is every bit as important as the destination (like the daily anti-stir-craziness outing many of us quarantined folks take)! That’s certainly the case for marketers, for whom the customer journey is an essential component of a brand’s marketing strategy.

But what does a marketer do when that journey is drastically rerouted?

As lives have been pushed off course by the COVID-19 crisis, our day-to-day reality has changed—along with our customers’. Nowadays, their path to the point of conversion is less like a guided tour and more like a road trip through unfamiliar territory without a map. A driver may know where they’d like to end up, but may also have to deal with detours, potholes, and unexpected pit stops along the way

This means brands will need marketers’ help finding new ways to direct customers to conversion safely (and quickly). Poor mid-crisis marketing could leave your brand like the crumpled gas-station map in your glovebox—hard to read, increasingly out of date, and eventually trashed in favor of better guidance. Great marketers, on the other hand, can realign their plans to operate like cutting-edge GPS devices: proactively updating routes, predicting obstacles, and pointing out whatever their version of the nearest gas station is.

For every brand you see following the old-fashioned strategic roadmap of “we’re here for you” emails, savvier marketers are already showing us their tactics for addressing each twist and turn of the new customer journey:

Building awareness and affinity by addressing non-product needs. Many parents are now pulling double duty as at-home teachers, making it tough for them to get other stuff done. To help them out, Pebbles (yep, the cereal brand!) created the “Daily Yabba Dabba Doo” series, offering 30-minute videos guiding kids through minimally-supervised activities (many of which feature the cereal). This free service keeps Pebbles top of mind and builds stronger relationships with customers by giving them something that meets a pressing need.

Driving product consideration by showing solidarity. Burger King France put up posters in grocery stores and tweeted recipes showing Whopper ingredients in common packaging, allowing those who can’t get their fast food fix to make DIY versions. While the homemade Whoppers probably don’t taste quite like the original, BK’s gesture acknowledges the situation, offers an alternative, and reminds fans that the real Whopper will be waiting for them post-pandemic.

Accelerating conversion with alternative delivery models. Online and in-store shoe sales have plummeted, while in-store grocery sales are up. Shoe store DSW is navigating this major shift in the customer journey by partnering with Midwestern supermarket chain Hy-Vee to create a new shoe-buying experience: small shoe stores within Hy-Vees. DSW will also be on Hy-Vee.com offering an in-grocery-store pickup option for online shoe purchases. The deal was in the works prior to the pandemic, but was fast-tracked based on crisis-driven customer needs.

Like the shifts in buying behavior we’ve seen for burgers and shoes, COVID-19 has also dramatically impacted the healthcare purchaser’s path to conversion—along with the HCPs that play a part in it. What changes should influence your brand’s route through this crisis? Here’s what’s worth considering at each stage of the new healthcare customer journey:

  • Symptom Presentation: Consumers are hypervigilant for coronavirus, but may be missing signs of other equally-serious conditions due to COVID-19 tunnel vision. This could lead to failure to seek help for chronic conditions (like diabetes), or even failure to detect more serious illnesses that require early intervention (like cancer). How can you ensure the threat of COVID-19 doesn’t drown out consideration of other conditions?
  • Diagnosis: Because the diagnostic process typically requires a physical exam, blood work, sophisticated technology, or invasive procedures, it can pose significant risks in the age of social distancing. How can you support and promote novel ways to diagnose, whether through new approaches from research, consumer tech like wearables, or other innovative solutions?
  • Treatment Selection: In categories with limited differentiation, brand selection among HCPs was, in the pre-coronavirus world, driven by which rep was last in the office. But as salespeople are staying home, some HCPs are working in the trenches to fight the pandemic, while others are struggling to stay afloat. All just want to make sure their patients stay healthy during this crisis. How can you demonstrate value to HCPs right now? How can you alleviate HCP burdens? How can you make it easy for patients to get on—and stay on—treatments?
  • Administration and Adherence: Consumers are afraid to leave their homes and would rather avoid pharmacies. They’re terrified of COVID-19’s financial repercussions, and many have already lost jobs and insurance. What programs and delivery mechanisms can be put in place now to support continuity of treatment in tough times?

COVID-19 has pushed us all far, far off road, and it’s up to marketers to find the best way forward for their brands. Reexamining our understanding of customers’ journeys—and summarily tweaking our marketing plans—will be unavoidable. Rather than being left in the dust, the best marketers will start now (and keep listening to the voices saying reroute, reroute, reroute along the way).