A New Journey Model for Marketers

Mapping the customer experience path from crisis to safety


scott doniger

3 years ago | 11 min read

For corporate decision-makers, their brand marketers, and agency partners, the C-19 crisis makes the other decades-long crisis of customer experience (CX) even more challenging.

Brand marketers are trying to balance their obligation to sustain the business with another obligation to employees and customers, “…to communicate the steps the organization is taking to protect their health and well-being.

And that, in many cases, means sending emails…whether that means explaining proactive measures to prevent COVID-19 related issues or updating customers about ways to access their services virtually.”

The problem with this approach is that most people are not in an appropriate cognitive or psychological frame of mind to accept or assign meaning to “business-first” messaging and marketing.

Even if the information about what the company is doing to keep employees and customers safe seems relevant, too many brands feel compelled to simply blast out.

Ted Nelson, CEO and cofounder of agency Mechanica says, “We’re all of a sudden being deluged in low-cost, frequently poorly written emails from brands and organizations we haven’t heard from in ages.

The problem is that everyone is switching into full-on tactical mode and aren’t thinking strategically or holistically across touch points.

Their brand teams are siloed from their social teams, which are siloed from their demand-generation teams. As a result, the overall interaction as a customer feels discordant.”

Inside-out, brand-first, one-message-fits-all marketing risks missing where people are in their journey from insecurity and anxiety to confidence, trust, and, most important, safety.

Discordance means people will tune out and away from most brands that aren’t precisely engaging with what people need in the moment OR perceive them as tone-deaf. How can brand marketers solve the discordance problem?

A Crisis-to-Safety Case Study: Making A Hotel Reservation.

One consequence of social distancing policies is that the isolation from family, friends, or co-workers can, for many people, trigger a much more acute and dangerous emotional response: loneliness. Frieda Fromm-Reichmann is considered the pioneer on the psychology of loneliness. In her 1959 essay, “On Loneliness,” she said that loneliness is “ such a painful, frightening experience that people will do practically everything to avoid it .”

Human beings are not wired to deal with an existential crisis and loneliness AT THE SAME TIME. We are compelled by our evolutionary neuro-biology to seek out others during times of duress.

Which means the longer we are isolated from the people and things that help us thrive, the harder it becomes to process how to navigate through a crisis like this.

Most people are not capable of moving rapidly or directly from crisis-mode to happy-and-safe-mode. Human beings need time and space to evolve from panic and fear to stability and security.

The post C-19 world isn’t going to bounce-back in a V-shape, it won’t re-appear in a single moment. More likely, a new normalcy will unfold in many layers over differing periods of time as individuals, not large, anonymous “segments”, evaluate what they will require from brands and experiences to feel safe enough to re-engage with the world.

Only after marketers truly make the effort to understand where people are in their own personal journeys through this crisis will brands be able to re-engineer experiences that matter.

Marketers who are not sensitive to how humans move through their own process will be perceived as untrustworthy, unreliable, or self-serving.

The journey to business-as-(new)sual is complex and individual.

The journey from social distancing and isolation to traveling and spending the night at a hotel isn’t going to evolve in simple steps — it’s going to unfold in complex stages:

People don’t move from SURVIVAL-mode to SAFETY-mode directly. Our cognitive and emotional states evolve as a journey, through stages.

The future isn’t going to be business-as-usual; it’s going to be business-as-(new)sual, a same-but-different experience. People are not going to book flights to see their parents just because the rate of new C-19 cases has declined for a week where their parents live.

Nor will people just plan a hotel stay because it’s so easy to find low-priced options for flights and lodging.

When and how will I know it’s safe to make a hotel reservation?

Think about what it’s going to take for you actually feel good enough to reserve a hotel room. Our perspective on what we need to know and feel about being safe will evolve as new information emerges over time, from all sorts of sources including, but not limited to, the hotel itself.

How will you know the sheets have been cleaned? Will you just trust the hotel because they’re telling you the sheets are clean? How will you know the elevator buttons and doorknobs have been sterilized? How about every individual element of bathroom hardware? The TV remote? How can you trust that the hospitality staff are virus-free?

I typically don’t rely on case studies of one. To answer these questions for now, I’ll use myself as the guinea pig.

Corporate marketers — and the specific hotel’s marketing teams — must demonstrably design and deliver content that I need to know to even consider making a reservation.

Which means I have to have journeyed to a place where I feel like I know exactly what is happening for my specific night’s stay in the room I will reserve.

I need to “see” — livestreamed, for example — content from the brand and hotel that is personalized FOR my future needs and personal TO me in the channels Iprefer before I’m ready to truly re-engage in the world by making a hotel reservation. Brand content might feature some or all of the following:

— How touchscreens for checking in or making a payment at the front desk are disinfected after every use;
— How every employee is tested per shift for fever or other symptoms;
— How every plate, item of silverware, and all the other hospitality items are disinfected daily;
— How and exactly when MY ROOM, the one I’ve reserved, gets cleaned;
— How staff wear masks and gloves to scrub every single centimeter of surface area in MY ROOM specifically;
— How doorknobs, elevator buttons, health club surfaces — every possible surface I could touch — have been disinfected and what the schedule for continuing to disinfect them when I arrive looks like;
— Critically important — I will also want to know how many positive cases have been reported in their immediate local area and if that number is rising or falling to zero; I want to be kept informed of the C-19 “neighborhood status” as my arrival date approaches.

In the absence of this kind of personalized information delivered in ways and channels that are personal to me, I’m not going to make a reservation — I’ll remain emotionally unwilling to take the risk.

I won’t trust that the hotel has told me the truth about what they’re doing for me personally and my room specifically; therefore, I can’t yet rely on them to do what’s necessary to make me truly feel safe.

Here, however, is what corporate and location-based marketers want to help you get to — the place where I say and think “I feel safe”, “ I trust this hotel and its staff”, “I can depend on them”, “ I will make a reservation.”

Today, most of us are a long way away from feeling good enough to visit family elsewhere, let alone stay at a hotel.

Marketers Need A New Journey Model

The confluence of two crises — C-19 + CX — requires marketers to consider a new kind of journey model, one that captures

1. how are people thinking about brands;

2. aligns these perceptions with critical life pillars, the things that matter most to people; and

3. illustrates how perceptions and critical life pillars evolve as people move from a place of insecurity and fear to a place where they feel safe.

Customer Perceptions of Brands and Experiences

Quantitative and qualitative ethnographic studies and other consumer research papers on how brands are dealing with the C-19 crisis are emerging nearly every day — here’s one from McKinsey published last week, another from WARC here.

Without boiling the ocean, we’re learning that at this moment, people want to know the information they’re receiving from brands is truthful, that they can depend on business to be reliably in their corner and NOT simply self-serving, and that, ultimately, they are going to do what’s required to keep us safe (even if it’s still unclear exactly what that will mean).

That’s it. For now. Safety, Trust, Dependability:

Critical Life Pillars

The C-19 crisis has stripped away most of the detritus and noise from our lives, revealing clarity on what matters most and what does not. For most of us, the C-19 crisis clarifies our priorities, simplified to four Life Pillars:

Emotion State — our own, personal day-to-day well-being;
Social Life — family, friends, fun;
Finances — savings, income, and cash flow;
Career — current job status and future work opportunity.

Let’s add Life Pillars to the model:

The C-19 + CX Journey Model

Moving from CRISIS (bottom left) to SAFETY (upper right) will likely take each of us through our own 4-stage journey. On the way, we’ll be considering our Life Pillars and Perceptions every day.

Here’s how it works as a completed model in our simple case study of making a hotel reservation:

Start with Stage I, SURVIVAL. Read each cell in this stage to evaluate how a person might progress as they journey across PERCEPTIONS and LIFE PILLARS.

Then, move to the next stage, or, for example, skip to Stage III, STABILITY.

Here, STABILITY is defined as a cognitive + emotional “place” where a person has made sense of the anxiety caused by the crisis (e.g., Stage II, SENSE-MAKING) and can entertain a new, forward-looking reality.

For this case study, Stage III, STABILITY, reflects a critical transformation — from emotion-driven to more pragmatic. In STABILITY, one might actually consider making a hotel reservation:

— I matter; the hotel (both the company and the one near where my parents live) knows who I am and how I’m feeling at this moment; they are providing information that is valuable to me personally;

— I know who I can trust and who I am still skeptical of; I’ve seen a lot from this hotel and I trust what they’re telling me about the situation, their properties, and their ability to have my back;

— The content they’re sending to me demonstrates real efforts to keep every customer safe; some of it is designed to show and tell me how they would treat my need for safety personally;

— I’ve recovered financially or on a path to, and can feel financially insulated beyond when I believe the crisis will impact my life and career; I am considering traveling, if I know it’s safe to do so, because I am compelled to visit my parents;

— My job is secure; I am confident I can make a living, pay my bills, and return to a life that resembles professional normalcy in the near future;

— I no longer feel as disconnected from friends and family; my yearning to visit my parents is no longer a source of grief and anxiety;

— For the first time in what seems like forever I am calm; my anxiety level is manageable; I am recovering wellness.

What’s Next — Make Smart Moves, Fast!

Marketers have never had to respond to a more daunting challenge — create experiences that retain and sustain the brand’s business in the context of an existential crisis impacting everyone in the moment.

And, at the same time, design new experiences today for a vastly uncertain tomorrow. The journey model I’ve proposed here can help. To take advantage of it, here are a few Smart Moves marketers should consider doing right now:

1. Re-organize for CXM

Too many large, distributed organizations silo customer research and intelligence into a single department. Now is the time to democratize what the organization knows about existing customers AND how new information and insight is obtained through research to every customer-facing department.

Complex businesses need to fast-track CXM, customer experience management, across the entire company.

It’s also critical to establish executive-level CXM leadership cross-functionally; this is no time for internal turf wars, but it IS time for better sensing what people want and sharing it with everyone responsible for designing and delivering what people need.

2. Show Operational Transparency

Jennifer Clinehens says, “OT is the inclusion of windows into your company’s process so customers can see the effort that’s going into their experience.

According to recent research, experiences that use Operational Transparency cause customers to value products more highly and can even make people happier.”

In our future-back case study above, hotel marketers might consider investing in rapid video design and production services and create an on-the-fly story-doing capacity to show customers and prospects every detail they might want to see about keeping them safe and having their backs.

Anyone can write an email; smart organizations will show then tell.

3. Imbue Marketing with Science

Marketers have to do a better job understanding how people move through different emotional and behavioral states.

They need to learn more quickly — and deeply — how people respond neurologically to marketing messaging and how they choose what to consider, believe, and act upon.

This is the essence of the emerging disciplines of Neuromarketing (e.g., the application of neuroscience to marketing) and Consumer Neuroscience (e.g., how people’s brains drive choice; the application of neuroscience to consumer psychology and branding).

Applying science to marketing requires building subject matter expertise in these disciplines, hiring and/or training CXM professionals, and up-skilling existing talent to create swat-teams of CX designers and data scientists to sift through streams of unstructured legacy and current data.

4. Re-design Marketing; Align with Products + Services

Doors without handles. Smart thermometers. Contact-less sinks and faucets. Tele-medicine. Personal proximity sensors. Drone delivery. We might see any or all of these things in the future hotel-stay experience.

People will only believe they’re meaningful if marketing and product/service development work hand-in-hand to understand exactly what people need to feel safe and transform those cognitive and emotional signals into experiences that meaningful deliver on them.

As Niklas Goeke writes, “If this were to happen all over again, I assure you everyone involved would do one or two things differently.

At the very least, we should see larger stocks and emergency reserves of basic hygienic goods, medication, and medical equipment. But I think we’ll see much more.”

Amid all the uncertainty, smart marketers should plan for new technologies and processes, such as cashless payments, remote work, on-demand services, reduced spending, and better crisis management.


Created by

scott doniger







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