Creating ‘signature services’ in a socially distanced world

Post by Remona Duquesne, Managing Partner based in Singapore.

Brand experience plays a significant role in successful brand-led businesses, particularly in service sectors like travel, hospitality and retail. But how can you continue delivering distinctive ‘signature service experiences’ in today’s socially-distanced world? Well, as the saying goes, “necessity is the mother of invention”, and here we look at inspiring examples of  brands cleverly creating ways to continue delivering memorable service experiences, despite the circumstances.

These examples show how brands can not only ‘ease the pain’ of lockdown, but also ‘entertain’. And in doing so, you can provide utility to consumers whilst reinforcing distinctiveness and keeping your brand top of mind.

#1: Help people recreate experiences for themselves

  • Club Med is known for its all-inclusive luxury holiday experiences packed with unique activities, world class sports and services fit for families and couples. To recreate these experiences during lockdown – and even beyond – the brand is providing home activity kits for the whole family with a Club Med twist on its website. Kits include exclusive resort recipes, at-home play activities, mini spas for kids, virtual dance parties, and more. The only caveat? Mums and dads are ‘Guest Officers’ for the day (1).

  • Missing the Dough Balls at Pizza Express? Discover the joy of making them yourself (and obtaining a life-long skill)! To the delight of fans around the world, in April Pizza Express released its closely guarded Dough Ball recipe. The restaurant chain wasn’t the only one: Doubletree Hotel revealed its much-loved Chocolate Chip Cookie recipe, and even Ikea shared its Swedish Meatballs recipe, via true Ikea-style instructions (2).

#2: Collaborate with complementary brands 

  • Hyatt’s purpose is to be “the hospitality company that cares most for your wellbeing in the world.” Its collaboration with mindfulness app Headspace allows employees and customers to experience much-needed mental wellbeing when confined at home, all from the convenience of their smartphone. With a special Hyatt promo code, people can access Headspace’s mindfulness exercises, guided meditations, and sleep content for free for 30 days (3).
  • The HomeSuiteHome project in Amsterdam was created as a partnership between local entrepreneurs, restaurants, and artists to create a hotel experience during lockdown. This included a virtual check-in, a curated locally sourced welcome box delivered via mail, live online entertainment and even a virtual concierge. Whilst it seems to have targeted Easter weekend for its first (and possibly last) experience, the idea is still nonetheless an inventive one to get each brand’s signature offer into a customer’s hands in a time of social distancing (4).

#3: Virtual versions of signature experiences

  • Sentosa Island – positioned as Singapore’s ‘State of Fun’ – is a sunny island home to themed attractions, spas, events, lush rainforests, beaches and resort-style hotels…much of which can’t be accessed for the short and medium-term due to social-distancing measures. This hasn’t stopped the Sentosa team. You can now ‘visit’ Sentosa in the hugely popular Animal Crossing: New Horizons game which allows players to book a spot to immerse their avatar in a virtual version of the island destination. You can do yoga at the beach, have a meal with friends and even go to a dance club! (5).

  • In the spirits category, drinks are often experienced during moments of celebration e.g. at a bar, at a sports game, at home with friends etc. Thanks to social distancing, this is obviously hard to do. During lockdown, William Grant & Sons overcame this hurdle by hosting virtual sessions on Zoom with local bars every Thursday night. The 1887 Virtual Bar lets participants interact with a rotating list of bartenders each week as they make several signature cocktails live. The purchased drinks can be claimed when the bars reopen via a ‘pay first, claim later’ arrangement (6).

#4: Going direct-to-consumer

  • The pandemic has accelerated the move to online shopping, so it’s no surprise brands are rushing to create their own direct-to-consumer (DTC) channels. For example, ‘Heinz to Home’ launched in April to deliver Heinz favourites and personalised gifts straight to your home, and Pepsico’s Snacks.Com and channels both launched in May of this year, as we posted on here. The benefit of a brand-owned DTC channel is that the customer experience can be optimally managed to reflects the brand’s values, personality, and of course, signature services. DTC brands like Glossier and Warby Parker have been doing this well for years.
  • There’s also the option of branded virtual shops available on Lazada’s LazMall or Taobao’s Tmall, and more recently Facebook shops which allow brands to sell their products directly. These offer less control of the brand experience but do allow brands options to personalise with some elements of a brand’s visual identity (7).

#5: Brand ambassador livestreams

  • For many service brands, signature experiences are strongly correlated to the people delivering them (e.g. Singapore Airlines’ ‘Singapore Girl’). I find this true for yoga as well, where people join studios based on the quality of the yoga instructors. When PureYoga had to temporarily close its Hong Kong and Singapore studios, it introduced livestreams on Instagram, Facebook and Zoom where members could continue their classes. What was unique, however, is how it also invited members to engage with their favourite instructors on their personal pages for extra tips and a peek into their lifestyle.

In conclusion, signature experiences can still be delivered effectively, even when socially-distancing is the norm. Whilst it’s hard to replicate the real thing and consumers can’t wait to ‘snap back’ to their pre-Covid behaviours, as we posted on here, technology has enabled other dimensions of brand experience to be enjoyed. Maybe some will even stay for the longer term.