COVID-19 Marketing
by Ryan O'Gara

When the COVID-19 pandemic struck, spas had to adapt quickly. In a matter of days, they went from business-as-usual to figuring out how to close their business and leave it in a good spot for when the reopening process eventually occurred. They faced issues related to staffing, finances and sanitization, often all at once. When it became clear that COVID-19 was not going away quickly, spas also had to figure out how best to approach marketing.

Marketing during COVID-19 is a balancing act. Spas are businesses that need to make money to stay open, but they also had to read the room before launching a
self-centered marketing campaign. Many people were hit hard financially during the pandemic and were not as apt to spend. How should spas walk the line of continuing to reach their target audience while still being sensitive to the situation?

This month, Member Perspectives looks at marketing from two vantage points and the strategies associated with each. The Mandarin Oriental Hotel Group is a Hong Kong-based company with 30 spas and 32 hotels around the world, and the Goddess Health & Wellness Day Spa is a small day spa in Australia that is primarily a tourist destination. While there are some similarities in their approaches, each had different goals and took different routes to achieve them. Mandarin Oriental went with a structured plan across its properties to contribute to a greater goal, while Goddess Health & Wellness had more freedom to experiment and see which types of content drew a response from its audience. Each found success, showing that there is no one-size-fits-all approach to marketing.

Marketing for Several Properties
Even before COVID-19, Mandarin Oriental featured stringent safety and cleanliness measures in place due to prior experience with the Sars epidemic. In the immediate aftermath, Mandarin Oriental tried to communicate that it would continue its reputation for quality, service and cleanliness and reach the high standard it had set at its 30 spas around the world.

During a period of lockdown, businesses obviously have far fewer guests, so Mandarin Oriental emphasized establishing good channels of communication with guests to stay connected with them until they could rejoin them in person. While it had a strong digital presence before the pandemic, Mandarin Oriental pivoted to a much richer digital content strategy for its wellness offerings.

“COVID-19 didn’t really change marketing trends so much as accelerate them,” says Jeremy McCarthy, the Group Director of Spa & Wellness at Mandarin Oriental. “Communication is increasingly digital, and consumers are overwhelmed with too much information. This was true before the pandemic but is even more true today as so many brands have had to ramp up their digital communication to stay connected to their customers.”

Mandarin Oriental invested heavily in its digital offerings in order to remain front of mind with its members. Here are some examples of its online strategy:
- Mandarin Oriental partnered with Grokker, an online platform that featured yoga, meditation, fitness, pilates and nutrition videos. With Grokker’s help, Mandarin Oriental was able to offer access to individualized programs that its guests could use even when not accessing its facilities.
- It established a schedule of livestream wellness classes offered by an assortment of its hotels around the world, including Pilates by Hollie Grant from Mandarin Oriental London, Yoga by Dilip Pillai from Landmark Mandarin Oriental Hong Kong and Spa and Beauty tips from Emmanuelle Bellec, the spa & wellness director at Mandarin Oriental Marrakech.
- Exclusive “online member experiences” for Fans of MO loyalty members, who get free access to online wellness content from some of our own in-house wellness experts.

In order to market these offerings, Mandarin Oriental increased its outreach through social media, its website and email. The company targets its most loyal clients with wellness tips and activities that would personally benefit them during quarantine.

Global Wellness Day is normally a huge day for Mandarin Oriental, as it would typically open the doors of its spas and hotels and offer complimentary wellness activities to guests and local communities across the world. But because so many of its hotels were closed this year due to the pandemic, it held a 24-hour livestream. Every hour, a different hotel hosted a wellness class.

That day, Mandarin Oriental reached more than 150,000 people around the world. Here are a few other things it tracked:
- Total Instagram reach inclusive of all activity (in-feed posts, Stories, IGTV and live): 149,100.
- Total Instagram interactions (profile visits, website clicks and email clicks): 21,400.
- Combined WeChat & Weibo reach: 577,338
- Total WeChat & Weibo interactions: 5,000

“It was a great event,” McCarthy says, “because we were still able to deliver the true spirit of Global Wellness to our fans around the world and it was also inspiring to our colleagues to see that we could still pull off a successful global event despite the challenging circumstances we are all facing.”

When restrictions were lifted and some of Mandarin Oriental’s properties reopened, McCarthy was pleasantly surprised to see most of its guests come back to the spa fairly quickly. That quick rebound has been aided by Mandarin Oriental’s global “We Care” initiative.

“I think there are other experiences that consumers may be more wary of,” McCarthy says, “but I think our guests see our locations as a place where they could experience touch therapies in an immaculately clean environment with a professional staff operating at a very high standard of safety and quality.

“We believe that the most important thing we can do to help our guests feel comfortable to come back to the spa is to continue to operate our spas at the highest levels of cleanliness, safety and professionalism.”

Marketing for a Single Property
By the time COVID-19 made its way to Australia in March, the country was still reeling from the worst bush fire season on record. The fires started in 2019 and continued into 2020, during which period there were at least 15,000 fires in every Australian state. During this difficult time, Goddess Health & Wellness decided to be a refuge for those on the front line of this battle, giving out free massages to those fighting the fires and creating care packages filled with wellness products that would help with the inevitable sinus and skin issues that developed.

Seeing the way entire communities came together and rallied around one another during this time contributed to Goddess Health & Wellness’s marketing strategy the last six months of COVID-19. It wanted to be a positive aspect in its clients’ lives, even after shutting down on March 26. “We never got doom and gloomy about it,” says Louise Lugg, the company’s owner.

Once the spa officially closed, Lugg admits she was a little relieved. The spa had been so busy the last few weeks because clients wanted to get a massage and their products before the shutdown. Lugg immediately started a nine-week process of renovations to the spa. And those efforts helped her find a natural way to continue marketing Goddess Health & Wellness to its client base.

While checking in on the renovations one day, Lugg decided to do a Facebook Live video. Without much of a plan, she just started talking about the benefits of oil for your skin. She didn’t pre-record anything; rather, she just started going live because it allowed her to be herself. And that evolved into her featuring a “product of the day” each time she was in the spa for the renovations. The feedback she got—whether it was about content specifically or just about the need to feel connected during a time of isolation—let her know that she had to continue doing this. It wasn’t about selling products, even though she was featuring them. She was mostly just having a conversation about spa and providing an escape at another difficult time. She tried to keep her tone upbeat yet compassionate. Before long, she struck the right balance.

“I wanted it to be authentic, like it was just you and me in our spa and we were having a chat,” Lugg says. “I wanted to have it more like a conversation. My boss was very careful to tell me, ‘Don’t say or do anything that you shouldn’t do, because you can’t take it back when you’re live.’”

And that’s obviously the risk of a less structured approach. But to a spa veteran like Lugg who is used to being on camera, it was the perfect strategy because it felt real to her audience.

Lugg paid close attention to the metrics, and she says she got about 3,000-4,000 viewers on each live video. She made sure to track the comments, who was watching and where they were located. She was excited to see that her audience wasn’t just local, but scattered across Australia. “It’s such an easy way to reach people,” Lugg says.

Her only regret was that she didn’t put a little more planning into it. In hindsight, she wishes she would have made these live videos into an event with a scheduled time so more of her audience knew when to tune in.

Lugg says she sold thousands of dollars’ worth of skin-care products as a result of the videos. Making money wasn’t her priority during the shutdown (she says she was healthy financially before the pandemic), but selling a lot of product was the result of her larger goal: connecting with people.

“When I did my live videos, I didn’t do it as, ‘I’m going to do this to sell a lot of product,’” Lugg says. “That wasn’t why I did it. That was a side effect of it. I did it because I wanted to reach people. Just say ‘hi’ and connect with me.

“Actually, you know what? I think I needed it. I was so isolated. I was used to seeing so many people every day at our spa that I felt the need to connect with people. And I spoke from my heart, not a script.”