To the consumer, a brand is the total sum of experiences one gets when they interact with each touchpoint of a company. When a consumer sees an ad, engages with a company on social media, has a first hand experience with a product or service…all of those things contribute to the perception. The image. The brand.
As my summer comes to a close, I have reflected back on some of the little and big brands who have helped shape the course of the season. I thought it would be fun to look at the companies I personally experienced that delivered (and the ones that didn’t) on their brand promise.
The Bacon Truck
Sam and JJ have been best friends since high school and through the years, have hoped to take to the streets to share their affinity for bacon with the people of Boston. After graduating from college, the two came together and formed a plan to do just that: they started a food-truck business. Their specialty? Bacon. I ran across The Bacon Truck when I was looking to cater my son and step-son's dual graduation party. Expecting nearly 200 people (many of them 18-year old boys), I thought maybe a food truck would be the way to go. As the big pink truck (with cartoon images of pigs drawn all over it) backed down my driveway and into the yard, I suddenly feared…is this really a good idea? As it turns out, yes!! It was the hit of the graduation season. Bacon wrapped hot dogs, pulled pork with bacon, bacon grilled cheese, and…wait for it…macaroni and cheese AND BACON! bites. The 18-year old boys were in heaven. Their fathers were in heaven. And quite frankly, the mothers were asking me for the bacon boys' number for their upcoming parties. Ultimately, the Bacon Truck focuses on one thing and they do that one bacon-y thing better than anyone else (and that's what brand is all about!)
The Bacon Truck: A+
SeaTea Improv is a comedy club and improv group located in Hartford, CT. With a rough-around the edges vibe (in a good way) and an accessible approach, I learned about them while I was conducting a speaking engagement at the CT Business Expo. SeaTea had a booth with super friendly staff who were explaining to the expo attendees how corporate retreats help bring companies together, improve communication skills, and build strong teams. With a show discount, I booked a session for our staff to have SeaTea work with us during our day-long summer retreat. Working with our mix of new and seasoned employees, SeaTea did a fantastic job of engaging everyone, teaching the foundational elements of comedy, and applying it to our unique business. Their claims of professionalism, fun, and education all came through during our workshop and I feel they delivered 100% on their brand promise. The only shortcoming was that they were initially hard to connect with, but I guess they had so much interest from the show, they were struggling to keep up. Once connected, however, a very good experience.
SeaTea Improv: B
Table 3 and Enrico Giovanello
For our annual agency summer retreat, I called on our friendly neighbors for the Table 3 Restaurant and Catering Group to provide the food a cookout at my house. Little did I know what magic would be bestowed upon us. We began our meal with homemade tortilla chips and rich, chunky guacamole, grass-fed beef sliders with chipotle aioli on toasted brioche buns, and double-fried plantain chips, all made in my kitchen and on my own grill…but miraculously, not by me! For the main course, Table 3 chef, Enrico Giovanello, prepared tender steak tips on a bed of grilled summer vegetables, a hearty grilled potato salad with bacon bits tossed in a dill buttermilk ranch dressing, a rice salad with vegetables and grapes in a light sweet dressing, and grilled chorizo and vegetable kabobs. All of this amazing fare was accompanied by pitchers of Lavender blueberry mojitos.
As we spent the evening hanging out poolside with our mojitos and delicious food, it made for an even better experience to have the chef himself hanging out and grilling right there alongside us. The food was prepared on-site in a way that totally matched our laid-back, celebratory mood, and every one of us got to enjoy the experience of hearing exactly what he had to say about each dish he had crafted as soon as it made its way to the table. The food, the service, and the company came together seamlessly — no mystery, no complications, no hassle, just as hosting any party should be. The perfect way to kick-off summer!
Table 3 and Enrico Giovanello: A+
(Full disclosure, Rico is a cousin…but he treats all his clients like family!)
Jamestown, Rhode Island
I'm not sure if Jamestown, RI itself has a brand promise, but if I were to put a couple of attributes on it, they would be: beautiful, serene, authentic, and happy. It is no secret that I have a vacation home there, and have often cited the rocks and sunsets at Beavertail Lighthouse as my personal happy spot. But this summer, one that was filled with work and family obligations and moving two young men into college, I only had a few days to spend in my beloved Jamestown. Conanicut Island, on which the town of Jamestown is located, is positioned between Newport and Narragansett, offering easy access to nightlife, beaches, shopping, and general beachy hubbub. But Jamestown itself is much more laid back; it has a less urgent, more contemplative vibe, and as I've come to notice, a few specific brands that add to the total experience of the town.
The locals mix with the summer folks at places like the Narragansett Café (the Ganny) for Sunday Bloodies and Blues, and in general, some of the best live music in the state. Jamestown Fish is known for artisanal cocktails and its grilled pizza on the patio, while Simpatico has amazing multi-level alfresco dining for all kinds of tastes. People rent and buy homes from Island Realty (and in particular, from one of the top realtors on the Island and my personal friend and rockstar realtor, Dianne Grippi) who work hard to make dreams come true for those who are passionate and want a piece of this great town. Finally, the summertime activities – from the RocketDogs' fireworks display, to the Sunday night community concerts, to the Fools Rules Regatta – really bring the personality of this town to life. If you want to check out Jamestown for a couple of days, make sure to check into the Lionel Champlin Guest House – Rusty and Lisa will treat you well. They have taken us in numerous times when our house is rented and we need to get our Jamestown fix. For nearly 20 years I've been coming to Jamestown and it never ever disappoints.
My good friend, Jim Flynn of Hult Marketing, claims that American Airlines' slogan is: "We are not happy until you are not happy." Well, if that is their brand promise, then they lived up to it wonderfully when my family planned a trip to LA from New England. The biggest issue was not that the plane was late. Four and a half hours late, for clarification. It's understandable that sometimes, things happen. How brands handle their problems, however, is what we consumers judge on, and that becomes our brand experience. Put aside the fact that with each announcement on the ½ hour, "sorry folks, just another half hour delay," we knew we were losing valuable beach time. The real story that unfolded was one of confusion, deceit, and just plain old bad customer service.
First, it was announced that the pilot was sick and the airline was trying to to locate another one. Shortly thereafter, an announcement was made that it was actually a flight attendant that didn't show up for her shift that was causing the delay. Later, we were told that the entire crew had been dismissed the previous night and they weren't expected to come back to work until noon. Finally, when my husband went to the counter and asked specifically about the cause of the delay, they informed him that a car was on its way to pick up a replacement stewardess (back to the missing stewardess story). This proved to be questionable, even more so when it was actually a male flight attendant that showed up, running through the terminal and getting on our flight. Once we were in the air, a member of the flight crew apologized and said they were going to do whatever they could in their power to earn back our trust and our business. I guess it was then that they decided that they would add a second drink service to our 6-hour flight. Hey, thanks. I appreciate the extra round of soft drinks (but no peanuts). That WILL make up for my 4 ½ hours of lost beach time.
Takeaway? American Airlines stole half of a day of my vacation because some flight attendant partied too hard the night before and they gave me an extra Diet Coke to make up for it.
American Airlines: D
Universal Studios Hollywood
In full disclosure, I don't love theme parks. I can't stand huge crowds, loud noise, or rides that make me nauseous (pretty much all of them). HOWEVER, Universal Studios was an excellent experience for my whole family. They kept true to their early Hollywood roots with the Universal back lot tour, while also upping their game to compete in the "I must be entertained at every single moment" culture we are now in. They made it easy to navigate around the park, direct you to places in the park where there were shorter lines, and delivered experiences for people of all ages and all interests from Harry Potter to Homer Simpson. Seriously, Springfield was right next to Hogwarts and yet, two totally different immersive experiences. All of the shows (except for the pet actors show, which was hugely contrived) were entertaining, educational, and impressive. We stayed nearly three hours longer than we originally planned and had breakfast, lunch, and dinner there, which included a donut the size of a human head at the Lard Lad Donut shop in "Springfield."
Universal Studios: B+
Hyatt Regency Huntington Beach
Our stay this summer at the Hyatt Regency was booked through a corporate trip with my husband’s company, Edward Jones (see brand recap next). Everything was top notch, from the service to the accommodations to the amenities. Sometimes with corporate events, things can seem cold and formulaic, but not here. Each dinner was served on the lawn overlooking the beach, including incredible sunsets and palm trees, and was impeccably prepared with interesting foods such as plank salmon, gnocchi (my favorite), lemongrass beef, Mexican-influenced dishes, gourmet pastries, and local wines and beer. A host of different dinner items were selected for the menu each night.
The part I loved the most was their use beach accoutrements, which included chairs, umbrellas, large beach towels, and access to firewood and s'mores kits for evening bonfires. Did I speak of the friendly, helpful service that was there for all guests? Not to mention the air of sophistication that mIngled nicely with the relaxed, coastal beach vibe that was nothing but pure Huntington.
Hyatt Regency Hunting Beach: A
As mentioned above, my husband’s company sponsored a trip to the Hyatt Huntington Beach (and elsewhere across the globe) to its financial advisors. Through their "Trips of a Lifetime" program, Edward Jones rewards high achieving financial advisors with trips of their choice covering the gamut from adventurous to relaxing, from Disney to Dubai. In my observation of Edward Jones, this benefit 100% reinforces the culture of the company. It's all about working hard, putting their customers’ needs first, and rewarding the Financial Advisors who live up to the high standards that Jones expects of its people. An extremely family-oriented company, many of the Edward Jones trips include accommodations for entire families. They understand that a happy family makes a happy employee. In our experience this summer, the host advisor and his entire family were there to make sure we were enjoying ourselves, had everything we needed, and provided plenty of activities that we could choose to take part in or allowed us to explore on our own when we wanted to do so. Edward Jones is a rare-for-today, values-based brand, that instills in its employees that when they put their clients first, everybody wins.
Edward Jones: A
SpringHill Suites San Diego
As a Marriott rewards member, I always try to stay at different Marriott properties whenever possible. I have stayed at Springhill Suites before in many different locations and always have had a great experience. The new Springhill Suites in San Diego, however, proved differently. Typically, it can be said that "new" is usually good, because things are, well, new! This hotel was a hybrid of SpringHill Suites and a Marriott Residence Inn. It is unclear the differentiator between the two brands – even on their corporate website, it's hardly discernible. I do believe Springhill Suites are trying to be slightly more hip than Residence Inn. In reality, they shared pretty much everything. Check-in, breakfast, roof-deck pool, and balcony. More or less, it was a mega hotel that put efficiencies into place to such an extent that it was not equipped to handle the amount of people it was lodging. The three days we stayed there, we couldn't even get near the pool. The first day at breakfast proved to fall in line with our experience thus far: it felt like a cattle call and ultimately we ended up waiting in line for 45-minutes for runny eggs and oatmeal, and weird, over-cooked chicken-bacon. Each and every day there was a line for the elevator, no matter whether you were taking it up and down. The personnel seemed overworked and overwhelmed, despite their fake smiles trying to show otherwise. The rooms were extremely tight quarters compared to other SpringHill Suites properties, and frankly we couldn’t wait to leave.
SpringHill Suites Dan Diego: D
(Not an F because the balcony did have sunset views and the location was good.)
I love Uber. (Sorry taxi!) Here’s why: I got off of a plane in Atlanta to bring my son to college and worked my way over to the taxi line. I specifically saw the map that said "Mid-town: $30 + $2 for every additional passenger." It also said "Buckhead: $40 + $2," yada yada yada. Fast forward to my son and I getting dropped off at Georgia Tech in what is known as Mid-town:
Me: "So I owe you 30 plus two, correct?"
Cab driver: "No, forty."
Me: "What? This is Mid-town, it is supposed to be 30 plus two for my son."
Driver: "This isn't mid-town, it’s $40…plus two."
Me: "Well, it’s not Buckhead."
Me: "Oh, so now it's forty PLUS two also?"
Me: *Throwing two twenties into the front seat* "And this is why Uber is taking over."
When it came time to head back to the airport, I booked an Uber driver on my app. A shared ride to airport costed $3.50, and a single ride costed $15.75. In less than two minutes, a car was at the hotel door. As I was bawling my eyes out while saying goodbye to my son (that's for another blog post), I proceeded – sniveling – to get into a nice clean car with normal smells and normal music playing (unlike my taxi experience). The Uber driver handed me a tissue box so I could clean myself up. Graison (we are now on a first name basis) told me about his time at Georgia Tech. It turned out that Graison was some brilliant mechanical engineer who works from home and finishes his full-time workload in about 3-4 days. With the extra time he has, he drives for Uber to earn and save some extra money so that he can eventually send his daughters to Georgia Tech when it's time (they're 6 and 7). Oh how I love Graison, and I love Uber! And, because it was Uber, he wasn't just playing me for a tip. It's a flat fare. Throughout our ride, he gave me all kinds of Georgia Tech tips, made me feel like I had done a good job with my son, and in parting, he helped me with my bag and told me that it was all going to be okay. As we parted, he promised to see me in Atlanta next time I visit (and because it all of a sudden dawned on me that he looked like Shemar Moore from Criminal Minds, I imagined what he really said was more like, "I look forward to the next time we meet, baby girl.").
Since we're talking about Georgia Tech, I'm going to rate the brand through the eyes of a parent watching their kid go through the college decision process. (I intend to do a more detailed blog post about "Orientation: How a brand presents itself during the decision phase." Stay tuned – as soon as I'm done with Graison's tissues, I'll knock that post out).
I never really paid much attention to Georgia Tech until it came up on my son's radar. Once I became familiar with the school, I described it to a friend like this: the kids have the sheer smarts of an Ivy, the down-to-earth attitude of a state school, and the big picture, innovative thinking of a tech school. (In fact, I feel like this descriptor is so on the money, that I might send this brand positioning in to them!) Does this school deliver on the promise that I've just attached to them? Absolutely. They are regarded as one of the top three ROI schools in the country – that absolutely plays to the smarts and the practical education and desirability of its graduates. During orientation, we were reminded numerous times about the rigor of the programs, but the results of the degree. They showed case study after case study of the incredible work the students did there. "Researchers and students here at GATech just helped detect second ever gravitational wave, effectively putting the last brick in one of Einstein’s theories that researchers have been trying to uncover for 100 years." Even the police, when asked about the sirens on campus, admitted, "you kids know how to build rocket ships, but you don’t know how to cook ramen." Everyone, in every department, unequivocally, was extremely friendly and super helpful. While some of that can be chalked up to southern hospitality, I didn't encounter one disgruntled employee, and everyone beats the Tech drum. Between informational sessions, the application process, orientation, move-in, and class selection, this school has delivered in spades and with a school spirit that will rival its most ardent competitors. When you are a part of this community, you are a truly a Ramblin' Wreck from Georgia Tech.
Georgia Tech: A
Okay Delta, the jury is still out. Because your hub is in Atlanta and my first (and only) born is going to Georgia Tech, we are on par to become very good friends. Right now, we have a love/hate relationship.
Love: You are on-time, you are sophisticated, you have kick-ass Sky Pass VIP lounges in key airports. Your fares are fair, your schedules are frequent, and you fly out of all three airports that are within one hour of my house.
Hate: The hour and twenty-four-minute wait on the phone I had when I was trying to change my flight to an earlier time. I patiently waited on the phone while you told me someone would be with me shortly. The minutes ticked by. At 35 minutes, I decided to check Twitter to see if something was up. 24/7 customer service it said. Excellent! "So hey, Delta, it’s been 35 minutes, what's up?" I tweeted. 47 minutes, 64 minutes…no answering of the phone, no tweeting me back. I private messaged and started getting obnoxious in my tweets. Please, please, please, do not say you have round the clock service when you actually don’t.
Finally, a very nice customer service rep picked up my call after I waited an hour and twenty-four minutes. They claimed they were having a weather incident somewhere in the country. Then, they totally helped me out. Switched my flight, small fee, no big whoop.
But still, crickets from Twitter. Not even a mention of the weather incident. You did finally tweet me back much later, Delta. You said, "Glad it all worked out!" If you are going to promise something – like 24/7 attention – don't disappoint. In the end, it's better not to make any promises in the first place. Airlines deal with weather issues all the time, and this should be part of your escalation plan. Don't know what an escalation plan is? Just a suggestion here, but maybe need to call Idea Agency, and we can get you up and running. We have an awesome social media playbook to get your social program in order.
Attention retail outlets and restaurants, this is why you should cultivate your fans in social media. Driving through Laguna Beach this summer, the boys were hangry for breakfast. (You guys know that, right? Hungry + Angry = Hangry.) My 17 year-old searched for the best breakfast in Laguna beach and sure enough, the Orange Inn popped up. Described as, "one of the ten best roadside restaurants in America" we were sold. From the surfboard in the roof rafters to claiming to be "home of the original smoothie" and "the best coffee in town" we concur, the Orange Inn had it all going on. The website was accurate, the Yelp reviews were accurate, and we had the most satisfied teenage boys in Southern California.
Orange Inn: B+
More confessions here: I'm not really an avid baseball fan, but the Red Sox were in LA while we were, and there was a Sox vs. Dodgers game that had our name on it. Plus, my husband and three boys are huge baseball fans, so we weren't leaving town without catching a game. "This is the last time Big Papi will ever play in Dodgers Stadium!" they said. "Yeah, whatever," I said. (Oh…I mean, "Yes, we have to go!") I do love Big Papi and totally love Fenway, and have come to regard any other ballpark as "less than." Dodger Stadium, while bigger, seemed to at least try to match Fenway in its historical references (homage to the Brooklyn Dodgers). I thought maybe I needed to give Tommy LaSorda's Trattoria a whirl. This section included a huge bar with TVs showing the game, NY sausage and pepper stand, and a whole lot of shade to protect you from the 97 degree, blaring sun. Oh, and Micheladas. MICHELADAS…why, pray tell, have I never heard of a Michelada?! Maybe it's because I spend most of my time in New England and not Mexico where the Michelada was invented. Okay, bear with me as I explain: A good strong Mexican beer (like Tecate or Modelo), Clamato (sounds gross, I know, but stay with me), limes, limes, lemons, limes, Tabasco, Worcestershire, and a deliciously salty, peppery (red and black) and tangy rim. Hea-ven. Seriously. Don't knock it 'til you try it.
LA Dodgers: Who cares?
As far as summers go, this one was one to be remembered. With kids graduating and heading off to school, family trips, and business fun – it was a tapestry of emotions filled with brands that helped shape the experience all along the way.
Seth Godin (my idol) said in a recent blog post, "Brands today are built on relationships, and relationships of all kinds work solely because of expectation. That thing we're confidently hoping we're going to get from that next encounter." As you think about your business, think about how well you deliver on your brand promise. Do your claims measure up to the expectations of your audience – will the confidently experience consistency with each encounter?