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How Reliable Is Your Brand
By J. Ragsdale Hendrie, July 2007

Reputations are easily made, and often lost just as quickly.  This is ever so apparent in the Age of Information, where we all are bombarded by the minute and caught in that data web, you know, that “enfant terrible”, known as the Internet. 

We all have different definitions of what a Brand represents.  It might be Value, Price, a sense of feeling, touch or panache.  It still boils down to reliability, and how well we deliver this product or service is determined by the Consumer, now heavily armed and influenced with data, opinions, even the immediacy of pictures.  Thus, our Brand is surrounded by forces prepared to puncture all our hard work, deflate the message we have crafted so carefully, and stomp us to oblivion.

Thomas (you either hate him or love him, but the man sure knows how to write and make you think) Friedman, a columnist for the New York Times deliciously caught our dilemma in an Op-Ed piece on June 27, 2007.  “When everyone has a blog, a My-Space page or Facebook entry, everyone is a publisher.  When everyone has a cellphone with a camera in it, everyone is a paparazzo.  When everyone can upload video on YouTube, everyone is a filmmaker…  We’re all public figures now.  The blogosphere has made the global discussion so much richer – and each of us so much more transparent.”  And, we thought we had troubles with Guest Reviews and Critiques in the local newspaper. 

This is a whole new world!  We now can see into every closet, around every corner, nook and cranny.  “This is Your Life”, via Candid Camera – immediate, no holds barred, may the Best Man Win.  Heady challenges for Hospitality.  Your past is your present, and your future depends upon how well you conduct yourself now.

Mr. Friedman gave us a glimpse into how we can tackle this thorny problem, quoting Dov Seidman, CEO of LRN, a Business Ethics Company.  “Today ‘what’ you make is quickly copied and sold by everyone.  But, ‘how’ you engage your customers, ‘how’ you keep your promises and ‘how’ you collaborate with Partners – that’s not easy to copy, and that is where companies can now really differentiate themselves”.  Isn’t that really how we market and promote ourselves – our differences? We present our Brands with our various messages, what we do well and why the Consumer should spend their discretionary dollars with us for lodging, dining, entertainment and recreation. Come on down, come on in, take a number, have a seat.  We will WOW you with Product, Service and Facility, and it will be memorable!  That is our Promise.  What about the Delivery?  Oops, potential disconnect.

Let’s dissect Mr. Seidman’s comments as they relate to the  Hospitality Industry.  Our landscape in many ways does look pretty bland and similar.  Rather than knock-off copies, Corporate America, at least, has found comfort in sameness, architecturally as well as product.  It is boring and easy to duplicate, and the corporate logos reek of familiarity – a strength for some, abject mediocrity for others.  We do the Consumer no sensory favors.  However, we do have opportunity in the means to differentiate ourselves in the Marketplace.

1.  How we engage our Customers.  Firstly, we probably need to humanize that somewhat.  Heads in beds, covers, ticket- holders, etc. do our image no good.  We need to show our care, our attention and our thanks and bring our Guests clearly into the equation.  We need to ask about their Experience with us, where we exceeded expectations and fell short.  When they are with us, they are Kings, Queens, Royal Couples.  When they leave, we must make every effort to have them remember us positively.  It is not just that First Impression.  It is the ongoing, minute by minute Impression – our stimuli, their response.

2.  How we keep our Promises.  This is really about our Brand Message – what we say we are, what we will provide, and an expectation level anticipated.  Honesty is always good.  Gilding the picture becomes what you promise.  You have some license here, but be careful with “fish a’ jumpin’” or romantic, moonlight sonatas, as weather can be a problem.   Certainly, whatever we promise becomes the unabated mantra, and all our efforts are directed to that delivery, ascertaining as we go along that we are keeping that Promise by engaging our Customers (#1) and ensuring that our Partners (#3) understand their roles and contribution.

3.  How we collaborate with Partners.  Our Employees, the Ambassadors, are the obvious partners in our operations.  Hopefully, we have taken care of that talent (wages, benefits, working conditions), prepared them (training and development), and shown that we care (respect, steady communication).   But, the outreach spreads further.  Consider the roles of your Vendors, your Destination City or Area, your Associations, even your competition to a certain extent.  It is the old story:  a disappointing experience at Guisepe’s Bistro in Destination city “A” will impact the overall memory of a Visitor or Guest, no matter how splendid their stay at the Excelsior Deluxe Hotel was.  Partner is a broad brush; collaboration implies a level of trust and sharing with all the parties.  Your Vendors want you to succeed, for they get more business.  Your Destination Area Organizations want you to succeed, for you help to make the Destination more attractive to Visitors.  Your Associations need your dues and contributions; they are on-board.  And, even your competition recognizes that your health and prosperity helps to drive theirs. Common goals, collaborative action - talk about synergy!

Ah, this age of Transparency.  Have you empowered your Employees to handle Guest Complaints?  When was the last time you interacted with a Guest beyond a cursory “Hello”?  When was the last time you took a Vendor to lunch and tapped their broad resources for ideas?  Have you taken a fresh look at your Marketing?  Are you the Brand?  

Reliability is about trust, leadership and collaboration, and we have that opportunity to outmaneuver and outperform in the Marketplace even while under that intrusive Internet microscope.  Did you see that YouTube dog who skateboards….

The author believes that Remarkable Hospitality is the Portal to the Memorable Experience.  Seek Solutions:  www.hospitalityperformance.com

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Contact:

John R. Hendrie
jrhendrie@aol.com
www.hospitalityperformance.com
 

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Also See: No Doorman to Greet You! How Reputations Fade / John R. Hendrie / July 2007
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