The Experience is the Brand

I’m back home from a quick trip to Florida to visit Mom. Along the way, I had varying experiences with enterprises engaged in transportation, sports and religion. In marketing, experience is important because it shapes the brand and vice versa. Marketers may establish parameters for what they want their brand to represent, but customer experience informs what the brand represents. If an airline promotes on-time performance but its planes are chronically late then customers will perceive it to be unreliable.

With that in mind, here are my thoughts on some of the brands I experienced. Some good, some not-so-good. Some are global. Many were local.

JetBlue  We have been flying JetBlue since they began service in the late 1990s, and we love them. The service is excellent, the planes have leather seats and flight attendants offer complimentary beverages and snacks. Our flights arrived early in both directions. We hardly felt the touch down when we landed at JFK the day of a Nor’easter. Many passengers, myself included, applauded the pilot. The only flaw: it took nearly 30 minutes to get a piece of luggage we checked at the airline’s request. To add insult to injury, the baggage crew sent the bags to the wrong baggage carousel. Grade: A-

Fort Lauderdale – Hollywood International Airport          This is one of busiest airports in the country, and it could use a serious updating. Its corridors are cramped, crowded and lengthy. It needs more – and better – food options, although we found some good turkey sandwiches for dinner. There is a long walk to the bus that ferries passengers to the car rental counters. The bus driver had to navigate around the limos, taxis and other vehicles that were jamming the roadway. Grade: C

Budget Car Rental           Its name says it all. It has the lowest rates, so it has many customers. The drawback: incredibly long lines at the airport. It took an hour and 20 minutes to get to the counter. Even though the station had more than a dozen computer terminals, only four agents were serving customers at any time; they constantly shuffled in and out of the office behind the wall. When I finally got to the counter, to speed the process I told the agent that I didn’t want insurance or a toll pass and that I would return the car with a full tank of gas. There were some saving graces, however. We had a nice car and had no wait at the drop-off. Grade: D

Temple Torat Emet         This is my mother’s synagogue. We went to morning services with her all three days of our visit. The congregation has several excellent lay readers so the service went swiftly. On two days the rabbi, who assumed the pulpit last year, delivered brief lessons from the Talmud on the subject of revenge. After services, bagels and coffee were available “in the ballroom.”            Grade: A

IMG_7827

Houston Astros pitcher Dallas Keuchel

Houston Astros / Ballpark of the Palm Beaches  Let me state that I have never been a fan of this team. However, they are the world champions and they were playing a spring training game at home in the Ballpark of the Palm Beaches. Despite making four errors and a poor outing by starting pitcher Dallas Keuchel, who left the game in the second inning, the Astros beat the Miami Marlins 5-3. Their spring training facility, which they share with the Washington Nationals, is a delight. A tram car took us from the handicapped parking lot to the stadium gate. We had seats behind third base with great sight lines. They also have a terrific fish taco – we ordered three for lunch – and craft beer is available on tap. Grade: A

3G’s Gourmet Deli & Restaurant              This is a popular eatery on the west side of Delray Beach offering non-kosher Jewish favorites. The clientele is largely retirees in their 70s and 80s, many of whom are transplants from New York and other Northeast states. When we arrived, the hostess told us the wait for a table would be 20 – 30 minutes, and she was accurate. The place is large and noisy. The food is good and the portions are large; my combo corned beef and pastrami sandwich was at least four inches thick. Tracey had stuffed cabbage and Mom had cheese blintzes. The service is fast and friendly and prices are low. We found nothing to complain about.         Grade: A

Brightline interior

Brightline Select Class Service includes complimentary drinks and snacks. Photo by Tracey B. Simon

Brightline            Just one month old, this new passenger railroad has raised the bar for daytime intercity rail travel in the United States. It currently runs between West Palm Beach and Fort Lauderdale, making the nonstop run in just 40 minutes. Later this year, service will expand to Miami, and an extension to Orlando International Airport is scheduled to enter service in 2020. The experience begins when you arrive at the station. You wait in a large concourse above the tracks that features a café, souvenir shop, children’s play area and separate lounge for premium customers. Once on board, a steward wheels a cart down the aisle offering free refreshments in the Select coach, the equivalent of first class. The ride is smooth, quiet and swift, although the constant horn blasts for grade crossing was annoying. We were nine minutes late into Fort Lauderdale on account of construction but arrived two minutes early at West Palm Beach. Brightline should have a bright future.              Grade: A-

Century Grill       Mom insisted we go to a kosher restaurant our last night in town. Several of her friends recommended Century Grill in Boca Raton, so we gave it a try. It’s a meat restaurant that features hamburgers, steak and chicken. While keeping kosher means higher prices, the portions were generous and the quality made it a good value. Plus, service was satisfactory. A worthy alternative to our kosher stand-by, Ben’s Delicatessen.       Grade: B+

Green Owl          This was a favorite breakfast joint in downtown Delray Beach until a real estate developer acquired the site and forced them to leave. The owners moved to Boynton Beach and replicated the original’s layout, décor and menu. Here, grits and biscuits are staples. Both the food and coffee are good. The pancakes were large enough to cover the entire plate. All-in-all, a great experience. Grade: A-

Takeaways        

  1. Take care of your customers. Make them feel welcome and treat them with respect. They will be the ones to share their experiences, and they are credible. Who knows? Some of them might be writing reviews like this one.
  2. Do what you are good at and be good at what you do. Customers expect good experiences and product quality drives that experience. Whether you make pancakes or transport people from Point A to Point B do it well. On JetBlue, flight attendants ask passengers to “sit back and enjoy the JetBlue experience.” We almost always do.
  3. Reflect on the experience and adjust. A successful enterprise does not rest on its laurels. It continually seeks ways to improve its product and service. New technologies make it easy for even small companies, like the local veterinarian, to survey customers. Analyze feedback and identify what you can do to improve.

Most products and services meet fairly basic needs that can be readily satisfied. The tricky part is organizing all the disparate elements and assembling them into a smooth-running machine.

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