This review first ran in the Nov. 20 edition of The Hamilton Spectator.
Unbranding: 100 Branding Lessons for the Age of Disruption
Our family used to go to a resort in the Muskokas. We went every Thanksgiving for 10 years.
Now I go online to remind myself why we’re never going back.
Our last stay at the resort was not a good one. And it appears the resort hasn’t turned things around, judging by reviews on sites like TripAdvisor.
The customer reviews are brutal. Worst hotel ever. What a disaster. Run away. So gross we left at one in the morning. If it wasn’t for its location and reasonable price for one night I would never stay in this dump. Run by teenagers. Seen better days. I would not recommend it under any circumstances. The resort is in desperate need of an update and lots of repairs. The pool was green and the hot tub was not working. Stained carpets, peeling wallpaper and a seagull-infested beach. Disappointed upon arrival; cancelled extra night immediately. Run-down resort with no pride of ownership.
I read these reviews whenever I feel nostalgic for the family bingo nights, beach bonfires, canoe rides, forest hikes and lakeshore views. No discounts or special offers will win me back.
As Scott and Alison Stratten point out in their latest book Unbranding, you don’t have a social media problem if you’re getting destroyed in online reviews. What you have is a business problem. What you do offline drives what customers say online.
And you can’t fix this problem with a new logo, ad campaign or a hotshot social media firm with expertise in online reputation management.
According to the Strattens, you build brand loyalty by delivering in four key areas:
- Comfort: “All the successful brands we’ve seen brought their customers from a feeling of need or want into one of comfort. Once the need has been met, customers walked away confident that in the future the company would rise to the occasion again.”
- Cost: This isn’t about a race to the bottom with the lowest prices. “Focusing on cost really means focusing on perceived value and giving people what they paid for.” Customers should feel their money is well spent on whatever you’re selling.
- Convergence: “Loyal customers feel their ideals line up with the companies they work with. The most successful businesses understand their customers and what they believe in, making their products and services part of the individual’s identity.”
- Convenience: “Products and services don’t only cost the customer’s money, they also cost time. Everyone is busy, and our successful brands earned loyalty by appreciating and saving customers’ time.”
The Strattens give 100 lessons in branding done brilliantly well and also horribly and hilariously wrong by businesses big and small. They pull no punches but also sing the praises of companies that get it right when they’ve done wrong by their customers.
Here’s one key lesson for when customers inevitably complain. Don’t ignore them, stew over what was said, punch back, lawyer up, try to bury the bad reviews, play the blame game or say it’s someone else’s problem to fix.
Instead, step up, take responsibility, respond promptly and never forget that customer service is now a spectator sport thanks to social media.
“You always have an opportunity to create a positive brand experience for your customers and you always have the opportunity to move the needle,” say the Strattens. “You just need to start by owning each and every customer’s experience as your responsibility. No matter what your business card says, we are all responsible for branding.”
While we’ve never gone back to the resort in the Muskokas, I still get my bonfire fix with annual road trips to Darien Lake with my kids. The park is spotless and family-friendly, the line-ups for rides are short, the staff and service are great and so is the value for money. Darien Lake has earned my brand loyalty and I’ve never felt the need to check online reviews before deciding whether to book a cabin for another year.
@jayrobb serves as director of communications at Mohawk College, lives in Hamilton and has reviewed business books for the Hamilton Spectator since 1999.