Review: Unbranding – 100 Lessons For The Age of Disruption by Alison and Scott Stratten

31McsOaqDZL._SX329_BO1,204,203,200_This review first ran in the Nov. 20 edition of The Hamilton Spectator.

Unbranding: 100 Branding Lessons for the Age of Disruption

By Alison and Scott Stratten



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.

Review: UnMarketing – Stop Marketing. Start Engaging by Scott Stratten

This review first ran in the August 27th edition of The Hamilton Spectator.

“UnMarketing is all about engagement at every point of contact with your market.”

Unmarketing: Stop Marketing, Start Engaging

By Scott Stratten

John Wiley & Sons


I finished reading Scott Stratten’s book while my kids did a craft at a store here in Hamilton.

A mom and her preschool daughter arrived after us. They were first-time customers. They stood at the counter and patiently waited for a painfully long time while the manager ignored them and continued talking on the phone about a payroll problem.

I felt bad for the mom and wished John was behind the counter. John works as a slide attendant at The Fallsview Indoor Waterpark. My son and I had gone to the Niagara Falls waterpark a few weeks earlier.

John welcomed us to the park during our first hike up the stairs to the slides.  He later gave us the rundown on all the slides while we waited in line. In the afternoon, John asked my son if he was having a great time. John gave us a thumbs up after one of our more awesome wipe-outs at the end of a slide.

John could have adopted a dead stare into middle distance and treated us all like an inconvenience. But he never stopped smiling and striking up conversations. John clearly enjoys working at the waterpark and he’s happy we’re there.

While John’s a slide attendant, on that afternoon he was the waterpark’s chief marketing officer for me, my son and hundreds of other guests.

Stratten, a social marketing guru who calls Oakville home, had a similar experience at the Wynn hotel in Las Vegas.  While walking through the lobby, one of the employees stopped cleaning a carpet and went out of his way to greet Stratten.

“His welcome changed my entire perception of the Wynn. Almost $3 billion went into making this megacasino resort and it was one guy who made me want to stay there. This gentleman, who made me feel welcome at his place of employment, was not only exceptional, but he was extremely rare.”

And it’s these exceptional people who get us talking. Not only do we tell family, friends and coworkers. We tell our Twitter followers, Facebook friends and YouTube subscribers. Smart business owners are joining these online conversations, connecting with prospective customers and converting current customers into fans through the power of engagement.

“If you believe business is built on relationships, make building them your business,” says Stratten.

Social media offers unprecedented opportunities to do exactly that. “I love the fact that with social media I get to know business owners. I can learn not just about their businesses but also about them personally. Sharing this type of connection builds greater trust than any brochure, logo or company mission statement could.”

Many business owners and entrepreneurs initially get it wrong when it comes to social media, says Stratten. “The problem with the term social media is that whenever people see the word media, they automatically think push. Media has been classically linked as a way to push your message out through a variety of methods such as television, newspapers, radio and online. However, social media isn’t media at all – it is simply a conversation between two or more people.”

Be prepared to invest a lot of time, freely share your wealth of knowledge and engage in many conversations before ever pitching your product or service. Stratten posted 10,000 tweets before making his first sales pitch online.

“You wouldn’t open a business bank account and ask to withdraw $5,000 before depositing anything. The banker would think you are a loony. Yet people go on social media, open their account, send out a few pitches for their mediocre ebook and then complain to me that this social media stuff doesn’t work.”

Along with building relationships, social media has the power to destroy reputations, cost you customers and even put you out of business. Failing to connect with unhappy campers can cause you a world of hurt. “One person calling your customer service line to complain may not have much impact in your mind, but throw in a handful of people with the same problem, an influential blog or two, and a Twitter army, and you have a good old-fashioned revolt on your hands,” says Stratten.

If you’re running or about to launch a business, you need to do two things right now. Read Stratten’s book to shamelessly steal his ideas for building relationships and engaging with current and future customers. And when you’re not reading Stratten’s book, log on to Twitter and join the conversations that are happening right now about our community and maybe even your business at #hamont.

As for the owners of The Fallsview Indoor Waterpark, they should give John a Twitter feed and Facebook page where he can continue the conversations that made me a fan of their business.

@jayrobb works and lives in Hamilton and blogs at