I had a delightfully unexpected brand experience a week ago that I must share. I experienced a beautifully designed and executed experience and I liked it. A lot. This company has done the work that we ask each of our clients to do. To look at each customer contact point and infuse their brand into it, create a unique brand experience. They did it well. Very well. Considering that I am not impressed easily, I have significant category dissatisfaction, and yet still entered the experience with some anticipation, this company exceeded my expectations.

Who has earned this impressed brand review? Virgin America Airlines. Virgin is a legendary brand known for its style, fun, irreverence and commitment to its customers. Virgin’s business entry strategy is to set up shop in markets where customers are being neglected. (Lordy, if the airline business is not one of these markets I do not know what would be! Air travel has become downright unpleasant, more a dreaded necessity to maneuver through than the start of a potentially exciting journey.) Virgin Atlantic has flown internationally for 30 years, and started flying within North American abut 7 years ago. My only disappointment is that it took me 7 years to find a way to travel them.

Some background, I view all North American airlines with such a high level of disdain that I truly resent that I have to give them my hard earned money. This negativity stems from the universally normalized complete lack of regard (at best) to the contemptibility they hold for us pesky customers (all too often). They get away with it because they can (everyone does it), and they hide behind profitability (yes it is important) as an excuse for making the traveller more and more uncomfortable and inconvenienced. The bar is truly buried for this industry.

And with this cynical attitude, mixed with some hope that Virgin will be different, I begin my journey. Booking – no crashing site, simple process and SURPRISE the best price option! (Don’t tell Virgin, but the truth is I would have paid a bit extra to try them out.). 24 hour check in, seamless and the boarding pass is identified as pre-cleared (a Virgin negotiated benefit for their traveller). Pre-cleared means jumping to the short que at security, manned by capable and prompt TSA personnel, nothing needs to be taken out of your bags, a swift transaction, almost like the good old days. Arrive at the gate: plane is on time. Gate personnel: friendly and efficient. Seems like they may even like their job! Enter the plane and it is a mélange of funky pink and purple lighting, white leather seats in business class, and even my coach seat is comfy. Leg room AND storage space. And the seat back pocket has dedicated spots for my cell phone and a bottle of water, and room behind for iPads/reading (why hasn’t anyone done that before!?). And I still am not done. There is an entertainment system that is actually entertaining. In addition to the usual TV/movies, there is seat to seat chatting, onscreen ordering of drinks and snacks, brought to you when you want (you can even send someone a drink), power outlets at each seat, inflight internet, and the dang seat is comfortable. Virgin calls this “feature rich” cabins, and yes indeedy, they are. But I am not done….still. When the safety briefing comes on, that we all tune out (I know you do), it is done in a captivatingly cheeky sung/rapped/choreographed visual video extravaganza. The safety briefing! I looked around and everyone was watching it with a smirk on their face. It is the first time I have paid attention to it in years. And finally, there was a lack of incessant chattering by the in flight crew on the PA. We took off on time, we landed early. It was a 10/10 plus a bonus point for no less than 4 delightful surprises. I repeatedly experienced the brand values of style, fun, irreverence and concern for customer. Thank you.

I realize I seem giddy about seemingly silly things, but all travelers know how annoying the little things can become, so it makes a difference. And Virgin planned for me to experience this and I immensely value this. Their goal with Virgin America is prove “it is possible to fly low-cost luxury” and to “give travelers more for their money” in order “to make flying fun again.”

Well done. I am gleeful over a brand experience so well managed. May it serve as inspiration for all of us.

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Consistent and Innovative?

by Trudy on November 1, 2013

I will admit it, I am a brand geek. I regularly dig into brands that intrigue me to figure out their magic. And do you know what I find over and over again? What makes a brand enduringly successful is doing the basics of brand well. I know that may not be sexy to hear, but it is true.

A recent brand I was inspired to look into further is the Ralph Lauren Company. I heard an interview with 74-year-old Ralph Lauren the man and was fascinated by the ease and excitement with which he discussed his company’s place in this world.

Brand is how he talks, it is not a separate thought, it is the business. In the interview it did not at all come across as “selling it”, rather he has internalized the brand. It is not something he needs to think about, it is how he naturally thinks.

And this is a company we can all learn from. The Ralph Lauren Company has been growing for 45 years, and has no signs of letting up. Let me tell share a few stats that will capture its business gravitas:

  • It is a Fortune 500 company
  • It is considered the biggest selling designer brand in the world with annual revenue of $6.94 billion, with an EBITDA of $1.36billion, and it has almost doubled its net income during the last 5 years
  • Ralph Lauren-branded products are sold through about 11,000 doors worldwide
  • It went public 16 years ago trading at $26, today it trades at $167
  • Looking at its corporate timeline, during its 45 years there is no period of time longer than 3 years, that something new was not launched at the company

How do you do this in the fickle world of design? How does a company stay relevant and grow for 45 years and counting? It has a mandate far beyond design; design is simply the way they do things. The company purpose, not surprisingly is bigger than design or the designer, it is a company built around living, creating things so people can live a quality, beautiful life.

Its philosophical underpinnings are:

  • Consistency: of vision and action (45 years of consistency – that is valiant!)
  • Innovation: a constant pursuit of the next opportunity (no resting on laurels here)

Its power is in its exceptional PRESENCE with 11 sub-brands, in 4 categories, across 30 countries, through multiple channels.

In the interview I heard, Ralph Lauren’s comments were insightful. He got the idea to create a product when he was a teen working in retail. He saw the product range and thought he had something different to say with products he had in his head. It took him 14 years to realize his first product, but he never looked back. Why? Because he never lost the consistency of his vision to: create things that enhance lives. And the other part of his magic, innovation, it is a drive that is genuine. Forty-five years later he still ends every collection showing with one nagging thought. What am I going to do to do next?

We can all strive for this kind of vision, commitment, and drive. Executing the basics, well and consistently always wins the day.


Just Respond

by Vicki on February 22, 2013

My last blog post examined social media trends over the past year through an infographic.

As I was compiling the post, one stat in particular jumped out at me: 70% of brands ignore complaints on Twitter

Consumers who have taken time and effort to communicate regarding brands in a public and exponentially powerful forum hearing NOTHING! How can this be?!

Some online reading shed light on the dynamics that could help explain this phenomenon:

  • New technologies have made it easier than ever for consumers to have a voice and communicate and connect
  • There is evidence that consumers perceive Twitter as a “social telephone” and are using Twitter to voice concerns instead of picking up traditional telephones
  • Twitter allows consumers to share concerns broadly, instantaneously and publicly
  • There is a clear expectation that concerns WILL be addressed and will be done so in a timely fashion
  • Organizations often have lots of processes in place – processes that get in the way of getting things done quickly and efficiently (doesn’t get much more quick or efficient than 140 characters!)
  • Adopting new ways of doing business is scary and challenging. Especially when customers publicly saying less than flattering things about your organization precipitate the change.
  • There is often a tendency within organizations to spend a bunch of up front time to identify the exact “right” way to adopt new methods (i.e., creating considerable time lags) but often there are compelling reasons to just start (perfection will come with time)
  • New methods often require resources – people resources (e.g., people to monitor and respond) and monetary resources

If consumers are taking the time to voice their concerns publicly through a medium such as Twitter, they are looking to be heard and acknowledged. And often just knowing that you have been heard and that someone cares about your concerns can make a considerable difference in how you feel about a less than stellar product or interaction.

Research suggests that simply answering complaints posted through social media mediums (Facebook and Twitter) can change attitudes towards organizations/brands.

21% of the complaints DID get a response, and more than half the customers had positive reactions to the same company or brand they had been blasting not long before. When customers received a response to their complaint, 46% were pleased. And, even more surprising, 22% actually posted a positive comment about the company or brand. (Why Ignoring Social Media Complaints Is a Huge Mistake)

So what’s my advice? Everything about ignoring complaints feels wrong to me. People want to be heard and acknowledged – especially when they feel unhappy about a given service/product/interaction. Don’t ignore Twitter complaints. Don’t worry about responding perfectly – just respond.





When was the Last Time you Really Noticed?

December 7, 2012

We are undertaking a refresh in our offices currently, just to update the look. But the funny thing has been bringing in suppliers to talk about things we need to replace or change – that is when I started to notice things. Things that I had long ago stopped noticing. Like the papers that got […]

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Brand is a Co-created Activity

October 26, 2012

In the past week I have had a few intense discussions around brand, with three different businesses. What I find interesting is the unchallenged support for the concept of brand in a business – everyone appears to be on board. However, the interpretation of what brand actually is, is vast, from those that still believe […]

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