What does it take for a brand to wow you?
Common wisdom says it's that one exceptional experience: a hotel clerk addressing you by name, an employee going out of her way to deliver your suit on the way home, a warm smile at the end of a hard day.
Bullsh*t. Those may make for a great day and make an impression, but it's not why most people use most brands on a daily basis. Those "wow" customer experience stories are nice, but 90% of the brands consumers interact with on a daily basis never do anything like that for their customers.
What does make an impact is a pervasive corporate culture that embraces and delivers the brand promise in every aspect of the customer experience. Every sight, every sound, every interaction in some way should reflect the brand promise.
Recently, I experienced my first flight on Virgin America airlines, and I was blown away by the experience. And from someone who travels fairly extensively, it takes a lot to provide me with even an average experience.
But I walked away with the feeling that this airline is different. Really different. Why? How does a brand--in this case, an airline--stand out from the rest?
It's not price. It's not a smile. It's not by beating the drum of "excellent customer service." It's about delivering a strategized, consistent brand experience.
Consistent brand delivery
The brand promise is delivered consistently across the entire experience. From the check-in to the gate and on to the actual flight, Virgin America gives off a cool, modern, hip vibe. Every color, the language on every sign, every bit of lighting, even the safety video reflect the brand promise: we're like the cool aunt you want to hang out with.
First step into the brand The check-in area at the airport is set up as a chic lounge, complete with sleek table decorations reflecting the mood of a posh lounge or trendy restaurant. Instead of accepting that the space would feel like an aiport, Virgin extends its brand experience into the check-in space with carefully-designed attention to detail. The plane itself feels cool, hip and luxurious, with purple lighting, acetate magazine holders, leather seats and a complex in-flight entertainment center guaranteed to win over the most skeptical of Generation Xers.
Cover all the senses Virgin seems to understand what Generation X and Y want when flying for business and personal travel, and the brand reflects that at every opportunity. This is not a case of slapping a free cocktail or a loyalty program onto a flight on a 30-year-old plane with a jaded flight crew. The brand is pervasive and delivers a consistent experience: upbeat, hip, modern, cool. The flight crew all fit the bill: instead of the old-school, monolithic airline philosophy of charging for bags, the Virgin staff asks passengers who would be willing to check extra bags at the gate instead of coldly demanding so at the counter. The Virgin brand promise is kind of like the cool aunt who gets you and your friends, so you let her hang out with you and tell her stuff you don't tell your parents.
The in-flight entertainment includes not only a wide variety of movies and TV shows for a fee, but also a variety of free videos, including Best of the Web (quirky short award-winning videos from film students) and TED talks. And this represents the delivery of the brand promise: instead of choosing bland, lowest-common-denominator entertainment, the brand delivers free, thought-provoking content. On a plane.
Address practical needs consistently In-flight wifi is a plus, and the ability to chat with other passengers via the entertainment console is sheer brilliance. Plus, every single seat has a 110 outlet, so no worries about your laptop, iPad or iPhone losing its juice during the transcontinental flight. It's like Virgin understands that the hardest part of flying is not being able to text and Tweet en route.
Yes, I'm now a fan of Virgin America. But, contrary to popular opinion, brand ambassadors are not created based on one positive experience relayed by one employee. Rather, it's because the brand has been carefully strategized to permeate every pore and every sense for the duration of the travel experience. Before, during and after, the brand delivers on its promise of a hip, modern, relaxing experience for Generation Xers and Yers who tend to mix work and play.
What is your overarching brand promise? How do you deliver it?