My good friend Amanda recently wrote an article for the local paper about her less than ideal family vacation in Maine this summer. The crux of her painfully funny story is that the beautiful house that she had researched extensively online turned out to be an under-construction duplex shared by the owners complete with teenagers, poorly trained dogs, and paper thin walls. So much for the peaceful family retreat she had looked forward to for months.
Though Amanda tactfully left out the name of the property and the owners, less than truthful marketing is an extremely big risk for property owners to take these days. In this era of social media where many people chronicle their vacations on Facebook and Twitter and post reviews on TripAdvisor, it’s very unlikely that a negative experience will go unshared. It amazes me that the owners of this property would invest time and money into a website and other marketing materials, yet overlook this simple truth that in today’s hyper-connected world, customer experience is what shapes your brand.
Let’s face it, aren’t we all more likely to share a negative experience than we are a positive one? When you’re stewing mad about slow customer service, a rude waitress, or a dismal rental house, it’s human nature to vent that frustration. Only now, instead of venting to a few close friends, you’re venting to a network of hundreds of people. Had Clark Griswold had an iPhone, no doubt he would have been tweeting like mad when he finally arrived at Wally World only to find it closed for three weeks.
On the flip side, every customer is also a potential ambassador for your brand. If I had to choose just one piece of PR advice for everyone, that would be it. If your product or service is exceptional– or at a minimum is exactly what you say it is–your customers will take the seeds of brand identity you plant through your marketing materials and make them grow and flourish. But the reverse is also true. You can spend your life savings on glossy ads and and a flashy website, but if the customer experience falls short of expectations, it’s more than likely that your brand will suffer. PR has always been about word-of-mouth, and that’s more true now than ever before.Filed under branding, pr, social media | Tags: pr, social media, travel | Comment (0)
One of the things I love about today’s social media world is that there is no room for fakes. A company can spend millions of dollars spinning an image that can be debunked in a matter of hours by Joe Public via social media. On the flip side, companies that embrace the notion that each and every customer is a potential ambassador for their brand will have the most authentic and effective grassroots marketing campaign available– for free.
I’m not sure if Hillary Harrison and the gang at Peaks N’ Swells Surf Camp ever sat down and consciously decided that customer experince and word-of-mouth were their best marketing tools, or if it just came to them intuitively, but they nailed it. Before we even got on the plane to Costa Rica, I was blown away by the personal approach Hillary took in organizing the details of our vacation (see my last blog). And, from the moment we arrived, the entire experience exceeded every expectation I had. Here are just a couple of examples:
- Exceeding Expectations – The website said our surf camp included professional photography of us surfing. I figured an hour or so of someone coming to take a few beauty shots. How about Hillary’s mom, a photographer, joining us all week, putting on a slideshow every evening, and sending us home with hundreds of amazing pictures! The surf camp package also included “happy hour.” In some places this could mean a drink ticket. At Peaks N’ Swells it means an open beer fridge, fresh homemade salsa and hummus, veggies from the local organic farmers market, and mango smoothies made from the fruit on the property for the kids.
- Quality of Instruction – This is always an unknown when you embark on learning something new. The surf and yoga instructors Hillary hired for our camp were both incredible. Friendly, easy, knowledgable people who made our foray into the surf world a success. What better gaurantee of a return visit than to hook us on the sport by enabling success? We all left wanting more.
- Happy Kids=Happy Parents. If you’re marketing to families, the only way parents can really have fun is if the kids are happy. The 5 kids at the camp were staffed by no less than 3 and sometimes as many as 6 adults, leaving us free to concentrate on catching our own waves without worrying about the kids. One little boy in the group wasn’t really ready for surfing, and spent the day building forts, cracking coconuts open, and staging hermit crab races on the beach with Darwin, a “tico” who quickly captured the admiration of all the kids. During yoga, the kids would be engaged in art projects or impromptu soccer games on the beach.
- Authentic Relationships – By the end of our 10 days, we felt like family. It’s clear that the crew at Peaks N’ Swells really love what they do. We were treated less like guests and more like friends.
I could go on and on, but the point is that for all of their efforts, Hillary and her crew have 4 freshly minted ambassadors talking, Facebooking, blogging, posting reviews on TripAdvisor, and tweeting about the camp to anyone who will listen. My husband has already looked into plane tickets for a return trip, and the kids are begging me to homeschool them in Costa Rica for a month next winter (VERY TEMPTING!). The woman who attended camp the week before us had already posted 2 blogs and a TripAdvisor review while we were there. And, of course, we’re all sharing the amazing photos, which speak more about the trip than I could ever write.
The entire goal of PR is to plant the seed for “word-of-mouth” to grow and blossom and eventually spread roots that contribute to a strong and authentic brand perception. In today’s social media world, customer experience is the single most important factor to a PR campaign, so take a cue from Peaks N’ Swells and turn your customers into your marketing team.branding, pr, social media, Uncategorized | Tags: branding, customer service, pr, surfing | Comments (2)
This is the story of one well-timed, well-placed Facebook post and how I went from surfing Facebook to surfing in Costa Rica. Here’s how it all went down.
A friend of mine posted a link to a surf camp in Costa Rica called Peaks N’ Swells, noting that her old college roommate was running family surf camps for spring break and that there was still availability for April. Out of curiosity, I clicked the link and found a vacation that was everything we could want: authentic, adventurous, athletic, and educational. A quick phone call to my friend revealed that she had stayed there years before and loved every minute of it. Before I knew it, I was emailing Hillary (who runs the camps) like we were long-lost BFF’s. The trust I transferred to her simply because she was a friend of a friend was quickly validated by her very attentive emails answering every question I tossed her way. She was familiar, friendly and courteous and extremely knowledgable about the area. So, we booked! And, it turns out we weren’t the only ones. Some friends who live right around the corner from us in Stowe also had the exact same experience (starting with the very same Facebook post). So Hillary now has 2 of her 3 villas rented for the week. 0-66% in less than a week with absolutely no $ spent on marketing– not bad.
As a marketer, I couldn’t help but start thinking about why this worked so well. Here’s what I came up with:
1. In this world of way too much information, consumers are much more inclined to make a purchase when it is recommended by someone they know and trust.
2. Everyone likes to buy things, but no one likes to be “sold to.” This is one of my favorite sayings. In this case, had Hillary been pushy or if our email exchanges had felt disingenuous, I probably would not have booked. She even gave me travel advice for another part of Costa Rica that would have taken us off her property for a few nights. Bravo Hillary! Be a resource, establish a relationship, be real and good karma will follow.
3. Timing is everything. At some point in the decision-making process, I read that the water in Costa Rica is 87 degrees in April. My thermometer had been hovering right around zero for a few days, with one frosty morning reading at -20F. Need I say more?
4. My friend who made the original Facebook post is a young mom living in an active, outdoorsy community. So, the particulars of this vacation package (surf lessons, daily yoga, a local organic farmer’s market, wildlife, and quality time with family) resonated with her friends. This type of vacation isn’t for everyone, but it struck a chord in Stowe.
5. Since booking the vacation, my excitement has grown with each and every email exchange I’ve had with Hillary. She has asked questions that make it very clear this is not a “cookie cutter” vacation. What kind of snacks do your kids like? How long is too long in the car? Do your kids like mangos? (The mango trees are in season). What are your main goals for the week? Customer experience IS pr, and it begins with the very first interaction.
6. And, last but not least, I had recently read an article posted by one of my favorite travel writers, Steve Jermanok, on his family trip to Costa Rica. Although we’re not following the exact itinerary he laid out in his blog, his experiences in Costa Rica in general got us really excited about visiting the country. It goes back to something I try to remember for all my clients– if you want to raise awareness of your brand, raise awareness for your category too.
So, we’re off to family surf camp! Stay tuned, the package also includes professional photography of yours truly surfing. If I actually manage to catch a wave, maybe I’ll post a photo.Filed under pr, social media | Tags: facebook, pr, travel | Comments (2)