This past weekend I journeyed to the Windy City of Chicago. A little business and a lot of fun produced these inspirational ideas and a couple revelations too.

I was in Chicago to meet with a client that I’m building a new website for and to get a big city fix of culinary, cultural and entertainment experiences.

I arrived Friday night. Flew on Continental with my One Pass miles, first class, love that reward stuff! My flight was nice until we were about to land and I realized I forgot my cell phone in Tampa (Revelation #1 – forgetting your cell phone totally sucks). I was mad at me for being an airhead and also I was a little freaked out, because without a cell phone in our modern world, you are very disconnected, pay phones are in the same museum as dinosaurs.  And since I don’t know how to send smoke signals and I needed to let my driver know I had arrived, it was time to bum a phone from a fellow traveler. Fortunately a kind man helped me out. I buzzed Diva Limo (that really is their name), I’m here.

Just as I gave him back his phone and he jumped in his car, it hit me, I didn’t tell them where I was. Damn, I need a freakin phone. This was bad, stress full throttle. We are all so dependent to our gadgets. This will teach me, travel item check lists are not that goofy. So I flag down another kind man, may I please use your phone for a quick call?

Headed to downtown. The traffic volume is on steroids. It takes almost two hours to get to my hotel. I finally get there, what a great city!

Here are my trip highlights and inspiration (in no special order).

1) Visual details count.
Downtown Chicago is beautifully landscaped and clean. This visual detail adds to the world class experience of the destination and Chicago’s brand.

2) Distinction can be leveraged in any industry and segment.
98% of all Sushi restaurants look and feel the same, that was until I experienced Friends Sushi. This quaint neighborhood spot takes sushi to a new place. Imagine a retro, hip lounge with white vinyl furniture happy, cheery atmosphere. That is Friends Sushi. Not only was the food awesome, the staff way friendly, but the overall experience very memorable. Their name, logo and all touch points were delightful.

Friends Sushi

3) Slick and professional is not always the answer.
We went to Second City for our fix of comedy and improv and on the way stumbled upon a retail gem called The Spice House
Old-fashioned with a sensory-explosion, this spice boutique has been serving up flavor in small bottles for over 51 years. Nothing is fancy and that makes it so cool. And there is not shortage of human interaction and experience. You can taste, mix, blend and talk to hard-core spice experts. The authentic, no slick approach to this brand is simply irresistible.

The spice house

4) Methaphors are so powerful.
Sunday I hung out in the Wicker Park area. This funky, artsy pocket of interesting businesses is worth checking out. Piece Brewery and Pizzeria is another amazing little find. This neighborhood dinner combines pizza and brew, sports and a united spirit of casual and calm. The name Piece, certainly applies to the slice you get of New- Haven style thin crust pizza, but the logo has a much bigger story of peace. Beyond the signage, all of their merchandise is branded with a brilliant graphic mark (piece of pizza) and a very nice Karma-enriching symbol of peace. I even felt nicer when I walked by the place.

5) Packaging is a compelling story teller.
Just when I thought I’ve seen every which way you can spin soap, I discovered Mojo Spa. Mojo Spa began with one woman’s quest for the perfect lip balm. Amanda Kezios, a personal chef turned beauty product inno-vator, made use of her talents in the kitchen to concoct a unique & natural lip balm that could cure her dry chapped lips. Mojo Spa creates over 200 bath & beauty products inspired by comfort foods & nostalgic treats. Their products utilize natural food ingredients, aromatherapy blends, positive affirmations, healing crystals & sound therapy. All our products continue to remain handcrafted, in small batches, with lots of care & attention to ensure quality & freshness. From the tastefully inviting window display to the culinary packaging of beauty potions as cupcakes and other goodies, this place delivers on their promise, where beauty meets comfort.

(Revelation #2) – Brand equity is a forgiving force.
I’m a loyal fan of Starwood properties. I patronize all of their brands and have never had a disappointing experience, until this trip to Chicago. We stayed at the Westin downtown. From the moment I stepped in the lobby it felt stressful and rushed. I’ve stayed at the Westin in Times Square and never quit felt this vibe, maybe it was just a crazy week. The staff all seemed to be on a high dose of grumpy pills too, except for Lorenzo the doorman. He shared with me that he had been working at that location for 47 years. Wow. I can see why, he was a stellar brand asset, kind, friendly, with a no rush attitude, made you feel like a movie star, until you had to ask the concierge a question, not so nice. I understand sometimes life does interfere with delivering on your brand promise “Relax here” and  like I said, I’m a loyal Starwood customer, so I forgive them and will not harbor this bad experience, in fact I’ve already erased it from my mind and will be booking another Starwood property soon. Had this been a brand I didn’t have this relationship with, I would have surely kicked them under the bus for good.

Happy branding! Till next time.

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