Brand bad

Now that I’ve got your attention, sorry, this week’s blog is not about an erotic trilogy or a fantasy business mogul. Its about a real strategy that can make or break any customer experience and ultimately impact a brand.

Six months or so ago, at a charity fundraiser, I purchased a weekend getaway. It was a silent-auction item touted on the promotional poster as a “This is paradise!” stay for the weekend at a five-bedroom house on the beach on beautiful Anna Maria Island. Sounded great to me. Waterfront property, relaxation, and all in a vacation area that I had been to before and loved.

Soon after the function, I received a certificate in the mail with similar details about the house and their website.

Before I invited friends to join me, I visited the Realtor’s website who had donated the item and researched the property. The photographs looked awesome and the copy was even more intriguing than what was on the poster at the event. It not only said this was paradise but claimed this house was one of the finest beachfront properties on the island.

I was feeling good. I had helped a local charity and I was getting a gorgeous weekend retreat where I could relax and entertain guests.

Fast forward to this past weekend, the morning of my getaway, I decided to go back online to see what else I could learn about the house and the island. This time I just Googled the address and former guest reviews popped up.

To my shock, I read some very graphic and unflattering comments from other guests who had stayed there recently.

Here is what I read, “This place is a total dump”. “Old house, not maintained well”. “Very disappointed”. And if that was not bad enough, this one really got my attention, a former guest proclaimed, with several exclamation points, “This place has a serious roach problem!!!!”

OMG, what have I bought? And I’ve got guests coming from Houston in five hours to see paradise!

I immediately called the realtor to tell them about what I saw online and to remind them that the promotional materials and the website all said this was supposed to be paradise.  Grant it, I have high-brow tendencies but to me, paradise means a sister property of the Ritz Carlton. Not a location where Chevy Chase filmed his last weekend from Hell movie.

In a frantic voice, I asked, “Do we have a Plan B?” And without my common sense contributing to the rant, I also said, “I don’t care what it costs, I’m not sleeping with roaches”

The realtor was very nice and put me on hold to check what was available. She got back on the phone and assured me they had other properties that I could rent for the weekend if the house I bought from the charity did not meet my expectations of paradise.

She also downplayed the negative guest comments I saw on the website. Saying those were from the craziest, grumpiest guests we’ve ever had.

She invited me to come by the office, pick up the keys to the place I bought, and if I didn’t like it, I could see other options.

I drove to the house at 827 North Shore Drive, called the Bean Point Shack. I assumed shack was slang for a very cute place. Well, it turns out, the crazy, grumpy guests were not off base at all and the name shack was a literal description.

In fact, their opinions were far more complimentary than mine would have been. This waterfront beach house, in paradise, looked more like a run-down, dilapidated, dangerously scary, no doubt roach-infested shack.

I returned to the realtor’s office and explained, “No, this place is not for me or my dog”.

“I’m sorry to hear that”, she said. “People do stay there and they like it”. I didn’t doubt her, as the many travel sites showed recently posted positive reviews on this place.

So we moved on to Plan B. She gave me keys to three different houses, none of which were part of the charity weekend offering. I selected a beautiful six-bedroom house, newly constructed, with a wonderful pool and walking distance to the beach.

At the end of the day, it all worked out. The charity received its contribution, I spent a little more money (good for the local economy), and my guests and I had a fabulous time in our vision of paradise. The realtor, was accommodating and focused on making me happy. In return, I would call them for future rentals but I would be very specific about my expectations.

The drama from 9:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m., and the urgent house hunt, I could have lived without.

The moral to this story: there are at least fifty shades of paradise depending on the buyer segment you ask. To me, paradise means quality, luxury, bug-free, and with modern conveniences. However, to 47 other guests, paradise may mean camping, a roof over their head with electricity, sunsets, and being 50-feet away from the ocean.

If your standard of paradise is similar to mine, do not consider The Bean Point Shack. You will be disgusted.

This entire experience would have been handled so differently if only the realtor had better addressed market segments and managed the buyers’ expectations in their sales messaging.

Managing buyers’ expectations is a critical strategy in brand building.

Be as specific and transparent as you can be with promotional marketing content.
Call this paradise what it really is, not what it may have been 40 years ago under the influence of a tropical drink buzz. And don’t call it one of the finest houses on the island. Describe it as an original beach cottage, with no frills, and lots of nature.

Be honest
. This will keep buyers expectations aligned with reality. From here, added pleasures will just exceed their expectations. Which is a good thing and worthy of rave reviews online. Or when the buyer calls about this type of property, assess their expectations in advance and proceed accordingly.

Don’t present a distorted image of your offering. This is just asking for upset customers and bad social media reviews. Which, by the way, remain online a lot longer than just a weekend.

Photo note: while chilling this past weekend, I read a really good book called, Magic of Impromptu Speaking, by Andrii Sedniev, which I will review in next week’s blog. For the record, I’ve not read Fifty Shades of Grey yet. 😉