Three Ways to Define the Roles Your Brand Plays in the Lives of Your Customers

To get people connecting with and talking about your travel and tourism brand, it’s important to rise above the straightforward promotion of features and instead create genuine experiences for your customers: experiences rich and compelling enough that they will naturally and instinctively draw meaning from them. When this happens—when a travel and tourism brand creates a truly meaningful experience for its customers—it ends up resonating with them and playing a role in their lives as a result, even if only for a moment.

What is the role of your brand?

Far too often, however, brand representatives have no awareness of these roles and therefore no concept of the impact they and the experience are having on their customers (as was the case with my Costa Rican zipline tour). To ensure nothing is left to chance, brand leaders must become conscious of the experience the brand provides, the meaning it creates and the roles that the brand plays in creating those experiences and eliciting that meaning. They must explore, uncover and define all these things so that everyone behind the brand can be more focused, intentional and inspired in their efforts, creating a lasting impression on the lives of customers as a result.

When thinking about the roles their brands can play in the lives of their customers, you should fish in three different strategic ponds for the right answers. Remember that brands, like people, are multifaceted and therefore can play different roles at different times. So don’t be afraid to identify three or four roles for your brand by taking the following into consideration:

Consider your brand as a profession

Imagine your brand as an engaged, upstanding member of a community in which your customers are the residents. What profession would your brand undertake in that community? What vocation would they serve to support, impact and facilitate the lives of their fellow residents? Are they more of a leader in that community (e.g. A judge, minister, drill sergeant, etc.) or do they play more of a supportive role (e.g. nurse, teacher, lawyer, etc.).

The Inn at Little Washington about an hour west of Washington DC, instinctively understands the various roles it plays in the lives of its guests. I once asked the owner and chef of The Inn, Patrick O’Connell, what it was that he and his staff actually do for people, and he replied: “It’s religion, psychiatry and theater all wrapped up together.” Anyone who has ever spent a weekend at The Inn at Little Washington or simply dined in its world-renowned restaurant can attest to the fact that this incredible property takes you on a spiritual journey (as a religious leader would), helps you discover or rediscover things about yourself (as a psychiatrist would) and most certainly ensures you are delighted, stimulated and enthralled (as any good theater director would). To get a sense of Chef O’Connell practising some psychiatry, listen to this touching story he tells about an interaction with one of his guests.

Consider your brand as an agent

The dictionary defines an agent as ‘a person who acts on behalf of another’, which is how most of us recognize and use this word. However, if we dig deeper into the dictionary, into the world of physics and chemistry, we find another definition: ‘something that takes an active role or produces a specialized effect’. It is this latter definition that we focus on here, thinking about how your brand—the experiences you create and the meaning drawn from those experiences—changes people, impacts their lives or creates a specialized effect. Is your brand a catalyst, somehow sparking a reaction in your customers, their relations or the world around them? Is your brand a portal, enabling your customers to exit one place or state of being and enter another? Or is your brand an illuminator, shedding light on a situation and enabling them to see it (and likely themselves) in a fresh, new way?

Consider your brand as a personal relation

What are the more intimate roles your brand plays for your customers? These roles can be as a member of their immediate family, but also their extended family: someone whom they’re not technically related to but who plays an important role in their lives nonetheless. This is a very abundant area for identifying roles, as we consider our own relationships with our immediate family members and the myriad of personal relationships we have with others. For example, the nurturing mom, crazy uncle, doting and spoiling grandmother, best friend, mentor, coach, good neighbor, caretaker, etc.

I once asked a very popular trainer what role he played with his clients, and he said: “Sometimes I’m their best friend. Sometimes I’m their worst enemy. But most often I try to be that supportive but slightly detached, cool older brother whom they admire and look up to, and I use that position to encourage them but also push them to try harder. And sometimes, I just smack them and tell them to ‘Move it!’ like my big brother always did to me.”

The more you start to look into these three areas of potential roles, the more you will see how easily they can blend into each other. Is a nurse a supportive profession or more a personal and intimate relation? Can’t a great teacher also be a catalyst or illuminator? If this starts to happen, let it. There are no hard lines between these three areas, so mix them up, approach them from different angles and don’t be afraid to cross-fertilize. You will get richer, more defined and unique roles as a result.

No matter what roles you uncover, make certain everyone on your staff not only understands them but also recognizes their part in bringing those roles to life each day. When this happens, you will create more compelling experiences around your brand that elicit more powerful meaning for your customers, and they will love you all the more for it.

This post originally ran on February 12, 2013, as the fourth and final part of a series of articles I wrote for UK-based travel and tourism website, EyeForTravel. An eBook of all four articles (and more) is currently under development.

TagsbrandingBrandsExpertiencesHospitalitymeaningRolesStorytellingTourismTourism StorytellingTravelTravel Storytelling

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