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September 12, 2007

Standing at the mirror in a hotel bathroom, I was hunting desperately for my toothbrush. “I’m sure I packed it! How could I forget my TOOTHBRUSH?! Now what am I going to do?”

Then I spot the ever-present, small plastic sign on the counter asking (almost mocking) me: “Forget something?”

“Yes!” I mutter without audience or defense. I read on to the explicit promise of: “Forget a toothbrush, toothpaste, shaving cream, razor, or comb? Call the front desk and we’ll bring you a complimentary replacement.”

Too embarrassed to call downstairs I take the elevator to the lobby and humbly asked for a toothbrush at the front desk.

“We don’t have any toothbrushes” the person behind the counter answered.

“But the sign in my room promised you would.”

“We don’t.”

“Could you please check?”

“I know we don’t.”

“What do you suggest I do?” I implored trying to keep my cool.

“You can buy one in the gift shop. Over there.”

Three dollars, and change, later I returned to my room with a toothbrush and a question: How could this happen? How could a simple, explicit brand promise that’s common in the hospitality industry be so carelessly broken?

After freshening up from my trip, I drove to a university campus where I delivered a half-day seminar on “How to Lead a Branded Organization”. Over thirty business owners and marketers were there to hear what I had to say. I shared with them my encounter at the hotel – still very fresh in my mind. After a morning of teaching how to own and live their companies’ brand this little story drove my point home.

A seminar participant shared with the group, “I’m negotiating a contract for more than $30,000 with that hotel later this week. We bring our most important customers from around the country here throughout the year. That’s the hotel where we were planning to have them stay. Now maybe we won’t. Their sales staff has been great to work with, but if that’s the way they deliver on their brand…”

All that time, effort, training, and money spent on building a brand – a top-notch customer experience, just to have it all disappear in an instant through a seemingly inconsequential moment of truth.

Building and owning a great brand is hard work – a 24/7 job by everyone in the organization. It’s carefully developing and delivering on your brand promises. Not most of the time, but all of the time.

Take a look around your organization. Broke any brand promises lately?

…And this is how it works. If you are the owner of this hotel you can complain about how hard it is to maintain a level of service which corresponds to every client but at the end of the day if you are below par it will show and you will lose money. Keeping your employees from turning into zombies is a daily task which must be part of any companies brand strategy. This great example from Mike Wagner.

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