The Tom Dougherty Blog


Posts categorized “Travel”

Carnival must do more than just replace its CEO

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Carnival announced recently that it was replacing its current CEO, Micky Arison, with Arnold W. Donald. It is also time to replace its aging “Fun Ship” brand.

Carnival has been hammered over the past year with a series of problems with its ships. This has had a chilling effect throughout the cruise industry, but has really hit Carnival in particular.

QtrFunnel_4CUUnless you were planning to go on “Survivor: The Cruise Ship Edition,” the prospect of getting stuck on an inoperable cruise ship certainly doesn’t pay off the “Fun Ship” brand Carnival has tried so hard to create.

But really, my issues with Carnival’s brand date earlier than its recent problems. I just really don’t know how a brand promise of “Fun Ship” differentiates Carnival from its competitors. After all, aren’t all cruises supposed to be fun?

Fun as a promise is just a restatement of what all cruising is supposed to be. In and of itself, it is not a reason to choose. Think of it this way, would any competitor claim to be the “Not Fun Ship?” Not intentionally, of course, so therefore “fun” is a product benefit of the entire category.

Carnival should take this time to reset its brand like it is resetting its CEO. I have no doubt, based upon the historical success of Carnival, that Mr. Donald is very capable. But Carnival’s problems are far deeper than just its CEO.

The cruise industry needs a brand reboot

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Talk about a public relations disaster. The cruise industry has been awash in hideous publicity for more than a year. And the ugly news just keeps coming.

It’s been just 13 months since The Costa Concordia – operated by Costa Cruises, a subsidiary of Carnival – ran into a rock off the coast of Italy. The ship is still resting on its side and is a powerful reminder of an accident that killed at least 30 people.

Then, in February 2012, the Costa Allegra – another Costa Cruise ship – had to be towed to shore after a fire in its engine room left that ship marooned off the coast of India.

Now this: The Carnival Triumph was stranded at sea last week after a fire in its engine room left that cruise ship without power. In interviews after they reached shore in Mobile, AL, disgusted passengers described conditions that made it sound like they had been marooned in a floating cesspool.

Not good.

The cruise industry is quickly becoming a punch line. The only way to fight that awful perception will be through brand. The cruise line that tackles the bad publicity head-on will be the one that takes the leadership position in the industry.

Cruises are all about fun. When passengers endure anguish, anxiety, discomfort and even death at sea, the image of cruising is sunk.

Ironically, Carnival unveiled a television ad in December that claimed its ships were, “Fun for all. All for Fun.” Sadly, there are thousands of passengers from the Triumph that would take issue with that happy claim.

All of the players in the category should re-think their brands and ask themselves a few questions. They should ask why passengers would choose them over other lines and who do passengers think they are when taking a cruise? What do passengers want from a cruise: Is it only about fun or is there some other experience that they seek?

It’s rare that public perception must be addressed through brand, but that is the case with the cruise industry.

Some experts predict that the cruise industry’s problems will fade away with time. Maybe so. But what happens if there is another incident?

Zipcar and Avis can be a success but will depend on brand

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With the acquisition of Zipcar underway by Avis Budget group, Avis should take this time to consider how closely the Zipcar should be integrated. The joining of Avis, a traditional car rental company, and Zipcar, a car sharing company in which members pay for access to a network of Zipcar vehicles (located throughout large cities such as Portland and Chicago), is a match that makes sense from a business sense but one that will need more attention from a brand sense.

From a business sense Zipcar’s can expand its fleet easily with vehicles already in use by Avis, and Zipcar can help Avis diversify itself a bit from rental competitors like Hertz.  However, things are a bit less cut and dry when it comes to brand. From a brand perspective Avis is about utility and Zipcar is about a lifestyle.zipcar brand avis brand

The brand considerations are more about context than anything else. Take for example the Avis customer. They are someone in a position in which a car rental has become a necessity. The context in which they choose the Avis brand is most likely at an airport and in that moment, either due to business or vacation, a rental vehicle is needed. Zipcar on the other hand is about the day-to-day. Zipcar is for the city dweller where vehicle ownership might simply be impractical. The end result for an Avis customer and a Zipcar member might be the same (each gains use of a car for a period of time), but the context is very different.

There is certainly a commonality between Avis and Zipcar, and from an acquisition standpoint, it should not have many people scratching their heads as to why. But speaking as someone who first sees brand implications and then business implications, Avis needs to find the emotional thread that is shared between the Avis customer and the Zipcar member and should use that intensity to bridge the two brands. The fact that the two companies rent cars should simply be  filler.


American Express: an example of smart destination branding

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There’s a lesson to be learned here. In Travel Weekly’s “Power List 2012” – which is based on numerous factors, including sales – the No. 1 spot is once again held by American Express.

Many of the brands you might expect are in the Top 10, online booking sites such as Expedia and Priceline, for instance. But I agree that American Express is the most powerful player in the destination and travel market.

There’s a simple explanation for this: American Express has a brand that is as much about the people it’s for as the people it’s not. It is for travelers, especially business people, who “don’t leave home with it” and want to project a certain upper-class image. The key is that American Express has not tried to be everything to everyone. When a company does that, it is for no one.

This is the trap that destinations – and most brands within the travel industry, for that matter – fall into. Instead of pinpointing their target market, they simply sell “getting away” or the amenities that exist at their particular destination. In the context of the competition, those messages are meaningless.

The usual approach is timid because it demonstrates that the destination brands are afraid of putting a stake in the ground. If we say we are only for X, then we’ll never get Y, they say.

The wrongheadedness of this is that if X is emotionally powerful, most audiences will want to define themselves as X – just as the large numbers of American Express customers have done. Very few travelers don’t want to think of themselves as cultured, smart and knowledgeable about the world around them.

Putting a stake in the ground is easier said than done. But the ones who take that step wield the most power. As Travel Weekly has noted, American Express is a case in point.

Destination and tourism brands often fail to use their inherent advantages

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There are very few industries more interesting to rebrand than destination and tourism. That’s because the best brands tie what the actual destination represents with who the travelers are when they visit that particular and unique destination.

Las Vegas, with its “What Happens in Vegas, Stays in Vegas,” is the best example. It says both what Las Vegas is about (dirty fun) and links that meaning to who you are, therefore, when you visit there (got a bit of a wild side that you don’t really want people to know about).

However, most destinations just slap their name on marketing that just builds the particular category they are in, with messaging either on price, “getting away” and/or “escaping.”

Case in point: Jamaica. Recently, it put up wallscapes on buildings in New York City and they are quite compelling, suggesting some of the work of reclusive graffiti artist Banksy.

But let’s examine it a bit more closely. In terms of meaning, it taps into a yearning by those it’s trying to reach. Namely, that New York is getting you frazzled and you need a break. The use of those in cold weather clothing, then taking them off as they enter the beach is quite clever.

Here’s the thing, though. This could be for anywhere, not just Jamaica. Basically, it’s just saying escape to warm weather or any tropical destination. It simply reflects those who want to escape New York City. Not about escaping New York City to Jamaica. There’s nothing unique about Jamaica in it.

Basically, it’s not creating preference for Jamaica. It’s creating preference for the category.

Destinations have an inherent advantage because that individual destination has its own associations. But, for the most part, destinations simply build the category of travel without creating its own unique preference for that destination. It doesn’t matter how interesting the creative work is.

It’s simply not strategic.

Maybe the preference-building destination rebranding did stay in Vegas after all. Because nobody else has seen it since.

The cruise industry put itself in this spot before the Italy disaster

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The cruise industry is about to go into shambles, which is not the most profound thing I’ve ever written in light of the inane and tragic crash of the Costa Concordia cruise liner near Italy.

I’m not going to get into the specifics of the tragedy, although the cowardliness and ineptitude of the cruiser’s captain is beyond my understanding. Instead, from a consumer point of view, let’s briefly examine what mistakes the industry has made that means it will struggle to overcome the increasingly negative perception of the industry and what it could have done about it.

For years, the cruise industry has gotten lazy in its branding and marketing as, essentially, they all looked and said the same things. Relax, have fun with the entire family, see the world, be catered to, look how beautiful it all is. It was simply marketing the category benefits without making any distinction between the cruise lines or reflecting who the customer is when they use the specific brands.

Let me take this one further. When the cruiser tipped over on the reef, without minimizing the tragedy of it, was anyone surprised? Taking a cruise lately has meant bad food, brief stops at the most undesirable tourist traps and a general letdown.

The cruise industry had been rising some in recent years – with total revenue increasing 9.5% in 2011 over the previous year – but that was attributable to new ships, increased prices and an increase in new bookings (as opposed to repeat bookings).

Now, comes this and the reasons why you would take a cruise, as spoken by the industry itself, are no longer important. Relax? Are you kidding? Have fun? Not important anymore.

If the individual cruise lines had given travelers a reason to choose them based on how those travelers see themselves, they would covet those brands an any declarations about the disaster near Italy would lessen the impact.

Word of warning to all: The cruise industry got lazy. And it’s about to pay for it.

Destinations are stuck in the past: How they can move ahead

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As we’re heading into the last half of the summer, destinations in the northern hemisphere are beginning to examine how successful the season has been and what caused it. In those cases, destinations examine the market conditions – how the oil spill affected the Gulf, for example, and the various economies around the world – to put the results in context.

Those things are important, but the destination and tourism industry fails to examine what is most important: Who the travelers are when they choose the destination.

I thought about this after considering vacations options this summer – including Maine, the Mountain West and even Tahiti and other tropical locations – and finding destinations still marketing themselves as a list of product benefits.

What is especially amazing to me is that those industries more damaged by the recent economic slump – destinations, airlines, banking, etc. – are the ones more likely to conduct business as though nothing has changed.

More now than ever, destinations need to have a brand that is a direct and aspirational reflection of who the traveler wants to be in order to ensure long-term growth.

Instead, they are playing a much less efficient game: Coming up with reasons why the trends are as they are without looking at the problem, and ultimately staying in the same place as they were before – at great cost and effort – and wondering why the problem still hasn’t been fixed.

Las Vegas, not the town it used to be

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The first rule of branding is always Know Your Audience, and have your brand reflect that audience in the most single-minded terms possible. Many see that as only including products, but destinations must accomplish that as well if they are to be a preferred choice.

Choosing a travel destination is often a maze for most travelers, which is why the decision tree is complex. We have worked for many destinations and the primary question still always come down to which has the most defined reflection of me when I use that brand?

The dysfunctional refection of its customer is erupting in the most unlikely of places: Las Vegas.

For years, Vegas was the toast of the branding destination world with its catchy “What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas” themeline that reflected a new (dirty fun) personality for you to try on – and leave behind.

But recently, tourism has declined in Sin City as the number of visitors has dropped 3% from 2008 to 2009, with 2010 holding steady so far. That can, in part, be attributed to downturn the destination industry has been suffering the last few years.

But a deeper look at the numbers unveils more alarming news for Vegas. Gaming revenue was down more than 9% for the Strip in 2009, and the reasons why go beyond simply a lack of consumer confidence as Vegas has traditionally done well in economic downturns.

In recent years, Las Vegas has subtlety shifted from being the place to express your adult inhibitions to a more family friendly experience. Having visited there recently, I saw first hand that the hot attractions are no longer the clubs and casinos. They are the M&M Store, the fountains at the Bellagio, the Disney-esque show at Treasure Island and the shopping malls. The Strip is now filled with children of all ages, including infants, and many bars close at 10 pm.

Now, there’s still sin in Sin City, but you have to look harder for it. Vegas is trying to have it both ways, and that does not make a brand that is coveted by a particular target audience. Vegas no longer feels like an adult amusement park. It’s trying to be an amusement part for everybody.

Vegas is a brand at a loss. Its visitors are spending and gambling less, and that points to a lack of customer focus.

Eventually, Las Vegas will find that being for everybody is a gamble with bad odds.

Amtrak needs to sell "experience." Or, maybe not.

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I’ve got a gripe with Amtrak after a horrendous experience my mother-in-law had with the transportation company recently. To my amazement, she used them at all. She insisted on taking the train from North Carolina to New Jersey, which takes 9 to 10 hours vs. the 1.5-hour flight.

However, the train stopped in Rocky Mount, N.C., because an Amtrak train ahead had accidently hit a pedestrian. Amtrak’s plan, if you can call it a plan, was to have the passengers on her train transported by bus to Union Station in D.C. where they could continue on by train to their various destinations.

My reason for telling this story is it leads to the failures of empty brand promises. (Although not as catastrophically as the empty “Beyond Petroleum” promise of BP.)

Amtrak’s promise to strive “for a greener passenger rail with practices and tactics for improved fuel and energy efficiency.” Yet, I doubt many of their passengers are riding trains because of their green element. It is a promise that rings as hollow and will never steal market share from other modes of “getting there” because it’s not an emotional trigger in the context of travel. You decide to take a train for the experience.

If Amtrak believes it is in the transportation business, it is mistaken and can’t compete with the efficiencies and cost of other modes.

If you’ve traveled by rail in Europe, you understand the ability to deliver a brand of experience. No two-hour arrivals before departure. No crimping seats. Lovely scenery, fast travel and the convenience of unloading in the center of your destination.

Amtrak, however, can’t sell experience except a bad one. You’d better be selling more than green if you expect the general population to invest upwards of nine hours on a train. Americans are not very good at altruism when it comes to moving from place to place. That’s why, in many cases, the environment be damned. “I’ll drive by SUV everywhere!”

The experience of my mother-in-law continues from that stopping point in Mount Airy because this where the bad experience gets worse. These inconvenienced passengers were forced to sit on a hot train for more than an hour and half without air. During summer.

After the air was finally on, the passengers boarded a hot bus for the four-hour drive to Washington DC. Once there, the Amtrak “cowboys” herded the passengers along the length of the station and then down to the tracks where the passengers who had booked coach fare were boarded.

My mother-in-law is an 80-year old diabetic woman with bad hips. By the time she was seated, she was shaking, as was another diabetic passenger. It took her about four days to recover from the “Amtrak experience.”

One of Amtrak’s goals is to keep Americas train service alive. If that is really what it wants, it better take a good long look at who those people are it wants to influence.

Otherwise, it’s going to be a cold day in Hell before they reach them, even as an emotional brand.

Do companies really want to win? Or is it just words?

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I was just thinking this morning that every CEO and marketing director I speak with insists that, more than anything else, they want to win and thrive. They want their business to steal market share from their competitors. I believe that they believe this.

The problem is most of these companies refuse to change anything. They see change as risk, not opportunity, and that thought is erroneous (I’m being kind).

Truth does not enter into most human behavior because we all see our own human behavior as subjective. Only from an outside perspective can truth be seen and understood objectively. Even then, our own truth remains mostly subjective and is therefore rarely changed or altered.

The truth about business, from an objective perspective, is that while it is claimed that businesses covet winning (which has “change” as a bitter requirement), many are in fact more comfortable with the status quo. Even if that choice means business stagnation or contraction.

Disagree with me? You want to win and are willing to fix what holds you back regardless of the risk of change? Call me. We have a lot to talk about.