Thailand buddhist temple tigers

Thailand Buddhist Temple Tigers

buddhist temple tigersThe news about 40 dead tiger cubs at the Thailand Temple makes me cringe. So I ask, what is your personal responsibility in embracing a brand of Buddhist Temple Tigers as your own?

I’m going to make the argument that it is a deadly serious responsibility. One that most of us ignore (the root of the word ignorant).

Why should it surprise any of us that any tourist venues (and the Buddhist Temple resplendent with tigers was just that) that have us interact with animals in what appears to be an unnatural way is a form of exploitation. When we participate in this charade, we endorse it. It becomes our personal brand.

I remember as a kid my folks took my sister and I on a station wagon vacation. These types of vacations were the norm for my family so it wasn’t until my 16th birthday that I first rode in an airplane. My Dad drove us everywhere, but that is a meaty story for another day.

It was the summer of 1964 and our family began a cross country trek from our home in New Jersey to Yellowstone National Park. Mom and Dad were not the adventurous type and I don’t remember doing any REAL hiking in the park. On the contrary, my experience in the park was restricted to boardwalk pedestrian access to hot springs, photo oportunities and point of interest.

Buddhist Temple tigers are like bear jams

The highlight for me, the nine year old, was certainly the bear jams. A bear or a mother bear and her cubs took up a begging position on a main road and everyone filed out of the car to feed the begging animals candy, cookies or chips. When the ranger finally arrived and forced everyone to leave (because we were all in some danger, being inches away from a wild animal) the bear jam dispersed and everyone piled back in their cars seeking the next jam a mile or so up the road.

No one mentioned the danger TO the poor bear. No one said it was unnatural and unhealthy for a bear to become habituated to people, reliant on hand-outs for food and, worse still, nourished on a diet of human junk food.

Ten years later and the bears were gone. The National Park Service began to really crack down on tourists who stopped and fed bears. It closed the dumps in the park where bears congregated for easy food and installed bear-proof trash cans everywhere in the park.

Today, there may be an occasional bear jam but it is when a brownie or grizzly is spotted hundreds of yards away moving in its natural habitat. When you visit Yellowstone today, your brand is that of an unspoiled naturalist. Good for everyone. Including the bears.

But, as I scan Facebook for the comings and goings of friends and friends of friends, I can’t tell you how many, otherwise smart people, go to swim with the dolphins and think the animals are perfectly happy to haul humans around on their dorsal fins. My God. Watch The Cove and see just how these animals are captured and the amount of tranquilizers they must be fed to keep them docile and only a little crazy.

Outrage over the movie Black Fish has pressured Sea World to change its focus on Shamu (at least a little bit of change) and Ringling Brothers has retired its elephants.

How ignorant can we be?

Buddhist Temple TigersBut we are surprised that the Buddhist Temple tigers in Thailand, which has become de rigueur for Bangkok tourists who pay $100 to have their picture made with adult Tigers, is natural? What is it about these Buddhist monks that makes these solitary uber-predators docile? That’s easy. It’s called mistreatment. Tigers don’t care about your philosophy, vegetarian diet or religion. They don’t even care if you practice non-violence. Tigers are tigers.

They need our protection not domestication. Its easy to recognize that something terrible is actually going on.

So when you visit a dolphin enclosure, the Buddhist Temple Tigers, a circus (with trained lions and tigers) or a Sea World-type park, your brand is not innocent tourist. Your brand is exploitative human. Selfish and ignorant.

Destination marketing: Good isn’t enough

Last week I wrote about the potential brand benefits of Cuba as a travel destination, with its brand equity of the pre-Castro years making it forbidden fruit for new US travelers.

In that post, I mentioned that the destination and tourism category is overfilled with similar messaging, meaning there are few real destinations in the world that actually own something.

Some asked me for an example of a destination struggling with coming up with that differentiation. So I bring you, Jackson Hole.

You can see what the marketers of Jackson Hole are trying to do here. They are trying to own “big” in nature terms. That humans are in awe of the vastness surrounding Jackson Hole.

The problem is that the real takeaway (remember, viewers see ads in a snapshot, not as a deep examination) is that Jackson Hole is just like Vail, Aspen or any other ski resort. There is an attempt at an emotional cue, and it’s better than most, but I don’t think that’s what prospective visitors are going to take away from it.

Its theme of “There’s More to Winter” isn’t bad, but Jackson Hole has not linked it to the idea of vastness. It’s still about all the things you can do in winter. It’s still about product benefits, in the terms of the destination and tourism industry.

I point out Jackson Hole not to pick on it. I point it out because it’s systematic of the lack of courage from destination marketers. They don’t go far enough, dipping a toe into the lake of emotion without going all the way.

I’m not suggesting Jackson Hole (and others) go weepy. What I am saying is that the theme should match up with the message. I supposed you could make an intellectual argument that the vastness of Jackson Hole gives you something more to look forward to in winter, but instinctively, it’s still about skiing and other winter sports. That there’s more to do in Jackson Hole in the winter than anywhere else.

Nice try, Jackson Hole. But, like your competitors, you can do better. Because the problem with destination marketing isn’t bad marketing. It’s the only good.

Don’t Recline your Airline Seats

OK, I think I have had enough. I just read an article in the Wall Street Journal with the headline “Airline Seat Battles: Be Kind, Don’t Recline?” It was about the minuscule space afforded airline passengers in economy cabin seats and how we should not recline our airline seats.

Airline seats are hard and uncomfortable
If you want comfort it is your responsibility

I fly constantly and because of that, I sometimes get upgraded to First Class where a snack box comes with every rock-hard seat and free alcoholic drinks are offered to the business teetotalers because of impending meetings. Still, I spend more time than the average flyer in economy and economy plus.

It really makes me mad that the responsibility for the comfort of the person behind me now resides with me. Don’t get me wrong, it almost makes me sick when the person in front of me reclines their seat and, not only is there not enough room to work on my computer but I get a bird’s eye view of my fellow passenger’s scalp diseases. Why is this my responsibility? Why don’t air passengers hold the airlines responsible for the basics of comfort?

It has gotten to the point where I travel with a memory foam cushion for my butt and a back support cushion for the small of my back. This is simply to ensure that I can get off the plane without limping up the jet way.

The airlines, last I looked, are making money again. The flights I seem to fly, while rarely on time, a full to capacity with a dozen or so stand-by passengers waiting in line for the claustrophobic privilege of smelling one another’s scalps.

I guess we get what we deserve and I guess we deserve nothing. In the meantime, let’s “Keep Climbing” with DELTA or “Flying the Friendly (albeit cramped and uncomfortable) Skies” with United. Maybe the “New American” Airlines will treat passengers better? Oh wait a minute, now I remember; the merger of US Airways and American Airlines was for the airline’s benefit and not the flying public’s. My bad.

Harrah’s Branding Study – Branding Entertainment

Branding Entertainment. Harrah’s was a Meritocracy

By Tom Dougherty

We found this brand study to be most informative. While it speaks mainly to the destination/tourism industry, the lessons can be applied to any category and represents hoe you should go about branding entertainment and not just gambling.

Since this article was written, Harrah’s was purchased by Caesar’s Entertainment. But the lesson to be learned still applies. Brand building for destination and tourism is more complicated than more traditional services and goods. Harrah’s branding efforts have addressed these complexities well. In many ways it is

Branding entertainment is fluid. Caesar's Entertainment purchased Harrah's
Caesar’s purchased Harrah’s

easier to transmit the brand meaning, and yet it has other more dangerous pitfalls. Traditional products must convey their brands strictly through intrusive marketing channels. Aside from packaging and POS, the only interaction the brand has is through media channels. This retail marketspace is an inefficient way to convey brand meaning. Destinations have the advantage of being able to immerse the customer in the brand, and they have deep, personal and rich ways of delivering the brand. Because of a customer base limited by accessibility and availability, it is not as cost-effective to spend as much money on mass marketing as a traditional packaged goods company.

Campbell’s and P&G can spend $60 million dollars on advertising “Sunny Delight” because reach and frequency, along with availability, is what drives their marketspace. Penetration in this market is limited only to the company’s capacity to produce more and by the advertising’s reach and persuasiveness. While destinations have a faster and more efficient highway to brand meaning — straight to the visitors hearts — most of the brand meaning is conveyed during usage and not before. This means your brand should be managed to great effect during usage. Packaged goods do not enjoy such luxury. However, it means that managing your brand is much more complex because the brand relationship has many touch-points and facets. As a result your brand is only as secure as your weakest link. Let’s take a look at how one hospitality/destination provider grew their brand.


First they overhauled their marketing, replacing the industry veterans with customer relationship management “rocket scientists.” They used a loyalty card

Harrah's brand marketing is great entertainment branding
The Harrah’s Logo is all about fun

program and sophisticated technology to collect and analyze data from customer interactions. The insights thus obtained guided every marketing plan and investment decision. Second, they raised the bar in one particular way: despite Harrah’s widespread recognition as the best casino operator for customer service, they persuaded property managers that it could—and had to be—improved. Third, leveraging Harrah’s unique national distribution network, they invested heavily in building the Harrah’s brand.

A Human Resources Approach

Finally, they shook up Harrah’s culture with a new human-resource approach that valued brainpower and leadership over industry experience. The gamble was to make the existing businesses grow without access to new casino development. This was a retail strategy—a loyalty-oriented, same-store-sales-growth strategy—which had no precedent in the casino business. “We (management) said that you don’t primarily need more gaming; you need more loyalty among players who already know you.” That meant orienting the company toward influencing consumer choice. So this whole strategy was about modifying consumer behavior. They set about building a bunch of self-reinforcing mechanisms that enveloped “players” (as they call customers) with reasons to be more loyal.

Build a REAL Brand

Part of this effort was to create a brand they could be attached to, and that required a significant improvement in service quality. Part of it was using relationship-marketing tools that constantly tried to develop closer and more valuable interactions with customers.  “I’ve always been fascinated by the power of brands to influence consumer decisions. The gaming business is a service that provides deep enjoyment. People are very caught up in gaming. I mean, it’s every bit as personally rewarding as fragrances, fashion, automobiles, resort destinations—you name it. It’s an experience that cries out for a brand, yet nobody was stepping up to that.” “We could step up by creating a national gaming brand, and no one else could …we wanted a brand that really inspired customer loyalty. “ They also had the opportunity to create a powerful brand because they focused on just one thing: a great gaming experience.

They Maintained Focus

They were not primarily for families or for destination getaways. They were a gambling joint. “We’re there for people who want to gamble, and that’s where we wanted to center the brand. The economics are very transparent. So we’re just for gamblers. Your property-positioning statements are centered specifically on gaming and the thrilling, exciting experiences your customers describe while visiting your casinos.” They called this positioning “exuberantly alive” because it focused on the customers’ raw energy and enthusiasm for this form of entertainment. All of their brand advertising clearly illustrates this feeling and resonated extremely well with gamblers. “It’s all about gaming.” The Total Rewards program was the first thing they worked on. It was a customer-recognition rewards program then, not a loyalty program. It did not have loyalty incentives. If you were a $500 customer, they would give you $100 in goodies—discounts on rooms, free meals, and so on—every time you came in. But if you didn’t come for a year and in the meantime visited competing casinos, still, the next time you came in again they treated you like a $500 guy and gave you $100 in goodies.

They Raised The Bar

They changed the program by building in loyalty incentives so that as a customer, each time you think about visiting a casino, you end up visiting Harrah’s because it’s better for you. Or to put it in the negative, if you don’t visit Harrah’s you lose something. So there’s this clear pecuniary and non-pecuniary signal that influences decision-making. Total Rewards is now a three-tiered loyalty program, with gold, platinum and diamond levels. You can consolidate all your gaming with them in any of their casinos. The more of your gaming you give them, the bigger the rewards and you go up the tiers.

The Results

The results of that program have been stunning. People who are close to a gate—from gold to platinum, from platinum to diamond—aspire to get over those gates by consolidating their business with them. “We know that if they make ten visits to Atlantic City—and we used to give them, say, three of those visits—they know that to get a Diamond Card they have got to give us six visits, and they do. If you look at your same-store-sales growth and your overall revenue growth, it is disproportionately among those who have advanced through the tiers and consolidated their business with us. It’s exactly what we set out to do.” They also collect a tremendous amount of information on what players do. “We know when you arrive at a casino, what you do there, and when you leave. We have information on 26 million customers. And we measure everything.” The only business that comes close to measuring as much as Harrah’s is Wal-Mart. “Testing and measuring is important to us. When your employees use the words ‘I think,’ the hair stands up on the back of my neck. We have the capacity to know rather than guess at something because we collect so much information about your customers. And if we say, ‘I know,’ let’s really make sure we know.”

The Real Secret

They credit the number one, most important thing in this whole process as this: bringing in the marketing director as the chief operating officer, not the chief marketing officer. “Chief marketing officers have ideas, and they try to sell them to the guys with line authority. They spend all their lives selling. Most of their work is not done against competitors; it’s done internally, trying to get the P&L people to let them do things. That’s a losing battle. And if you’re trying to generate change in an operating business, it’s almost a doomed exercise. As chief operating officer, I had the authority to say, ‘Here’s how we’re going to engage customers.’ Architecturally, they did a couple of other critical things. The corporate office was not adequately serving the operating businesses. It was isolated, had a lot of inefficiencies in it, and the property general managers hated it. So they made it clear that they knew where the customers were and where the money was. They weren’t confused about that. “We really tried to change the whole gestalt around the corporate office, and we implemented some things that helped. For example, to raise money to support the brand-advertising campaign, I instituted a 1 percent brand tax on the properties. Now, if you were a McDonald’s

The Harrah's Brand total rewards program is all about branding entertainment
They made total rewards special

franchise you’d have to give 9 percent, so lucky you, you’re only giving 1 percent. We’re going to put it in the budget, and Richard Mirman, your chief marketing officer, will figure out what to do with it. “ Bonuses depended on customer satisfaction results. They developed a service curriculum, which came out of research with their best customers on the issues that really motivated their loyalty. For the first time in the company’s history, every single employee attended this training.

They paid them their tipped wages while they were in training. At the end of the program, they had to pass a test—otherwise they could not keep their job. Coupled with this they started paying out a bonus to every non-management employee of the casino if his or her property improved its customer service scores by 3 percent over the same period a year earlier. They have paid out $40 million in bonuses to employees across the system—anywhere from $75 to $300 each, each quarter. “If I hadn’t been chief operating officer, this would have been a dead program. But it’s a big deal to employees. In the employee areas there are graphs to let them know their service numbers, which are based on customer satisfaction surveys. The data come in each week, and employees check to see how they’re doing.”

In order to do a better job of entertainment branding they track the customers who fill out surveys and can track their gaming behavior, so they can assess whether a player who rates them better this year than last year also plays more. And the answer is remarkably positive. The people who are happier with their service play much more with them, and the people who become unhappy play much less with them. There’s no question but that the results are largely service driven. They also worked on reducing employee turnover. A lot of it comes from making sure employees know what they’re being hired into. They check in with employees the first week they’re on the job, the second week, the fourth week, the eighth week. They work very hard on supervision reviews and so on. They have managed to reduce turnover quite a lot, which in turn helps out customer service scores.

“I think the single biggest cultural change has come by instilling a meritocracy. I’m very pleased with where we’ve come on this. Once, people were considered adequate if they were meeting the minimum standards of the job. I do talent reviews annually with all of your operating and corporate people, and, frankly, I say to general managers, ‘Do we really want you to spend your time trying to make a barely OK person successful? Why wouldn’t we rather have a case where employees are so good that they are putting some heat on you and teaching you some things and pushing you around a little bit and making you better?

If you’re not working with people who make you better, something is wrong. I wanted to instill the notion that jobs didn’t belong to people; jobs belong to a company. It was the company’s responsibility to get the most capable person it could find into the job. People say this used to be a safe, family company, and now that damned professor has turned this into a place where nobody can feel safe. And there’s an element of truth to that, because it is results that make any of us safe.

If we don’t produce, the shareholders and the other employees deserve better.” The result of this meritocratic approach has been that we have assembled the best management team in the industry. And management talent has been key to your success. “We look for people who are very, very smart. I think this business will become a consumer distribution business, and I want us to be the leaders of that process. We’re the only casino company currently that will offer you gaming in a land-based traditional casino, a riverboat, a Native American reservation, and a ‘racino’—a race track with a casino.”

Entertainment branding has similarities to destination branding.

How destinations get the brand wrong

Atlantic City Closes Casinos

Destination Brands. Cuba

The Time Is Right For Destinations To Build Brands

Destination Brands. Cuba and the Tourism Market

By Tom Dougherty

It has been years since the bottom fell out of the destination and tourism industry, (Read some thoughts on the destination/tourism market here) but many are hopeful that prospects are looking up. However, from a destination brand perspective, the fear is that the marketing of the Tourism brands will fall victim to the same trap, constantly fighting to attract tourists without any long-term solution as new and more enticing destinations enter into the category.

Destination Brands. CubaThe way to overcome this seemingly never-ending struggle is for destinations to build individual brands that are more about the tourist than about the destination. Historically, that’s not been the case.

Instead, the tourism brands have been marketing destinations themselves and have more often than not been about the type of destination, exploring the benefits of visiting a tropical destination or one in the Far East, etc.

In tropical destinations, for example, marketing dollars have been lavishly spent enticing the potential visitor with brand visions of romance, white sandy beaches and turquoise waters.

So, if you bought into that as a tourist, you bought into the idea of traveling to a tropical destination, but you haven’t really made a decision. You’ve only picked your considered set of destinations. How can you differentiate one destination from another? It’s not as if no other island or resort has sky, water, white (or pink or black) sandy beaches and friendly natives. Destinations are not creating brands to inspire true preference among the considered set. They’re just motivating preference between considered sets and creating preference for tropical destinations over, let’s say, adventure and wildlife destinations, such as Alaska.

Cuba And Destination Branding

Destination Brands. CubaThere’s proof of this lack of brand identity in the numbers. With a few exceptions, market share mirrors share of voice. The one that spends the most money gets the largest market share. But from a stealing share perspective, you don’t have to outspend the competition to increase market share. You can develop a brand positioned against your competition and aligned with customer values so that the customers naturally covet your destination brand.

CastroNow there’s a new problem: Cuba. The lifting of the U.S. travel embargo to Cuba is currently being debated in Congress. Make no mistake about it; Cuba will quickly jump to number one in tourism branding traffic when that happens at the expense of the rest of the category. So few destinations have a brand and tourists will flock to Cuba because, for a while at least, it will represent something like a brand. Cuba will represent “forbidden fruit” and Cuban tourists will feel special, like they are setting a trend by being among the first to visit the exotic locale.

A destination brand that is built to steal market share is not found in the beaches, coral reefs, or local culture. Stealing share capabilities reside in the hearts of the customers of the competition. Take Cuba, for example. The ”forbidden fruit” and “one of the first to visit” attractions have nothing to do with the amenities of the country itself. Everyone who plans a visit to a place like Cuba will expect the same marketing promises: exotic food, white sandy beaches, turquoise blue water and interesting culture. They will go to Cuba because being a Cuban visitor says more about them as a traveler than going to any other tropical destination.

stock-footage-flag-of-bahamasTourism branding is always about your customer and not about you (the destination). On too many occasions destinations claim all sorts of amenities they believe will be important. Puerto Rico claims to be close and the Virgin Islands claim to be “ours” (as in, part of the United States), but our research indicates that the consumer does not care for those claims. Puerto Rico may be close, but it’s not that much closer to us through the air than Jamaica. Does anyone actually think that tourists are going to choose Puerto Rico because it saves them 15 minutes in the air?


Destination Brands. CubaConsider this: Hawaii is first in top-of-mind awareness among U.S. travelers, but it’s not at the top in the number of U.S. visitors. If it had a brand that said something meaningful about who the tourist is when they visit Hawaii, they would not have to increase their marketing budget to steal share.

Tropical destinations can rest easy knowing that their advertising does not have to say, “Come here to swim. We have beaches, sun and alcohol.” Even though that’s exactly what they are saying now, they should understand they are not telling their target audiences anything new. Few other industries have category benefits that are so well known. With tourists beginning to travel more and with the looming threat of Cuba, it’s time for destinations to build brands around the tourists and start stealing share.