PR, Marketing, More: Observations from the Lido Deck

Here’s the problem with vacation: my brain goes with me.

Oh to be on a cruise

Once again my vacation of choice this year was a Carnival cruise. Snorkeling, cocktails, sun, sleep, food, fun, reading, napping.. the usual suspects all present and accounted for. Also in attendance, my communications consultant brain always seeing and thinking “oh they could do this, that business should try that.”

Difference makers. First time on a ‘Conquest’ class ship and while bigger may be better, it’s the Fun 2.0 features that really upgrade this cruise experience. I’ve done more cruises without those extra touches than with and all things the same, that’s the cruise that’s worth it. The Value is there; in the extra eateries and entertainment options, and across the board those ships, those crews, the food, the fun.. everything seems stepped up to the next level.

Know Your Customer. This was both hit and miss.

  • The miss: many of my favorite experiences were scheduled during my getting ready for/eating dinner time. I know the cruise director was working around having only two sea days and yet, I can’t help but think – and wasn’t the only one to notice – that many of the popular activities were geared towards for the early seating. Balance for everyone, please.
  • The hit: the redesigned, ‘upgraded’ dinner menus. Upgrade in quotes because in a brilliant stroke of branding and design smarts, Carnival fooled a lot of repeat guests into thinking it’s a ‘new’ menu. While some selections were new and truly improved, it’s also a lot of the same – simply repackaged. What was once the kitschy ‘didja’ as in ‘did ya ever want to try…’ is now labeled a ‘rare find,’ the ‘always available’ is the new ‘from the grill’ section, what was the ‘Caribbean’ inspired fare du jour has been dubbed ‘port of call’ to honor the journey. Same food, different labeling, pretty typesetting .. and voila everyone’s impressed.
    • Near miss or almost hit. The pasta with the mushroom cream sauce doesn’t hold a candle to Maggiano’s Rigatoni D. Ergo changing a logo won’t fix the brand, a pretty menu with flowery marketing descriptions doesn’t improve the food. I’ve always thought Carnival made a mistake by cooking down to its guests; the ‘new’ menus aren’t a perfect fix but certainly another step – in line with the very good Blue Iguana Cantina and Guy Fieri’s burgers – in the right direction.

IMG_1204Keep it Simple. Much like when you go to Disney World, you’re not going for themes and rides – you’re there for the experience. People pay very good money for those family trips, those shared moments and memories.

Same with cruising; it’s a no worries, little bit of everything for everyone kind of vacation. To that end, I loved the cruise-ship owned ‘private’ island; it’s a nice lazy beach day, where they do all the work and planning for you and it’s included without an excursion expense.

Service + Value = The Trick. The Liberty crew did a great job but always room for improvement. Been in food service enough to know it’s hard to serve that many people and yet, with all their practice, you’d think I’d get better than lukewarm pancakes.

Then there are the various daily specials the spa runs. So while marketing gets the win, PR takes the loss as the nice woman I met who paid more than $100 bucks for her facial kinda felt she got hosed when they broadcast the $39 deal over the intercom. And a cheapskate like myself learns to never pay full price, wait for the promo sale and get that ‘value.’

Lagniappe. AKA random thoughts.

  • Many ports and places kinda marketing proof; Grand Turk is such a small island, there’s little competition on beach clubs or diving operators — you pretty much have to take what you can get.
  • That said, I repeated the exact excursion – a sail and turtle snorkel – I’d done a few years ago in St. Thomas, I thought so much of the service, experience and value.
  • Comedians make brilliant sociologists, anthropologists. They relate to people – the why of what makes us tick – so they can tell jokes we’ll get. Dan Gabriel - “Going on Facebook is the life equivalent of looking in the fridge when you’re not hungry.” (Tweet This.) So spot-on I wrote it down. Makes me think PR turned comedian Shane Rhyne has a real chance.

Ok folks – books, gossip rags, a few too many drinks at the bar – how does one turn their brain off and just be away? Tell me your secret. P.S. Love it when a monster long blog post writes itself!

 Photo Credit: No silly meme this time, just lovely blue water taken by yours truly. Because I’m mean like that.
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Personal Service: Marketing and Public Relations Secret Weapon

For all the chatter about branding, reaching out, building relationships and making connections, I wonder how much of it really cuts through and matters to the paying customer.

Service and the X Factor

If two businesses are selling the same thing for comparable prices, what’s the difference maker?  That little something extra: an unexpected gift or special touch, Lagniappe we from Louisiana call it.

  • I don’t do fast food that often, but Chick-Fil-A (and their evil Chicken Minis) has always been one of my favorites. Chick-Fil-A may not have a dollar value menu like other fast food chains; it’s the employees that make an impression. Everyone is polite, well spoken, friendly and professional about doing their jobs.Just because it’s fast food, does not mean they cannot go above and beyond. During their Labor Day promotion last year, the service was fast, and then some: our food was delivered to our table, no waiting.

When Service gets Personal

What will make someone drive an extra five miles out of their way in Atlanta traffic (See also: the 6th circle of Hell) to go to one business vs. another? Quality, service and price certainly play their parts, but it’s the X factor.

I shop two wine stores in the Smyrna Vinings area of Atlanta. Wine-RedWhite

  • Smyrna World of Beverage. Large, varied selection with competitive pricing and solid service from owner Jay Wang.
    He makes great recommendations for affordable, second-label wines and new varietals.  More than that, Jay really likes and knows wine, and makes an effort to remember my face and my tastes when I visit.It’s a great shop just up the street, next to my local Publix and so convenient.
  • The Wine Cellars. Limited but impressive niche selection, focusing on quality wines at reasonable prices, and outstanding personal service. Owner Renee Rowe offers free wine tastings some days to give her customers a chance to try before they buy.Going a step further, Renee is developing relationships beyond the store. The other day she emailed me to let me know a couple of my favorite labels were back in stock. A simple example of personal service that will get me in my car, making more trips to see her…and spending more money in her store.

For small businesses in a harsh reality of price squeezes from big chains and competition from the Internet, the little things–the personal touch with a quick, easy and free email–make the biggest difference.

What’s your favorite example of personal service that keeps you going back for more?

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Do More for Less: Identity Packages Add Value

esign & communications freelancer, I am often asked to do projects on the cheap. Or rather deliver professional-looking projects as affordably as possible. More often than not, I am happy to oblige. Style Even the smallest business needs good marketing collateral; that's a cornerstone of my practice and I work to
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