Brand Position Check Up For 2019

By Mitchell J. Schlesinger

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I have spent my career primarily in marketing and was fortunate to experience graduate school-type on-the-job-training initially at Avis Rent-a-Car and then during my first stint at Norwegian Cruise Line.  Avis was established as the famous “We Try Harder” brand, making the most of its position as the second biggest company after Hertz, featuring a “nothing-stops-us” service approach.  

At NCL, we initiated television advertising in the cruise industry with the overall brand position; “Americas Favorite Cruise Line”, plus sub-brands for the SS Norway “The Biggest Week in the World” and “Bahamara Monday” for our weekend cruises. “Cruising Italian Style” at Costa Cruises featured gelato bars, pizzerias, Italian wine tastings, toga parties and amazing pastas.   

And at Orient Lines, being “The Destination Cruise Specialists” included itineraries to all 7 continents, pioneering new exotic destinations, and scheduling all itineraries one way to offer more ports, more time in port, more late nights & overnights, and creative immersive shore experiences.  We also extended the brand through awards to top travel producers. Instead of pictures of ships, we framed destination objects, like the Egyptian batik seen here. Other framed awards included an oriental fan, Maori statue, Danish plate, Italian mosaic, etc.  For agents qualifying for these awards, they became part of an art gallery that reflected their expertise in destination travel.   

At each of these companies we worked diligently to establish an identifiable brand position and promise that over time would convey the quality, innovation, differentiation and value of our products and services to our travel agent partners and the consumers who would become our guests. This is what developing a brand position & promise is all about.  

And while you might think, our agency is not a big company, it is still critical that you take the same steps well-known companies do to establish your “brand position & promise” based on the products you feature and related services. And this is more critical than ever in order for you to take advantage of the innovative onboard features and expanding destinations offered by cruise lines and the focus you want to convey to customers.


Establishing a strong brand position:

  •  Effectively communicates the value and positioning of your services
  • Delineates the primary experiences you promote and your expertise in these areas
  • Creates visibility for your agency
  • Provides sustainable competitive differentiation and service advantages
  • Generates long term loyalty


A brand promise provides an expectation from products and services, describes points of differentiation, and defines the agency’s character to customers. Adhering to the brand promise builds equity and value for your brand positioning.   

Your brand position will be established and based on two key elements:*


Product Emphasis & Expertise

If you specialize in selling family vacations, you must be knowledgeable about a broad spectrum of children-friendly experiences from sun/fun to enriching/fulfilling.  

If you primarily promote and sell worldwide destination travel, you must display an expertise in destinations around the world, how customers can best access them, how different cruise lines offer these experiences and why cruises can be a better way to see more of the desired destinations.

In the luxury category, you must reflect knowledge of the nuance differences between luxury lines, including dining, stateroom amenities and specialized opportunities for shore experiences.

And with the soft adventure category expanding, expertise in remote destinations (Antarctica, Artic, Galapagos, etc.) must be combined with intimate knowledge of the experiences offered by ships carrying anywhere from 40-400 guests


Services

Whatever your product focus, it comes with an expectation of a specific level of service, which is the foundation of your reputation. And the expectation of service will be commensurate with the type of product and amount of money being spent by your clients.  

You are also in a position that will always be judged after the fact. Was the recommendation of specific cruise line correct? Did the destination provide the experience clients were seeking? Were other the guests like me?  And most importantly, did my experience represent a strong value based on what I paid?  

Once you have established your brand position, the work really begins. Next are multiple steps required for successful communication of the brand positioning.


Here are some “musts” to effectively communicate your brand:

  • The internal delivery must match the external promotion. Whatever expertise and experiences you promote, you must deliver.  
  • Any employees must reflect the brand. It is YOUR business and reputation and any employees must deliver on this promise.  It is also your responsibility to make sure they understand the brand position, what it means and how it must extend to clients and potential clients. 
  • The brand must be projected in every message you send and on every “touch point” clients and potential clients come in contact with, regarding your agency.
  • Your website is the ultimate platform to project your brand.  
  • It must be completely obvious by the look and feel that you are the specialist in your selected product range.  
  • This is reflected in the information you provide on the site about your services and those of preferred suppliers. 
  • Add links to destination sites to further educate clients looking to purchase a particular trip.  
  • AND, show pictures (with permission) of clients from recent trips to enhance referrals.  Most will enjoy the 15 minutes of fame!
  • PR releases sent to local media and all advertising should always reflect the brand position;  “XYZ Travel, experts in family travel”….or, Exotic Travel, specialists in destinations across the globe”… etc.
  • Be personally visible in your community at events and programs that match your brand position. 

Make sure all local media in the community are aware of your brand position, so that when they get ready to run a story about that product type or destination, they contact you for insights, recommendations, quotes etc.  And you should be proactive and send these media contacts information about popular destinations, new ships, experience trends etc. to give them more ideas for stories.  

This discussion of brand positioning and promise is important because all consumers are “brand centric” to one degree or another. Think of yourself as a consumer, where you shop consistently, what product “brands” you buy regularly, what companies you are loyal to, and why.  It is probably a combination of quality, value and service, which are the same qualities you must project.  Best of all, as consumers’ age, brand centric loyalty only gets stronger.  Once they find a product or service provider they believe in, they stay with it.  For travel this is an enormous opportunity as seniors travel longer and spend more, so it is crucial you establish brand loyalty while your clients are in their 30’s, 40’s & 50’s, so that they stay with you in their 60’s and beyond.

After decades of branding, I instinctively still watch commercials, look at ads, examine websites and physical businesses, always evaluating; what is this company trying to convey?  Focus on developing and communicating a strong brand position for your agency so that you can reap the rewards of brand centric loyalty in your clients.