Over the past few months I’ve been working off radar on a series of projects between MotiveLab and MinerProductions, with the invaluable support and direction of a few top marketing and business minds. We just wrapped up the first phase of one project last week with a retreat at the Four Seasons on the Hawaiian Island of Lanai.
There are a lot of angles I could take on blogging about this event. The conversation was compelling, focused on "marketing transformation" and all the various ways in which marketing is being challenged and recreated as a corporate function. The participants were incredible–a cross-section of experienced marketers, sales people and executives who all came with an informed viewpoint and a willingness to engage in thoughtful dialog and debate. And the outcome is encouraging, with a lot of interest and energy for continuing and accelerating the program.
Since it was a private discussion, I’m not going to trumpet the participants and discussions, though I’m making an open invitation to anyone who wants to continue threads of the dialog in public. But there is one thing I am really compelled to express publicly. It’s a basic marketing lesson we all learn repeatedly, but which I’ve rarely seen demonstrated with so much skill and understated confidence as I did last week.
When it comes to building a brand, experience is everything. We launched our retreat in partnership with the Four Seasons. Everyone knows the Four Seasons is one of the top luxury hotel groups, and it certainly made it easier to recruit participants when we mentioned we’d be staying at the Four Seasons Lanai. But there’s a reason that reputation resonates, and I got a first hand look last week at how that reputation has been made.
On the day we were scheduled to kick off our retreat in Lanai, Hawaii was hit by a major tropical storm. Half of our group was in Lanai when the storm hit; half of our group was grounded at the airport in Honolulu.What started out as an inconvenient delay quickly turned into a minor nightmare, with airlines boarding and aborting flights, lost luggage and an airport full of exhausted travelers with nowhere to go. In this day and age, real customer service is such a rarity you can only expect to wallow in frustration until somehow normality returns. On a good day, maybe the airline would put out dixie cups with bad coffee.
Into this chaos stepped our liaison with the Four Seasons, Brandi Clement. She helped locate each of our retreat participants and got them situated in the bar while she worked through channels to charter a plane to get our group into Lanai. When the weather worsened, she quickly adjusted the plan to fly everyone to Maui to catch a ferry to Lanai. When it became apparent no flights would get off the island, she arranged what any of us would consider top-shelf accommodations in Honululu, all the while apologizing that it wasn’t the highest standard. In the end, we kicked off our retreat on two separate islands, with every detail smoothed over by the Four Seasons team, until we were able to join the groups on Lanai the next day.
I don’t want to make this sound like a commercial for our partner, but when I stepped back to look at the whole experience, it was kind of ironic. Here we had a group of high-level marketing and business executives gathered to discuss marketing challenges, while our host quietly exemplified every facet of what marketing should be. They provided a flawless product and went over backwards to provide service before they were ever asked. I could go on for days about the resort, the breathtaking beauty of the property, the incredible food, the spa… But at the end of the day, what really resonates is the way the same attitude that Brandi brought to solving our travel problems permeated every corner of our experience at the Four Seasons–right down to the bell man who remembered my name each morning. Don’t get me wrong–you pay a lot for an experience at a luxury hotel and you expect the best. But the attitude–the kindness of service–really made an impression. It’s the difference between a product and an experience, and I feel really fortunate to have Four Seasons as a partner.
We’re scouting out logistics for an event on the East Coast. If you know a top marketing or business executive who’s interested in digging into the real challenges of marketing transformation, drop me a note.