Guest blog by Prasad Narasimhan, brandgym Managing Partner for Asia, based in Bangalore.
In an earlier blog, I talked about how brands can create deeper relationships with consumers by exploring three spaces – language, navigation & narratives.
While this is true for all kinds of brands, service brands offer considerably more scope for this to be explored and expressed. This is because service brands allow for so many more consumer touch-points and a lot more flexibility on how consumers can be influenced at these touch points. Indeed, each person who interacts with consumers IS the brand, and every single interaction has the power to either make or break the brand.
One brand that does this brilliantly is Orange County Resorts (OCR), a luxury resort chain in India. Even with rooms selling at a whopping $500 a night, they have an enviable occupancy of over 95%! And they continue to repeatedly win all the top awards including the
- · World’s Leading Online Tourism Marketing Campaign award
- · Asia’s Leading Experiential Holiday Resort award at World Travel Awards
- · Asia’s Responsible Tourism award at World Travel Awards
- · Asia’s Leading Themed Resort award at World Travel Awards
- · India’s Leading Wildlife Resort award at World Travel Awards
And guests are ecstatic. To quote Robert Blackwill, former US Ambassador to India- “what a spectacular setting & facility! I recommend Orange County to all, even if they have to travel thousands of miles to get here ..”
It starts with a BIG IDEA
Very early on, OCR realized that they would face competition from all the biggies in the resorts business, each capable of outspending them on luxury. They also realized that their best chance to create distinctiveness would come from creating a completely new attribute that they could own, one that could be valuable to their customers.
OCR crafted its Brand Vision around ‘Spirit of the Land’, and sought “to be the most sought after true-to-the-land-of-origin experience; by providing an exquisite holiday experience, while preserving the purity of nature and culture of the land”. This vision allowed them to create a distinctive point of view that they have ‘lived’ intuitively over the years.
In order to keep engaging & enriching their guests beyond the experience of the resort itself, OCR created a have unique e-platform that celebrates the spirit of the land in a charming way, constantly exploring the rich diversity of the flora & fauna as well as the culture in the land around their resorts. This has become a powerful referral tool in the hands of delighted guests who continue to savour the OCR experience vicariously, wherever they are.
OCR has invested continuously in building a distinctive language around this initiative. They have enrolled 18 of India’s best wildlife photographers whose outstanding photos bring alive the splendour of the land (visual language). Top entomologists & wildlife specialists add their expert views, while the editor, Rajesh Ramaswamy, stitches it together in beautiful prose. This team has remained intact for years, adding to a consistency & charm that guests have come to love. A fortnightly newsletter keeps the conversation going.
A holiday in OCR is memorable in some of the most unusual ways. Of course it is the lap of luxury with private swimming pools & the works. But then you are also invited to put on wellies and muck around harvesting coffee, wrap yourself on a gunnysack and climb trees to pluck pepper, go coracle-riding at midnight to soak in the jungle in deep sleep, and then wake up at the crack of dawn with Ganesh (the bird whisperer) and go around talking to over 150 species of birds! Ladies are invited to drape the exotic Coorg saree, a symbol of the grace of the locals. Children get drafted into a young naturalists club & are encouraged to discover their surroundings. Guests are encouraged to visit nearby tribal villages, soak in their customs and even pay forward in terms of helping to preserve indigenous customs. Right through, the belief is that each employee is the brand. And by hiring largely from the local tribal population, OCR underlines a core belief that what is key to brand navigation is a warm smile & authenticity, not spit & polish.
What OCR does when it behaves is this authentic manner is to create several nodes of organic yet cohesive narrative for its guests to enjoy. Each employee is a storyteller, no less. And the stories are varied, ranging from the king cobra that was swimming in a pool the previous week, to an elephant that rescued its mahout in the jungle nearby last month.
Like the proverbial fish that grows bigger & bigger each time an angler talks of it, guests retell these stories again and again, in social media & beyond. This is the social currency that builds the legend of the brand well beyond the resort experience itself.
Language, navigation & narrative offer a simple yet practical framework for marketers to think through how they could express their brand so that it not just delivers a great experience, but also goes forward to engage & enrich its consumers in a symbiotic longer-term relationship.