Coastal beauty: Tourism adds 9% to SA’s GDP. Picture: iStock
Coastal beauty: Tourism adds 9% to SA’s GDP. Picture: iStock

It’s been a long time since a consumer’s liking for a brand was enough for it to thrive in the market. With so much competing information – and messaging from so many different brands – meaningful and memorable engagement, together with favourable experiences, have come to be almost as important as the brand itself.

According to Nathan Stubbs, head of sales, transport and customer care at Club Med in Southern Africa, travel brands sell experiences, and with that, emotional responses. As with any brand in any market, the brand experience must be perfect from beginning to end to ensure loyalty.

It’s no secret that as consumer choices increase, so do the expectations of the brands that consumers choose to engage with. Selling a product that is intangible is that much more challenging.  Stubbs says: “You’re selling an idea – consumers can’t see or test the product before they purchase it.” He says this is true for any marketer who sells a dream. He believes technology, for example virtual reality, can be helpful to bridge the gap between the experience and the sale. 

The big take out

When a customer’s liking for a brand is not enough to ensure its survival, engagement, memorable experiences and – most importantly – consistency across touchpoints should be priorities for marketers.

Consistent experiences across all channels, he says, are vital, and all touchpoints should be manned and monitored to ensure the consumer is receiving the same experience wherever he or she meets the brand. Each channel requires a different approach and skill from the marketing team, and requires ongoing improvements in terms of customer service.

Stubbs cites an article posted on by branding specialist William Arruda that sums up the importance of consistency. “Branding is the key to differentiating yourself from the competition, but if you don’t build your brand promise around reality or consistently live up to it, your branding efforts are pointless. Brands are built through the consistent delivery of the brand promise through all stakeholder touchpoints.”

Stubbs insists that if a customer does not encounter the same experience that the marketing collateral promises, the customer will be unhappy – and more than likely won’t return. Adding to this, trust and loyalty will be destroyed, he says.

An ongoing trend in travel, but one that carries through to other products and services as well, is the value consumers place on experiences as opposed to purchasing or owning objects. In response, brands should ensure that in addition to providing a product they’re also providing a wide range of choice and creating experiences that add more value and relevance to the lives of consumers.