Brand Blur and The $5.00 VIP Experience

Tuesday, August 24, 2010 by Kevin W. Reszel

What is a V I P worth today?  Better yet, what is the customer experience worth today?  Better still, what does it mean to clearly identify your brand's ID and positioning as it relates to the "first impression" customer experience?  Short answer, to some $5.00.  Allow me to explain.  While traveling this past weekend with my family, kind of a last summer fling before the new school year begins, I came across what I like to call a Brand Blur.  What's a Brand Blur?  Happens when the positioning of a brand's product/service (or the product/service of a brand's alliance provider/partner) blurs the line between perception and reality.  Majority are unintentional, happen upon first impression and most require a little closer review.

Back to the family mini-vaca, already in progress.  As my family and i passed through the threshold of our "standard hotel room", my gaze was immediately interrupted by three letters boldly declared on a particularly attractive room amenity.  Amazing how my brain immediately interpreted these letters.  All I saw was V I P emblazoned on what appeared to be a complimentary bottle of water.  How nice I thought, that this particular household brand name hotel had provided us with, not just any bottle of water but a VIP bottle of water!  Again, amazing how my brain immediately interpreted the three letters as V I P AND that VIP, at least in my mind, equates to the word - complimentary.    

Considering we had already shelled out a modest amount of money for our "standard hotel room", I wasn't exactly anticipating any V I P treatment.  But as the perceived appearance of a complimentary V I P bottle of water loomed large in the focal point of our room, intentionally paired with the "standard hotel room" clunky plastic ice chest and squatty drinking glasses, I began to give in to the seduction of the V I P (Very Important Person) mindset.  Immediately my brain began to conjure up visions of complimentary poolside cocktails, valet parking privileges, extra towels, unlimited shower caps, etc., etc.

Then of course I was slapped back to reality as I took a closer look at the brilliant blue V I P tag resting neatly around the neck of  what my brain had perceived as a V I P complimentary bottle of water.  Upon closer examination, I came to find out that this is NOT in fact for V I Ps NOR is it a complimentary bottle of water.  No.  This is a V | P bottle of water.  In mere seconds I had gone from V I P to V | P, falling victim to an abbreviated brand stamp and creative use of the keyboard symbol for "pipe" found on the right-side of the primary keyboard, immediately under the delete key.  With reality crashing down around me, stripped of my V I P status, ;-) I read on.  It was now all as clear as the sparkling water in the bottle I held.  This particular bottle of water is NOT only NOT complimentary, it is in fact "provided for my convenience" at a charge of $5.00?  So, if I am so inclined to be convenienced, I am to conveniently pay $5.00 for the bottle of water upon consumption of said convenience.  Not exactly the V I P treatment.  

Brilliant or baffling?  The simple fact is that I was momentarily taken in by the iDEA of exclusivity and three unassuming letters.  Separately they mean nothing.  Put them together and they take on a very specific customer expectation.  Our eyes met across a not so crowded "standard hotel room".  As is often the case, anticipation, excitement and expectation reigned and upon getting to know one another better, reality set in.  V I P?  No.  V | P.  A brilliant attempt by a hotel and their alliance partner to create up-sell opportunities?  Hardly.  A baffled customer experience brought on by delusions of grandeur?  ;-)  Could be.  Either way, it all comes down to crisp clear brand and product positioning.  In this case, what could have been originally perceived as a complimentary offering to an exclusive set of clientele can and probably often does give way to confusion with the later leaving some customers thirsty for a better brand/product experience?