Sunday, February 27, 2011

Give them an experience

I took the train from Grover Beach to Santa Ana for a recent “Moon Family Vacation.” It had been 20 years since I last rode Amtrak, and was pleasantly surprised. We remained on schedule throughout the 6+ hour trip, the passenger cars (and restrooms) were clean, the chairs comfortable, and the staff very professional. When Katie lived in Santa Barbara, she’d take the train to Irvine a couple of times a month to visit her then-boyfriend (now fiancĂ©, soon to be husband) Eddie, and consistently enjoyed the experience; it sure beat LA traffic on Friday evenings and gave her time to grade homework and prep school lessons for the next week.

Monica and her husband Jimi joined us from Sacramento and we all spent the day at Walt Disney’s original theme park. So much has been written about Disneyland as an example of services marketing done well – with attention to every detail to payoff on “The Happiest Place on Earth” promise and make the $76 admission price seem like a good value. I’m from San Diego, just a couple hours south of Anaheim, and my dad would take our family to Disneyland every year when I was growing up. It’s been a few years since Katie, Monica and I have been there, and it remains as clean, well run and crowded as I remember.

We made a full day of it, and decided to have dinner in bustling Downtown Disney, adjacent to Disneyland and California Adventure. After scouting the many restaurants available to us, Katie chose Tortilla Joe’s. And yes, there was a line to get in. Live music outside made the wait more than tolerable.

The restaurant seemed an extension of D’land in every way. It was clean, efficient, and attention to architecture and interior detail screamed clichĂ©d “Mexican cuisine.” While the food was good, if not great, most impressive were the carefully coordinated entertainment elements which added value to the dining experience.

An “artist” came to our table, and with great flair and personality proceeded to construct a ladybug from an impressive stock of colorful balloons. Many laughs and photos ensued as Monica strapped the bulbous insect to her wrist. The artist moved on to the next table to construct a giraffe for a smiling young boy, and we were unaware of the time passing as we waited for our food. As we ate, a strolling all-female mariachi band appeared. They were wonderful, talented musicians and captivating.

After paying for dinner, we didn’t want to leave Tortilla Joe’s. But we still had a few hours until Disneyland closed and hadn’t yet made it to Fantasyland, with our perennial favorite Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride, and the campy It’s a Small World.

Fourteen hours in the Magic Kingdom. It was a complete “experience.” Just as a great services firm should provide to it’s customers, or “guests” as Disney calls us. We paid our money, exhausted ourselves, and were ready to do it all over again the next morning. But there were planes and trains to catch, and work on Monday.

Monday, February 7, 2011

The Dark Side

I’m proud to be a marketing professional. It’s the career path I willingly chose. I’ve never wanted to do anything else. So, it’s not often that I feel compelled to defend marketing as a business discipline.

A good work and personal friend recently told me that she felt “marketing” was to blame for many of society’s ills. Marketing, she explained, convinces people that they must have things that they really don’t need, can’t afford or are actually bad for them. The Great Recession is rooted in the excesses of marketing. I dismiss this assault on my profession as misguided, inaccurate, simplistic and uninformed.

Donna and I watched the documentary The Tillman Story this weekend. Pat Tillman gave up a successful and lucrative NFL career to enlist in the US Army with his brother, less than a year after 9/11. Pat was killed by friendly fire in Afghanistan in April, 2004. The film details the misinformation, cover-ups and web of lies told to the Tillman family and the American public surrounding Pat’s “heroic” death.

Some suggest the original story of Pat Tillman’s killing by Taliban fighters, leading his men into battle, was part of a “marketing” effort to avoid the embarrassment of fratricide and to prop up support for the war. Unseemly characterizations of both my government and my profession.

Used to advance a solid product, service, organization, candidate or cause, marketing can certainly be a powerful force for good. Examples of it being used unscrupulously for immoral or unethical purposes – even with profound effect – make me no less proud to be a marketing practitioner. Like a CPA asked to comment about the accounting excesses of Enron, I choose to believe that “I would never do that.”