Spinning a strategic story to stand out on higher ground

How do you truly stand out in the stormy sea of travel industry competition? You find your own unique story, create an experience around it and make sure people never forget you, writes strategic storyteller Bill Baker in this exclusive guest article for EyeforTravel

The world of travel, tourism and hospitality is a competitive one, with thousands of brands fighting to stay afloat in a raging sea of sameness. To distinguish your brand in a crowded marketplace, you must look beyond the more obvious features of your product to consider the broader experience you create for your customers, the meaning they take away from those experiences, and the role you play in their lives by providing them.

Let me show (rather than tell) you what I mean, with two stories from my own recent travel experiences. The first story illustrates what can happen when a brand is feature-focused. The second story illustrates the benefits of shaping a higher ground experience that takes into consideration the meaning of that experience and the role that it – and your brand – plays in the lives of its customers.

A Zipline canopy tour in Costa Rica

Earlier this year, my partner and I and two good friends took a trip to Costa Rica. As most people do when they are touring through this beautiful country, we signed up for a zipline canopy tour through the rain forest. It was, in a word, terrifying, as two overly-relaxed, seemingly indifferent guides sent us hurling down thousands of feet of cable high above the rain forest, with barely a word of guidance before we literally and figuratively stepped off the ledge. No warm-up run. No step-by-step instruction. Just you, a harness, and fate. After we did our first run, all four of us were literally shaking with fear. But we were also exhilarated, and as our tour went on, our fear lessened and our exhilaration grew. By the end, we were completely charged by the thrill of it all, laughing, screaming and talking incessantly.

The product we bought was a zipline canopy tour, featuring long, hair-raising runs through the rain forests. In the area we were staying, there are literally dozens of operators selling these tours. The experience we shared was having the crap scared out of us. The higher meaning we each pulled away from that experience (one that became clear as we talked over many beers after the tour) was that were all, as we crept up to and over the age of 50, playing it a little too safe. We realized that life’s too short and we should push ourselves out to and over the edge now and then.

Was there any role played by this particular outfitter in creating that experience and eliciting that meaning? Not really. Certainly not intentionally. The guides, while nice enough, didn’t have any real understanding of what was happening to us – or didn’t seem to care. They were simply going through the motions instead of understanding the type of experience we were having and feeding into it. Make no mistake; we had a blast. But in the end, we attributed all those positive feelings, great memories and stories to the broader, more generic category of zipline canopy tours and not to the specific operator from whom we purchased the tour. When I hear of someone going to Costa Rica for vacation, I strongly recommend they do a zipline canopy tour, but I do not recommend the specific outfitter we used because I am certain they would get the same experience from any of the dozens of operators down there.

Storm watching at the Wickaninnish Inn

In contrast, the Wickaninnish Inn in British Columbia is fully aware of the experiences, meaning and roles associated with their brand story, and they leverage this understanding brilliantly. “The Wick” sits on the western-most coast of Vancouver Island, on the edge of the Pacific Ocean. During the summer, it is one of the prettiest and most tranquil spots you can imagine. But from mid-October to late May, this elegant hotel and surrounding area is pummeled with horrific storms complete with howling winds, huge waves and horizontal rain. The owners and operators of The Wick figured out long ago that while they could control many aspects of the guest experience, they could not control the weather. And so they decided that if they couldn’t fix it, they should feature it.

Instead of shying away from this horrendous weather for half the year, The Wickaninnish Inn embraced it, creating a whole experience out of Storm Watching. For instance, in addition to providing beautiful bathrobes in each room, they also provide full, head-to-toe rain gear. And when a storm hits, the staff encourage their guests to suit up and walk along Chesterman Beach, so they can feel the raw power of that storm head on. They know that the meaning people take away from the Storm Watching experience is the realization of how magnificent nature can be and how much it needs to be respected. And the role they humbly take on is one of providing a window into Mother Nature in all her glory. Everyone who experiences Storm Watching comes away from it somehow captivated, transformed and full of stories that they enthusiastically share with others. Importantly, they all unequivocally credit The Wickaninnish Inn for creating these memories and strongly recommend it, by name, to friends and family.

These higher-ground areas of experiences, meaning and roles may be less tangible and harder to define; but if you are able to explore them, identify them and evangelize them with your staff, you can leverage that understanding to create richer experiences for your customers and more meaningful connections to your brand.

These experiences, the meaning derived from them, and the roles you play in providing them, make for the types of stories that people love to tell. Stories that distinguish your brand. Stories that position your brand effectively in a competitive marketplace. Stories that make all who hear them have to have that experience themselves.

This guest article was produced exclusively by Bill Baker, founder and principal of BB&Co Strategic Storytelling which has worked with travel brands like Relais & Châteaux, Travel Alberta, Montana Tourism, and the Canadian Tourism Commission


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