When I was three, my family moved from Texas to California. The first thing I remember about the trip is my dad lifting me up to get me into our U-Haul truck. (It was unsettling sitting so high up; it felt like we could tip over.) I also remember getting to ride with our dog, Fred. I’d never been able to ride in a car with Fred before, so this U-Haul thing was pretty special.
My memories of the entire move consist mainly of a few vivid flashes and some oddly deep impressions (hotel room smell = heaven). I have one flash of driving in darkness, and being thrilled at the sudden appearance of twinkling lights in the distance.
What’s that?” I asked excitedly. “Phoenix,” my dad answered. I’d never heard that word before, but it sounded as magical as those lights made it appear. I can still hear him saying it.
The whole experience embedded itself in my psyche in a way little else in my life has.
I stayed in my first hotels on that trip—a Best Western and a Holiday Inn—and while I don’t remember the stays themselves, I know that was the beginning of my love affair with hotels, and with those brands in particular.
I couldn’t have put it into words then, but what impressed me was the sheer convenience and simplicity of the concept. Here was this room, and it contained everything you could possibly need for an overnight stay: a bathroom, a bed, a television, and those wonderful little bars of soap that were just my size (I still have the Best Western and Holiday Inn soaps from that trip). And the fact that the hotels were located exactly where we needed them to be was nothing short of miraculous to me.
I knew that whoever came up with the idea was the smartest person in the whole world, ever.
From then on, I noticed every hotel and motel I ever drove by. The word “vacation” registered in my brain as “HOTEL!” Walking into a hotel room and checking it out was the best part of any vacation. The rest was icing.
On subsequent trips, I discovered new favorite brands like Quality Inn and TraveLodge (Sleepy Bear!). But the rule was we had to stay at least once at either a Best Western or a Holiday Inn, or my trip was ruined.
Decades later, I read Hotels and Hotelier for fun. I take vacations to visit and photograph old roadside motels. And if Bath & Body Works comes up with a Mid-Priced Hotel Room-scented shower gel, I will revel in it.
That three-day journey is still steering my life. Two years ago, I finally realized my dream of moving to Phoenix.
Why Phoenix? Anytime someone asks, I relay the story about riding in a U-Haul truck late at night, and seeing city lights rise in the distance, glittering like magic fairy dust. They never get it. It’s like trying to explain why buttercream frosting is one of humanity’s greatest achievements—it just is.
Care to guess how I moved all my crap with me to Phoenix?
I share this story to illustrate how brands have the power to create unwavering, lifelong loyalty through a single, ordinary transaction. Promotions, social media, pay-per-click, SEO, gamification—none of it matters. Your brand won’t capture someone’s heart or become part of who they are via a marketing gimmick. Those things can only help you convince people to try your brand in the first place, or help with damage control when you screw up. It’s cheaper to not screw up.
Businesses have little to no control over how and when a customer interaction takes place. What’s important is making the experience a positive one, every time, for every customer.
You won’t ever know which of your ordinary transactions is changing someone else’s life. So you have to assume they all are, and act accordingly.
Executives and board members today seem to regard profits as secondary to clicks, likes, and Google rankings. So many of them seem to think if they have this information, they’ll have the secret formula for perpetual success.
I want to tell every marketer and company executive to go home, have a glass of wine, and recite the Serenity prayer. Then get up the next morning and vow to make every customer interaction go as it should. Focus on hiring people you can trust to represent your brand to your customers. Focus on creating a product or service that works exactly as it should, and stand behind it. And when you do screw up, own up to it and apologize. It works.
Take the money you’re now spending trying to convince people you’re the best, and spend it on actually being the best. When people need what you have to offer, they will come to you.
There’s your formula.