Change Management: Creating Peak Experiences For Strangers

One of the most basic tenets of corporate marketing is that a company should focus its promotional investment on its target market. In other words, market to those who are most likely to buy from you. Seems simple enough and, having run a niche-oriented boutique hotel business for more than two decades, I can say that this focused approach creates great bang for the buck.

But, I want to share a story with you that may shift your thinking from being a marketing mercenary to being a marketing missionary. A marketing mercenary focuses on the return on investment (ROI) associated with marketing to their target market. 95% of what my company, Joie de Vivre Hotels, does fits this category. But, every once in a while, it helps to throw a "Hail Mary pass” - a marketing promotion that is more about your company's mission than it is about your product. If you can get this right, you will develop huge long-term benefits because you will create stories, memories, and goodwill that will last longer than any short-term marketing mercenary initiative you and your company could deploy.

Let's take a step back before I tell you my story. As a devout believer in Abraham Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs, I know that what engages the human spirit most is what's at the peak of his pyramid: self-actualization, that transformative feeling when what ought to be, just is. For an employee, that's when you feel that you are being "all that you can be" and you are getting great meaning or inspiration from your work. For a customer, that's when experiencing a product or service gives you that transformative effect of "it doesn't get any better than this," or as MasterCard calls it, that "priceless" feeling that is truly intangible. Any company that can do this will create evangelistic customers as you see with those who are part of the Apple or Harley-Davidson flock. Companies that create "peak experiences" for their employees and customers naturally engender greater loyalty. These companies have much lower employee turnover and tend to spend far less in marketing. Fortunately, Joie de Vivre has employee turnover that's one-third the hospitality industry average and our $200 million company spends less than $50,000 annually on print advertisements for our 40-50 hotels, restaurants, and spas. So, I guess we "get it."

Creating peak experiences for employees and customers is a no-brainer. You gotta do it. But, recently, we created a peak experience for a bunch of strangers - albeit strangers who had something in common with each other and the company. To celebrate the 20th anniversary of Joie de Vivre, we invited 10,000 people (I'm assuming mostly women) from the state of California with the name “Joy” to a JOY PARTY at our luxurious Hotel Vitale on San Francisco’s waterfront. Our company has spent 20 years understanding the significance and responsibility of having a name associated with such a positive emotion so we thought it would be provocative to invite these women together to share their experience of living with this name their whole life. Excuse the pun, but we ended up with a roomful of joy (or Joys) — 125 women sharing the name with dozens and dozens of husbands, significant others, friends, children and even a few media there to capture the occasion. What was miraculous was how these strangers bonded in their storytelling so quickly. As if they were long-lost friends. It was remarkable how much they had in common and how many of these women had gone into the service or helping professions. One who received a special award from Joie de Vivre that night talked to the group about the Seeds of Joy non-profit she'd created to help facilitate more poetry therapy in the world. Others spoke of how their name was a daily reminder of their purpose in life (something we often talk about in our company - why not name your company after your mission statement?!). It was one big "joy bubble." Lots of tears of joy flowing. For the couple of dozen Joie de Vivre employees who came to the event, it was truly a highlight of their time with the company to see that we could conceive of and create such an event that brought what will be a lifetime memory to these women. And, since the event, we've shared many of the emails and letters we've received from these Joys with our employees (25 Joys received a free hotel room at the Hotel Vitale so they could have a Joy slumber party).

Creating a peak experience for a stranger? A waste of marketing dollars? I don't think so. While I think it could be dangerous to allocate the majority of your marketing funds to a missionary event like this, I also believe that the word-of-mouth (which has been huge for our JOY PARTY) and internal and external goodwill that comes from this kind of marketing proves that being a "karmic capitalist" pays off in the long-run. Doing good can mean your company will do well. The next time you're thinking about how to make a splash with your promotions, think about making a difference in someone's life in a profound way that will serve as a peak experience for them. While other marketing ploys may fade with time, those marketing initiatives that have a deeper mission attached to them will stand the test of time and give you a remarkable long-term ROI.

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  • Carlos R. Hernandez

    Wow! I am once again amazed at your insight. Heard you speak at "Economic Summit 2007" earlier this year and am grateful you pro-actively share your story with us.