Last weekend I went on a mini-vacation to Chicago before classes started again. I don’t know where the time went between classes, but it was good to get out of town and get refocused! During the trip, I couldn’t help but think of the many levels of IMC happening in the various locations we visited.
One of the great sales promotions we took advantage of was the Chicago City Pass. We were able to skip lines, gain admission to a variety of locations, and get a discount on food and other items. Because of the City Pass, we visited locations we would have ordinarily skipped. Most locations had great signage and made customers feel like a VIP with City Pass access. Prior to purchasing the City Pass, I looked for reviews via social media. As with most products or services, there were mixed reviews. Some locations treated the City Pass differently. All locations followed the guidelines however, there were inconsistencies in customer service.
Overall, I noticed the glaring differences in customer service across locations in the city. At times, we were even ignored by sales associates. It seemed as though some of the locations were unaware of the impact customer service has on a brand. As I traveled through the Skydeck, Shedd Aquarium, The Field Museum, the John Hancock Observatory, and Navy Pier, I couldn’t help but think about the layering of branding that occurs. Customers will form opinions about the initial location. For example, we had a great time at the Shedd Aquarium, but a less than desirable time at the Skydeck. Those experiences impact the brand of those two facilities. Both of those locations we visited because we had the City Pass. So those experiences impacted our opinions and feelings about the City Pass. We loved our hotel and the Hancock Observatory, but were not pleased with the service at the restaurant we visited on Navy Pier, and I got very tired of having our photo taken at every location we visited. Those experiences impact how we talk about our overall trip and the city of Chicago.
I also see this “nesting” at work. I work in a student union, and our customers view what happens in our building as being the responsibility of our organization. If a student has good or bad food, they associate that with our union, even though dining services is a separate entity. It is not in our best interest for us to try to make those differentiations. So, we all work together for the greater good, the brand image of the union.
Our overall trip to Chicago was great and there were a lot of consistencies working toward the brand image of the city while maintaining the individuality of the locations we visited. The architecture was beautiful and many of the locations we visited had similar banners out front (tying the museums together) and consistent imaging for the City Pass (which helped customers easily utilize it).
Consistency is always key in IMC and branding. Take a look at Disney. They strive for each customer, no matter which part of Disney they visit, to have the same experience. When you get off the plane, when you call the front desk, when you visit the locations, each person says, “Have a magical day.” These tactics have helped create Disney’s brand. I don’t think the city of Chicago needs to develop a similar style however, each level (the city, the City Pass, the individual locations) should strive for consistencies. That’s what customer service and identity standards are for after all!
What are your experiences with “nested branding?” Any other cities, multi-location companies out there very successful?