Tales from the dark side: Marketing communication gone wrong

Written by Chipo Mapungwana

Recently , I seem to have released a hornet’s nest with a rather sensitive blog about country branding. I have had all manner of responses, which on the one hand is encouraging…at least people are reading the blog post and on the other hand, left my son saying, “well, if the shoe fits, wear it.” Why am I currently fascinated by the tourism industry, maybe it’s the holiday season that is upon us that has led me to pay attention to this sector..

Let me illustrate what horrors guests may experience and why it is so bad for your brand.

We shall visit a hotel, shall we call it hotel Carter? It is about 4 p.m. and we are in the reception area when something crawls on the carpet. A large insect of unidentified species make its way across the hotel lobby, and a group of tourists track it with a cheerful curiosity until a grey-haired man in a baseball cap waiting to check in stomped on it leaving a stain in the carpet.

Hotel Carter has 120 rooms located on 6 floors near the city centre and therefore ideally placed to attract tourists who want to walk into the city to experience its product offerings, while not wanting the noisy bustle of the city centre.

Room 105 reveals a dead phone, carpet stains and a mouldy patch on the bathroom ceiling. The TV, however, is new, and the bed is comfortable.

The lobby is a sensory overload of neon, mirrors, bright lights, televisions, mismatched furniture. Guests stream in and out with befuddled stares A woman asks a worker for cockroach killer after finding a roach in her bathroom. She is handed a spray bottle of kitchen cleaner and sent on her way. The worker does not care.

In the rooms upstairs, tales of lodging woes unfold. One guest says his television plays the sound from one channel but shows the picture from another. A couple in Room 10 say they were surprised to discover that they do not have a closet to put their clothes. And a businesswoman on the 3rd floor finds that her room is better in the dark. “If the curtains close, light is off, it’s not that bad,” she says.

As a guest of Hotel Carter, you may or may not have your room cleaned. You may or may not find the multi-coloured, multi-patterned carpet on the floor and the walls agreeable and matching. You may or may not have a working television and telephone. You may or may not have a smooth check-in, since the front desk keeps track of reservations without the benefit of a computer system. The system has been down for some weeks. I

n short, you may or may not have an enjoyable stay. The answer depends on which room you get – the top floors have numerous large recently renovated rooms with splendid views, but if you happen to be lower down, the experience is quite different. Your view is that of dirty hotel terraces that are not cleaned. No one has told the owners that they can actually do great things with their terraces, even bring a tree or two, flower pots  and some comfortable seats and presto.. you have a roof garden.

“We’re not a four-star or five-star hotel,” says the owner. What we are, she says, is “the best bargain for the location.”

Room 65 is not so much a room as it is a place to lie low. It takes eight steps to walk from one wall to the next and 21 steps to get from the door to the window. The telephone is dead. It sits on an old desk, its drawer broken and placed on the stained carpet. The room is lighted by a bare bulb on the ceiling, and the headboard of the bed is a rectangle of blue carpet nailed to the wall. There is a big mouldy stain on the ceiling above the bathtub. The Sharp TV is sleek and new, but the tiles in the bathroom long for a good scrubbing. The door unlocks using a modern card instead of a key, but the push-button phone – the typewritten number on its beige face disconnected – is of unknown vintage, perhaps from the 1980’s. There are hints of the hotel’s rich past, sometimes in the oddest places.

In order to delight their customers even more, the hotel has a fire drill ever Saturday at 10am. There are no notices anywhere to warn guests of this impending disturbance. Now, while this may be ok for the early risers, it is not ok for guests who were out partying all night and crawled into bed in the early hours of the morning. The hotel fire drill requires that guests get up and vacate their rooms to go to designated points, and be counted. Because the lifts stop working when the fire alarm goes off, they have to climb the stairs, not a welcome feat for guests on the 6th floor.

Let us talk about the food for a minute. At best it is passable and at worse it is not at all commendable. Depending on the chef, the chicken maybe hard or charred on the outside and breathing on the inside. The steak maybe hard to chew or undone. There is a limited selecting of vegetables and when they come, they have been stripped of all their nutrients. If you complain, you get a reluctant apology from the duty manager but no refund. They offer to cook you another meal and you decline because you don’t know how long they will take to give you your meal this time.

Why your marketing communication should be a true reflection of what your brand offers.

Now some of you are saying, that this cannot be. There is no way any person can market an establishment like that. But yes they can. The hotel’s internet website works just fine and the pictures point to a neat and attractive , clean building with modern furnishings and happy customers going about their business. The hotel’s brochures are a piece of art to admire and keep as book marks. One is captivated by the seemingly splendid rooms, the modern large screen TV, splendid views and pictures of enticing food, neatly folded white bed linen and pictures of smiling families and business people taking a rest after a hard day of work or leisure.

In short, this company is short on customer service. It is not living up to the expectations that it is building through its marketing communications. What may well happen is this. The guest in room 65 is going to tell her children about the hotel when she gets home, or she may log on to Tripadvisor.com and give a nasty tirade of her stay. The people in room 105 will take a picture of the mould and upload it onto Facebook with a vivid description of the ceiling. Other customers may tweet their experiences at the Check in/checkout country creating immediate buzz from their followers. Sooner rather than later, Hotel Carter has gained fame as the place not to be seen at. And the owners wonder why, with such an ideal location, their hotel is going out of business.

What to do, what to do

• Marketing communication should be established and agreed by the whole organization and should be a true reflection of the values, mission, and operations for the company.

• To build a brand, marketing communication should be aligned across the whole organization.

• Internal marketing should take place first to train staff how to enhance the brand.

• Organizations should have customer centric systems that are observed across the whole company, from hiring, to operations to IT to senior management.

• A brand should not promise what it cannot deliver. Rather stop brand communication until the company has sorted out its internal operations

• Because a product or service is cheap, it does not mean companies should take this is an excuse for bad service.

• Companies should listen to their customers and frequently find ways to get information about guest/customer experiences.

• Companies should undertake brand audits to ascertain how stakeholder feel and perceive their brand.


For Brand reputation, Marketing and Social media training and consulting, email Chipo at chipomaps@gmail.com


About chipomaps

A brand reputation, marketing and new media trainer and consultant. Constantly curious, constantly learning.
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