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At a recent lunch, a client commented that one of the hardest adjustments his wife from South Africa has had to make to living in the United States is adapting to how consumer-driven we are as a society. Growing up in another country, she was unaccustomed to the sheer volume of brand messaging that is imparted into our lives on a daily basis. This got me thinking about how much brands affect us and our decisions every day, consciously or not. I didn't have to think about it too hard during a recent trip to Orlando, FL. Brand messages compete for attention the moment you step off the plane. Billboards touting Disney parks, Universal exhibits (the new Wizarding World of Harry Potter is pretty amazing if you get the chance to visit), Sea World, Busch Gardens, etc. line the highways to entice you as you drive to your destination. Our first night in town, friends and I headed over to Universal's CityWalk to grab dinner. After surveying our options, we migrated over to Jimmy Buffett's Margaritaville, thinking it would be quick and familiar. Initially, I wanted to head off the beaten path to another Orlando restaurant that might not be overwhelmed with tourists, but was shot down as my friends weren't up for venturing too far from our hotel. We put our name in and were able to move to the top of the list because we were staying at a Universal property. Even then, there was a half hour wait. At 6:30 p.m. On a Wednesday. While grabbing one of the Adirondack chairs outside the restaurant to sit and wait, we glanced over at the Latin Quarter restaurant next door. There didn't appear to be a wait there. I was up for the dining adventure, but one of my friends said that if it wasn't crowded, then, in her mind, the food must not be that good. If the food was better, there'd be a line. This got us talking about why then there was a line at Margaritaville. Is the food that spectacular? It's not. Is the service five-star? Again, no. What it boiled down to was that people were waiting to eat there because of the name, for the cache of saying they ate at Margaritaville and spend their time waiting at the onsite store buying Margaritaville merchandise. What Jimmy Buffett did was bring the experience of his popular song to life for all. If you build it, apparently the Parrotheads will come. I almost had my friends convinced to check out the Latin Quarter when our buzzer buzzed. Even as a marketer, I'll admit that I wasn't able to get away from finding a familiar brand appealing. After an ok meal with subpar service (thanks Dana!), I was left to wonder if we missed out on a fabulous dinner at a restaurant whose only fault was it wasn't named after a popular song, or anything else we, as consumers, had ingrained in our subconscious. I guess I'll never know. At least not until my next trip to Orlando.
As a consumer, I wonder how much leeway we should give to brands. There are brands we have been loyal to for years, but what if that brand starts changing things on us? Should we stick with them or find an alternative solution? About six months ago, my cable/internet bill increased in price by about $75 ' without notice. As you can imagine, this did not go over well with my roommate and me. So after calling and complaining, we were told that if we added five premium channels to our cable package, our monthly bill would go back down again. Yes, you read that correctly ' get more channels, pay less. Naturally, we did this. And for the past six months, we have been enjoying the luxury of having all these premium channels ' even though we didn't watch them that often. Then, this past week, we noticed our bill went up again! So, we complained again and this time they told us that if we got rid of those premium channels, BUT added a landline, our bill would go back down again. Yes, you read that correctly ' get a landline, pay less. Naturally, we did this. So now, we have an actual landline in our apartment. I'm not really sure if we will use it, but if it makes our bill cheaper, then sign us up. Granted our bill is still ridiculously high, but it's apparently as low as we can get it, for what we want. The craziest thing is that I have heard from several other people that they have had the same problems with this company ' and they are all as equally unhappy. As a marketer, I know how important brand loyalty is for a brand. I also know how important it is for brands to never forget that loyalty may not always be there. Consumers prefer brands that make their lives simple and easy. Too many headaches or high prices can drive them away quickly ' especially if they have to deal with the same problems over and over. So my question is, how long will they continue to do this? More importantly, how long will we put up with this? Driving up prices and making customers unhappy is not a very good approach to doing business if you ask me. Maybe we should just cancel our service all together and find another provider. Or maybe we just cancel our cable and start watching TV online. All I know is that if they continue to play these games and increase their prices, we won't be their customers much longer. What would you do if you were us? What would you do if you were this company and your consumers were unhappy with you?