Six times a day, every day my ticket is checked by Virgin Trains. There are machines where we queue to insert a ticket, then check-point style picket lines of Virgin staff to examine photo-cards and allow passage. Then there’s on board staff checks. Here conductors loudly quote unfathomable nuances between saver and super saver tickets as the basis to obtain extra cash or eject customers at the next stop. The sheer number of checks is designed to root out fare dodgers, but for the majority with legitimate tickets watching, it’s a distinctly uncomfortable experience and it illustrates the importance of brands in action.
Understanding and shaping the every day ways that customers come into contact with your brand are vitally important because a negative experience can undo years of image and reputation building. A problem arises when your touch-points don’t consistently marry up so that the actual experience falls short of what’s being promised. Brands focus a lot on identifying then articulating their values across controllable elements like taglines, mission statements, and advertising but when they don’t live them every day - flooding them across their organization and every human interaction - then everything collapses.
Virgin Trains takes a humorous approach to its brand, marketing itself with a swagger and a wink designed to bring its playful personality to the fore. There’s an appreciation that every facet of the brand is an opportunity to engage and amuse - to bring customers closer. It’s pretty common for on-board shop announcers to burst into song, plus there are those zany recorded messages in the loo imploring us not to flush our hopes and dreams away. Ads invite us to 'Arrive awesome’ and 'Be Bound For Glory’ persuading us to travel Virgin because our journeys matter. Certainly the main service itself is excellent - trains run on time almost all of the time, carriages are clean and there’s always a seat.
So it's a shame when the day-to-day experience is disconnected. When rather than feeling uplifted by the positives, we are all forced to watch while fellow customers are singled out. It’s a consistent reminder that in spite of the ad slogans, this is a business driven to collect every single pound from every single passenger. It doesn’t sit right when tickets are so expensive in the first place and of course, the way we feel is key.
Marketing has moved on from focusing on transactions to focusing on relationships and with our expertise in successfully marketing to women, we know how vital this day to day relationship building is. Feeling connected, feeling understood, feeling appreciated. Female consumers have a much more highly tuned notion of fair play and studies have shown they are more natural empathisers. This means they notice how others are treated and when the brand isn’t measuring up. They notice everything. And because women are more likely to share their experiences with others – the positives and the negatives, they are your most influential audience. Elevating your marketing to women is about recognising this and about appreciating that details matter. Getting these right benefits every single customer.
In the case of Virgin Trains’ operations, taking the barrier staff out of Virgin uniforms so they look like station staff would help remove the negative association. As would a thorough overhaul of ticket-pricing with a focus on transparency, simplicity and honesty.
What about your brand? Do you constantly review the entire experience you are offering customers from THEIR point of view and does it reflect what you promise?
After all, it’s all these mini-interactions and touch-points that add up to experience and build brand satisfaction. And when choosing brands, how they make us feel makes the biggest difference of all.