Lessons from Best Western: customer first, channel later.

Many (if not most) companies think inside-out, central from their product or service, searching for ways how to push this most effectively to their customer. Sure, we all know how important the customer is, without them no existence, but do we really imagine how it is to be our customer? Do we know their experience of all moments that they’re in contact with us? In other words, do we know the customer journey? In most cases not, or at least insufficient.

Best Western UK does it different. A middle-class hotel chain, a franchise organisation. Or, according to Tim Wade, Head of Marketing, a member-organisation. “Best Western consists of independent entrepeneurs who, in contrast with our main competitor Holiday Inn, have a lot of freedom in running their business. As long as they fulfill a few minimal and basic requirements, they are free to develop any kind of service they see as appropriate.” At first sight

a complicated way of managing a consistent brand, but Best Western has solved that creatively: just because of this versatility inspiring entrepeneurail climate, Best western is able to approach the customer in a more personal way. ‘Hotels with personality‘ is therefore the current slogan.

Most important is the Total Customer Experience: optimizing all contact moments, before, during and after a visit to one of over 200 hotels in the UK. In order to support this, they’ve developed a cross-media campaign, which is lead by an extensive email marketing campaign. Through the latter a lot of customer data is collected that gives a detailed insight in the customer journey. And this again forms the basis for a lot of other tools that have been developed. Social media, such as Facebook and Twitter are closely monitored and responded to when needed. Main goal with this is to get good revies on sites such as Tripadvisor.

“It is essential that customer comes before channel”, says Tim. “Understand the experience your customer goes through and you understand where you van improve your product.” And even though the campaign is lead by email marketing activities and social media is mainly reactively managed and could be used more proactively, you can’t say that a campaign with an ROI of £45 for each pound spent isn’t successful.

We spoke with Tim about this Best Western campaign during the Enterprise Marketing 2.0 congress organized by KGS global in Amsterdam earlier this month.

[vimeo 30593130]

So it happened today…

Where to start a blog post writing about something that you’ve seen coming from a vast distance, but you knew it would be shocking when it would actually happen. This morning that was the case, when I read that Steve Jobs had passed away. The entire day I was sad, which is strange for a man I didn’t even knew personally. Or did I?

I’ve always been tagged as an Apple fanboy. I don’t know why, but the first time I worked on a Mac (Classic) it felt OK. May be it was because my roots in computer technology lie in the Commodore Amiga platform, or may be because I was too stupid to understand DOS. Either way, in 1993 I ‘switched’ (yeah, I did own a PC, 16 MHz with 20 MB HDD at that time) and never looked back. The Mac Classic was changed for a Performa 400, Performa 630, PowerComputing clone, G4 PowerMac, PowerBook, iMac G4, iMac G5, iBook, iMac Intel, iPod, iPod nano, iPod mini, MacBook, MacBook Air, iPhone 1st Gen, iPhone 2, iPhone 3, iPhone 3GS, iPhone 4, iPad 1, iPad 2… Anyway, I’ve had my fair share of Mac stuff around me.

A funny thing happened. When I started working on the Mac I became interested in the company as well. Reading about their plans, their products, trying to figure out their strategy. I remember that at my first job (I was working on a biomedical research department at a pharma company) I spent hours and hours in the basement reading old magazines of MacWorld Magazine. And my boss thinking that I was doing literature study on Nitric Oxide in peritoneal mouse macrophages. It was a dark time for Apple. Steve was kicked out and Apple for struggling to survive. It was also the time that as an Apple user you were the misfit. In a Windows dominated world mid nineties it seems that I always had to defend why I was using Apple, and not conforming to the status quo. Because you are a fanboy, you just don’t understand why people make their lives so complex using an inferior operating system like Windows 3.11 or 95 was (let’s face it, that was ugly. I won’t even mention Windows ME). It was the time that evangelizing was top of my list. Don’s ask me why, that’s just fanboy-behaviour. I had a mission, a mission to help Apple survive. Because what would happen if Apple would cease to exist? I would have to work my entire life on my Performa 400. Or switch back to Wintel. OK, I settled with the first option.

But that didn’t happen, obviously. The hammer really hit me when Steve came back (before I hardly had heard of the guy) and launched the ‘Think Different‘ campaign. I wouldn’t go as far as saying I saw the light, but the notion that it was OK to think different, or even to realize that great minds usually thought different came as a sort of revelation. Mind you, I was 25 at that time. An age where you are looking for an identity in your recently acquired grown-up life. Steve came, introduced the iMac and the rest is history. Evangelizing became less of an issue, playing help desk for friends and family even more because of the massive number of people switching to the Mac year after year. And now, 18 years later there are more people with Macs in my environment than people on Windows (or may be that is because I choose my friends wisely) and is Apple the most valuable company in the world. Life can take strange turns.

There’s no question about it, how cheesy that may sound: Apple did change my life in a profound way. I am in the extreme fortunate position that I can honestly say that I made a career out of my hobby. When I went to the Chamber of Commerce 7 years ago to register the name DigiRedo I had only one goal with this company: making a bit of money so that I could buy cool Apple hardware. DigiRedo was at that time not even close to the company it is today (actually, we only used the name and together with René we created the company that it is today). But my entrepreneurial feelings, my desire to not comply to the status quo, to focus on design, to create and give good looking presentations, even how to manage a company was inspired by Apple, and thus Steve Jobs. Jeez, we are even building our new business on one of his innovations: apps.

Some people say it’s a kind of sick to worship a CEO of a computer company this way. That it is a religion. That’s OK, let them. I hope they realize that Apple fanboys and -girls do not only exalt the products because they are easy to use and set the standards for the rest of the industry. No, it is because, especially back in those days, you made a conscious decision to not go with the flow. As a person you wanted to be different. In a world where everybody was wearing blue, you were wearing green. And that felt good. Is still does by the way, though many people are wearing green nowadays. I do not see a difference in worshipping an artist like Michael Jackson, or a CEO like Steve Jobs. Both were great persons who achieved great things and inspired many.

He did inspire me, and looking at the mainstream news, the internet, and the number of people who talk about it on the street today it seems that I am not alone in this. There will be still wars in the world, we are still worrying about climate change, so after today the world won’t be different on the larger scheme of things. But some things have lost a shiny edge around them.

Stay hungry, stay foolish.


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