The role of customer experience in branding

Spoiler alert: Customer experience has become the bread and butter of branding. You can have a beautiful logo, a smart tagline, a wonderful package and a state-of-the-art product. Yet, if you fail to deliver a pleasant customer experience, your brand cannot go too far. This applies to all brands, whether they are B2B, B2C, product or service brands. Not surprisingly, customer experience is particularly important in hospitality industry. Now that the winter is upon us, let me share with you my observations on the Nordic spa experiences in Quebec.

Those of you, who live in warmer climates, might not be familiar with the concept of the “Nordic spa.” Basically, we are talking about an outdoor spa, which has a Jacuzzi where you warm up your body, even though it is -30 degree Celsius outside. Then, you jump into an ice-cold pool to shock your skin (alternatively you can jump into a frozen lake or river). Finally, you go to a room to relax for 30 minutes. You repeat this cycle three times and you are as good as new.  The concept is very popular, particularly in Quebec, where we experience Arctic winters. It is a fun, healthy and extremely relaxing “experience”. I have been to six different spas in Quebec so far. Therefore, I think I am qualified as an expert by now. As a brand strategist, every time I go to a new place. I take mental notes. Here is what I think that makes a great spa…

  • The facility is very important. Usually, you don’t have a better experience just because the place is brand-new, but you definitely won’t have a pleasant experience if the facility is run-down. I think as long as the facility is very clean and in good condition, you do not care if it is ultra slick. Therefore, facility is a table stake.
  • Location is very important. But again this is a table stake. Quebec is a huge province and finding a remote, hillside location in the forest is not a tough task. However, I must admit, the greatest spas are the ones that are in the woods and right next to a river or lake so that you can actually dip into the frozen water.
  • Now we come to key decision drivers. I think the profile of the clientele has a huge impact on your “personal” experience. Even though you don’t socialize with other guests (actually the goal is quite the opposite), you want to be surrounded by people who are similar to you. Which brings us to my next point.
  • I think the price plays a huge role. This is not supposed to be a luxurious experience; you may feel uneasy if you pay too much. I found that spas, who are priced to attract upper middle class tend to be the best.
  • But I think the main driver is the management of the spa. Based on my personal experience, even the spa has a state-of-the-art facility, a gorgeous location and good clientele; it all comes down to the management of the spa. This is supposed to be a “Zen” experience. If people around you speak out loud, make all kind of noises and do not respect “your” experience, then you will not go back to that place. Therefore, you want to go to a spa, where you know that noisy, disrespectful clients will be warned and if need be escorted out. Also, good management will be selective and disciplined when targeting guests and deliver a unique experience.

Based on the above criteria, here are my top three Nordic spas in Quebec:

1.     Le Scandinave in Mont Tremblant

2.     Balnea in Bromont

3.     Strom in Nuns Island

Today’s actionable tip: Especially if you are in hospitality sector, you are in experience business. Try to understand what “your service” means for your customer. Then, re-engineer your service according to your customers’ expectations.

Fire up your comments. Do you agree with my criteria? Also, do you know a spa that I should try?

540-698 Dovercourt Rd, Toronto, ON, Canada

4 Replies to “The role of customer experience in branding”

  1. Thanks for the post, and for informing me about these nordic spas, some of which are in Ontario’s backyard!

    About the price point, I think, too, that the higher the price, the greater the disappointment if experience does not match expectations.

    Case in point: When I get an upscale restaurant, I expect the waiter to know the menu well, to be able to suggest a well-pairing wine, and to refill my water when it’s low. If none of these expectations were met, I would be very disappointed, would not recommend the restaurant, and would likely never return. Yet, these are expectations that I don’t have for other places where I eat – and go back often – because the food is cheaper and I don’t expect anything more than the basics.

    In short, high price, high expectations, Big discouragement if expectations are not met, and BIG responsibility for management!

    Enjoy the spa!


  2. That is a great point. It is up to the management of the spa to calibrate pricing. If they price it too high, then things that you mentioned could happen. If they price it too low, then you might not enjoy the clientele. Managing expectations is very important in branding. You always want to over deliver. Actually I am reading a book named Over promise, over deliver. Let’s see if there is anything related.

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