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Brands and Products

For my 40th birthday, my wife - and let the record show I have a really nice wife - treated me to a few days at the Four Seasons on the Big Island of Hawaii. I think it was her attempt to try to ease the pain of - and my complaints about - hitting the big 4-0, and for the most part it worked. Anyway, in between sand, sun, swimming and booze, I started to think a bit about product.

Let me start by saying that this particular Four Seasons might be the nicest resort we've stayed at. Obviously, being located beach front on one of the most beautiful islands on the earth, where the weather seems to be always 82 degrees and sunny, helps. But it goes beyond that. The grounds of the resort are immaculately groomed, the rooms themselves are that perfect combination of comfortable yet impeccable, the food, the drinks, the pools - all exceptional. And of course the service is not only good, it's friendly.

But none of this should be surprising - this is the product and brand of the Four Seasons. With that, it's worth noting that not everything in this resort was the highest of the high end. The silverware was not Tiffany, the threadcount on the bed sheets were not the highest available, the plasma flat screen not the top of the line, etc. But these things didn't matter. In other words, there were certain product decisions they made - for cost reasons or otherwise - that didn't effect the experience and, consequently, the brand.

So how did they make these decisions? How did they decide that it was ok to have a plasma TV whose resolution was not the best, but that a regular TV - as opposed to a plasma - would be bad? And make no mistake about it, this was the right decision - the room experience just wouldn't have seemed up to snuff if I walked in and saw an old Sony Trinitron on the dresser.

In other words, the overall product they deliver is really the sum of a bunch of smaller decisions made around the various product "features". These decisions are driven by the brand they have built and want to maintain. If I'm staying at a Motel Six - a Sony Trinitron and hard mattress is fine. The lights need to work, the place should be clean and I don't expect to pay a lot - and that's pretty much it. But the Four Seasons? I expect more than just a clean room.

Really this is a problem of both substance and process. First, they need to figure out what that brand is (the substance). But that's not enough. They also need the process for organizationally making decisions to adequately reflect the brand. No one person can own each such decision, yet each such decision needs to be consistent with the brand.

In any event, it seems to me that this requires build your product around your brand as opposed to vice versa. And its very obvious that the Four Seasons does a good job of this.


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Comments (2)


I don't know squat about products and brand, but after a surprise birthday celebration at a beach house in California, followed by the Four Seasons in Hawaii and the upcoming guys-only version at a 4-diamond resort in Phoenix for golf and the Steelers game, I'd say you're handling your 40th birthday quite well, you obnoxious old fart!!

That is a very interesting observation.

You often see mega-brands partnering with each other, trying to create a whole that is greater than the sum of the parts, or at least draft off the perceived quality of the partner. (e.g. "United Airlines proudly serves Starbucks coffee")

On the other hand, you have composite products (such as your hotel stay) that seem better served by avoiding the noise other large brands, and absorbing the sub-products as part of the experience. ("The Four Seasons has great coffee.")

To your point, perhaps it's better to build your brand around other products when the experience is sub-optimal, or you need a tangible competitive edge (a known coffee brand) in an otherwise low-quality market (airlines). An interesting exception to this case is Virgin - who re-brands everything they touch with a capital "V" and makes it part of the grand Virgin experience.

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