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Welcome to the online blog for traveler/writer/photographer Steven Barber. Come in. Relax. Take off your shoes and socks -- or any other article of clothing, this is the internet. Have a look around. I hope to intrigue, amuse, entertain, and maybe provoke you just a little. I love to find adventure. All I need is a change of clothes, my Nikon, an open mind and a strong cup of coffee.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

The Brands We Love

"When I go on Japanese Airlines, I really love it because I like Japanese food."
                                   - Phil Collins   

You're driving along. It's dark and raining. Night. The highway ahead an endless black pit with a solitary divided yellow line down the center of the darkness. To either side a blind expanse of black. The tempo of the windshield wipers beats itself along, mindless of the sleep-inducing rhythm as it brushes the water from your view. You've been driving for hours in unfamiliar territory, with little more than mile markers for the last forty-five minutes. It's 2am and you're exhausted.

A sign looms out of the dark, indicating you're approaching an exit two miles ahead. It promises accommodations of some kind. You're not optimistic...the last place along the highway was a prototype for the Bates Motel. A flash of light from between the tress suggests it might have electricity at the very least. As you near the ramp you see a sign for a chain you're familiar with. Sighing with relief you pull off, finding the driveway and pulling into a familiar and well lit portico. There's a bed with your name on it...

MGM Hotels and Casinos
We all know the classic brands. There is a familiarity and a comfort in them. Whether you prefer the high end, or know the value you get at the low end, the brands we prefer are automatic go-to's when it comes to planning travel.

Hotels, airlines, car rental agencies, travel agents, cruise lines. You name it, you probably have a preferred brand or two. Websites, bloggers, magazines, tv shows. They're all brands of one kind or another, and each attract their own set of consumers.

Do you follow the luxurious indulgence of Samantha Brown, or the rugged adventurism of Todd Carmichael? Each has their own set of followers. When you fly, do you book American, AirTran or JetBlue?

We each have our favorites, and for our own reasons.

I use two sets of criteria: business traveler versus personal. The brands I prefer for one are not necessarily the ones I prefer for the other. Part of that is budget, of course. I will indulge myself on a personal trip that would be unacceptable on a business one. (It's always pleasant when things work out and those worlds collide, however.)

I am a member of several Frequent Customer programs. They are based, largely, on the brands I use most frequently, of course. There are the hotel mega-brands like Hilton and Starwood. These two offer a wide spectrum of properties, each with a readily identifiable style and expectation. I know that with Hilton I will get one experience with Embassy Suites and another entirely with Homewood Suites. Both are brands within a brand, and each give me a standard of expectation when I pull off that lonely highway. With Starwood I know Westin will be a certain quality, while Aloft will be entirely different. But I know what I am getting when I book.

It's the brand reinforcement which is so vital. In the same way you know what kind of burger to expect from McDonald's versus those at In-and-Out. And Fuddrucker's, and, well, you get the point. The importance of a brand isn't just saying what you'll get, it's following the words with actions.

If a cruise line bills itself as small and intimate, you'd better not pull up to a leviathan liner with facilities for three thousand passengers. Likewise a budget cruise better not break the bank with added fees and charges. It puts a lie to the advertising and virtually guarantees a one-time guest. The image that is projected needs to be the image that is observed.

U S Airways
As the Thumbnail Traveler -- yes, it's a brand...that's not my real name -- I have been working to establish an identity which is, at the very least, consistent. It needs to be adventurous. It needs to be perceived as an exploration of the world, not just a set of pretty pictures. In the same way AFAR and LONELY PLANET have created a brand style I've been working to create one for the TT.

Looking back over the last three years, hundred plus blog entries, thousands of tweets and a decent library of destination images on the Facebook page, we've been fairly successful. Not entirely, but I hope reasonably.

With my job transition of last year my own time on the road has hit overtime. Between business and personal travel I've logged thousands of miles, been to almost every major city in the US and quite a few internationally. Sometimes I think Phoenix Sky Harbor is a home away from home. (It's a primary hub for USAirways, my main air carrier.)

And this is what started me thinking about the entire concept of branding. Cities do it. Airlines do it. All travel companies do it. People do it. (Can anyone deny that Anthony Bourdain is as valid a brand name as The Travel Channel?)

It's all part of giving us, the consumers, an idea of what to expect, of what we can anticipate and know we will encounter when foot hits the pavement.

See you at the Sheraton!

It's a Carnival!!!

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