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My parents took our family to Ogunquit, Maine for vacation when I was a child. Some of my best childhood memories occurred on the rocky coast of Maine. Fortunately, my wife and children share my love of Maine. We try to visit southern Maine every 12-24 months for a long weekend. It seems that every trip we discover a special place that we can’t wait to visit again.

One of our favorite traditions on our trips to Ogunquit is starting our day at Amore Breakfast on Shore Road. It is easily the best breakfast I have ever had. The food is excellent and the service is outstanding.  At Amore, “Love is the Maine ingredient”.

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Leanne Cusimano opened Amore in 1994. Leanne’s background was in teaching and furniture sales. When she founded Amore, her goal was to create a place of her own where people could enjoy good food and feel at home. Leanne believed that “food is love”, thus “Amore”.  This year, Amore is celebrating its 20th year in business.

The menu features a number of signature egg and omelette dishes.The home fries are the best I have ever had. Each item is uniquely prepared with a slight twist that makes it special. The coffee is also excellent. The black and white interior creates a warm and friendly environment that reminds you of the 50’s.

In addition to great food, Amore has a warm and friendly atmosphere. This starts when you are greeted by Leanne and continues throughout your meal. Many of the waiters and waitresses have worked at Amore for several years. It is obvious that they love what they do. Amore Breakfast provides great service and the employees create a great and memorable customer experience. Amore creates an emotional connection with every customer who walks in the door. We eagerly await our next visit to Amore and are never disappointed.

The Amore Breakfast story has spread through word of mouth and positive reviews on Trip Advisor, a feature on Rachel Rays “Tasty Travels” and part of a New York Times article on “36 Hours/Ogunquit Maine”.

Amore has created a branded experience that customers crave. There are some great branding lessons to be learned from Amore Breakfast:

  • Great Brands start by building a culture first, the culture and employees drives the business and the brand experience
  • Make the product great and distinctive
  • Create an emotional experience that builds a long-term relationship
  • Sweat the details and create a great customer experience where people feel at home

Have you eaten at Amore Breakfast in Ogunquit Beach Maine?

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Marriott was founded by J. Willard Marriott and his wife Alice in 1927. They originally opened a nine stool A&W Root Beer Shop in Washington D.C. as a place to get a cool drink during the hot and humid summers. As the first summer drew to a close, the Marriott’s looked for additional ways to attract customers. Bill secured permission from A&W to serve food items and Alice learned to make tamales and chili con carne from the cook at the Mexican Embassy. The “Hot Shoppes” concept was born. Local residents flocked to “Hot Shoppes” for its combination of good food, low prices and great service. The Marriott’s quickly opened additional locations. In 1957, they opened the first Marriott Hotel “Twin Bridges” in Arlington, Virginia.

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Today Marriott operates more than 3,500 hotel properties worldwide under a portfolio of brands. In many ways, they are the Proctor and Gamble of the hospitality industry. They have grown organically and through strategic acquisitions. Their portfolio of brands target different segments of the market. They target the following tiers:

  • Luxury – The Ritz Carlton, JW Marriott, BVLGARI
  • Lifestyle – Edition, Autograph Collection Hotels, Renaissance, AC Hotels
  • Signature – Marriott Hotels and Resorts
  • Select Service – Courtyard by Marriott, Springhill Suites Marriott, Fairfield Inn and Suites Marriott, Moxy Hotels
  • Extended Stay – Residence Inn Marriott, Towne Place Suites Marriott, Marriott Executive Apartments
  • Destination Entertainment – Gaylord Hotels

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Marriott has always focused on being a great place to work, delivering an excellent customer experience and building unique brands. There philosophy is summed up by the following quote. “Take care of your associates, and they will take care of your customers, who will keep coming back.”

I believe that Marriott has done an excellent of staying true to their purpose, vision and values and serving the needs of multiple stakeholders. These elements are critical to building a successful brand and ensuring a great customer experience. Listed below are their purpose, vision and values.

Purpose: We open doors to a world of opportunity for:

  • People – personal and professional growth
  • Customers – rewarding travel experiences
  • Communities – a more sustainable future in the places where we live and work
  • Owners and Franchisees – profitable investments
  • Investors – Financial Achievement
  • Business Alliances – Collaboration with suppliers and other key relationships

Vision: To be the number one consumer hospitality company in the world.

Values:

  • Put people first
  • Pursue excellence
  • Embrace change
  • Act with integrity
  • Serve our world

Marriott has received many awards. Marriott has been recognized by Fortune Magazine as one of the top 100 companies to work for. Ethisphere recognized Marriott as one of the most ethical companies in the world.

Marriott Rewards is the best loyalty program in the hospitality industry. Membership is a must for frequent business ravelers. I have been a member for many years. It has helped fund many of my family vacations. The program started in 1983 as a grassroots program by hotel employees to recognize their loyal customers. This was a significant innovation at the time. In 2013, US News and World Reports named Marriott the number one hotel loyalty program.

I am currently staying at Residence Inn. While not, perfect I have always enjoyed my experiences at Marriott properties. A line from their recent advertising campaign hit home. “It’s not only about where you’re staying, it’s about where you’re going.

 

Are you a member of the Marriott Rewards Program?

 
 

Brand Marketing is undergoing a fundamental change as new media channels emerge. Bombarding consumers with “sell, sell, sell” advertising and direct mail no longer works like it used. Response rates continue to decline. The same old same old doesn’t work anymore. Consumers are tuning out blatant sell messages. They no longer buy what you do, they buy why you do it. Consumers want to understand your story. People want to support companies with a purpose beyond just selling me stuff and making money.

Today, consumers have a wide variety of media channels where they can research products and services. More and more brands are engaging consumers with authentic stories that matter. These stories inspire and inform consumers. Brands like Zappos, Dove and Chipotle are excellent storytellers with a customer focused purpose. They understand that brands today are in the publishing business. Owning your own media channels is important for success. Storytelling is the essence of Content Marketing.

This morning, I had the opportunity to hear John Robinson speak at a New York Capital Region AMA event in Clifton Park. John is a master storyteller. John’s stories are engaging and inspiring. He also has a great sense of humor. I don’t remember many of the commercials I saw on television last night but I will never forget John’s stories and inspirational message.

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John Robinson overcame countless obstacles to become a successful entrepreneur, family man and inspirational keynote speaker. John is a congenital amputee born without full arms and legs. John stressed how important it was to be comfortable with who you are.

John told the inspiring story of his bicycle ride across New York State which he called the “Journey Along the Erie Canal”. John, his family and Doug Hamlin completed a 17 day bike ride from Buffalo to Albany in July of 2013. Their purpose was to raise awareness of the ability inside all People with Disabilities and to raise funds to support Adaptive Sports, Accessibility, Education and Employment for New Yorker’s with Disabilities. Through his organization, Our Ability, Robinson mentors, connects, and inspires people with disabilities toward education and employment. They were greeted by local politicians and enthusiastic supporters along the way. They overcame many obstacles including rough trails, extreme heat, rain and sore muscles. As Doug Hamlin, John’s partner and guest speaker Doug Hamlin so aptly stated, “Things that look like a disadvantage are an advantage”.

The audience was inspired and engaged by John and Doug’s story, their sense of purpose and how they used Social Media and Content Marketing to distribute their story. They will likely remember the inspirational stories John and Doug told for years to come.

Can you share a story that inspired you to overcome an obstacle?

Airbnb is an online community that helps travelers find cheap and unique places to stay by connecting them with locals looking to rent out their homes, apartments, and even spare bedrooms. Airbnb was founded in 2008 and is based in San Francisco, California. The company has grown rapidly. Airbnb has booked over 10 million guest nights. As of September 2013, the company had over 500,000 listings in 33,000 cities and 192 countries.

Airbnb connects people to unique travel experiences at any price point. Travelers can book an apartment for a night, a castle for a week or a villa for a month. Airbnb is the easiest way for people to monetize their extra space and showcase it to millions of users.

Airbnb has evolved to meet the needs of their users. Airbnb realized that their customers needed more than just a play to stay. They learned that their users are looking for interesting experiences in the neighborhoods where they are renting property. They’ve done this by utilizing content marketing and featuring a range of interesting and useful information designed to increase engagement. Airbnb introduced Neighborhood Guides in 2012, a series of travel guides, that help travelers determine where they should stay in a city and once they’re there, and how to get the most out of their home away from home.
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Airbnb Neighborhood Guides combine stunning photography, local editorial perspective, and practical information to let you discover the neighborhood for yourself. Airbnb hopes that customers are able to make better decisions around where they’d like to stay, are more aligned with their tastes, and have a better experience overall.

Airbnb just released an innovative short film directed via Twitter and shot entirely on Vine. The story centers on the journey of a white piece of paper. The initiative, dubbed Hollywood & Vines, instructed users via Twitter on what to film, including paper airplanes flying and a boat on rough seas. The result is a four-minute short film, which debuted on the Sundance Channel, that not only captures immense creativity, but the adventurous spirits that embody Airbnb users. The film extend’s Airbnb’s roots as a socially connected innovative brand.

Have you booked a property through Airbnb?

 


 

Last Saturday, I made my annual trip to Saratoga Race Track in upstate New York to enjoy a day at the races. It is a time for re-connecting with old friends, enjoying family, people watching, enjoying food and beverages and, of course, watching the horses. An August day at Saratoga is a great fan experience. The feature race that day was the Alabama Stakes.

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Saratoga Race Course, “The Track” is one of the most charming racetracks in the country. It was named as one of the “Top 10 Sporting Venues” by Sports Illustrated Magazine and is one of horse racing’s most beloved tracks. It has a unique combination of historical ambience, modern-day amenities and of course style. It is the oldest racetrack in the United States.

This summer Saratoga Race Course is celebrating its 150th anniversary. In 1863, two horsemen decided that it was time to expand Saratoga’s appeal, and the way to do that was to create a permanent racetrack in America. Know as the “Graveyard of Champions,” Saratoga Race Course has earned a reputation for being a challenging track for favorites. In fact, the famous horse Man O’ War lost a race here.

Saratoga has many traditions that add to the overall experience of a day at the races. One tradition is that anyone coming to the track early, just after 7:00am can reserve a picnic table by putting their articles on that table. You must then exit the track when the morning breakfast patrons leave, and pay to re-enter at the time the gates open for racing. Prime tables in the picnic area are in demand especially on a Saturday. Coolers are allowed. The picnic area is a lot of fun and is the way I choose to spend my day at the track. You are also able to watch the horses being led to the paddock. Another tradition is that you can “reserve” a bench seat with a newspaper or program.

The early morning is a spectacular time at the track. It is not crowded and you can watch many horses go through their training runs.

Saratoga Springs is located 35 miles north of Albany and 180 miles north of Manhattan. In addition to the races, Saratoga is host to many summer activities including the Saratoga Performing Arts Center, Saratoga National Historical Park and a variety of museums.

Have you been to Saratoga Race Track?

August is a time for travel and vacations. With limited vacation time, travelers are looking to plan the perfect trip with the best experience. Consumers are searching for the latest information to help them make the right decisions on attractions, hotels, flights and restaurants. Fifteen years ago consumers relied on frontline staff and travel agents to help them make decisions and understand their travel choices. The flaw in that approach was that most travel agents had visited only a limited number of destinations. Today consumers are turning to online review sites like TripAdvisor to get information on what’s good and what’s not from people just like them – consumers who have visited the destination they are considering.

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TripAdvisor was founded by in 2000 by Stephen Kaufer and Langley Steinert in 2000. TripAdvisor is now the largest travel web site in the world with over 230 million unique visitors monthly. TripAdvisor has over 100 million travel reviews. More than 70 new reviews are posted every minute. In a few short years TripAdvisor has become the number one brand in travel. They have done that by providing consumer’s easily accessible and useful information. TripAdvisor has become an essential tool for travelers.

In his book CTRL-ALT- DELETE, Mitch Joel talks about the importance of brands needing to become more useful in consumer’s lives. “It about providing true value and utility: something that consumers not only would want to use – constantly and consistently – but would derive so much value from it that it would be given front and center attention in their lives”.

TripAdvisor’s mission is to help travelers around the world plan the perfect trip. TripAdvisor helps consumers in all steps of the travel purchase process from initial dreams, to planning and booking, when you are on the trip and sharing your experiences when you get home. TripAdvisor offers trusted advice from real travelers and a wide variety of travel choices and planning features with links to booking tools. Mark Di Somma in a recent post on Brand Strategy Insider referred to consumer review sites as the new brand managers. 

I am a big fan of TripAdvisor especially the mobile app. I always consult TripAdvisor before booking or eating in a new restaurant when I travel. I have  posted reviews on TripAdvisor of hotels that I have stayed at and restaurants when I have eaten. I benefit from the time and thoughtful reviews, so I think it is important to give back and share my perspective. 

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TripAdvisor has a great business model. They leverage the collective input of millions of unpaid reviewers to provide the best travel information on the internet. The reviews generate advertising and cost per click referrals.

The consumer travel market remains very competitive. Google’s $700 million acquisition of Cambridge-based ITA and more recent acquisition of travel content leader, Frommers, is an indicator that others are in pursuit of TripAdvisor’s core business and profit margins.

Do you use TripAdvisor to plan your vacation?

As a life-long baseball, I enjoy watching games in different major league and minor league parks. When I travel to a new city, I try to attend a game. One of my bucket list goals is to see a game in every major league ball park. Each ball park is a unique experience that creates vivid memories that last a life time. It is an opportunity to spend time relaxing with family and friends.

Last summer, I had the opportunity to attend two games at Oriole Park in Camden Yards. This was my first opportunity to see Camden Yards live. I saw the Orioles play the Angels in June and the Oakland A’s in July. I attended one of the games with two of my daughters. My oldest daughter is a passionate and knowledgeable baseball fan. For me, as a lifelong baseball fan this was a “WOW” fan experience.

2012 was the 20th anniversary of the opening of Camden Yards. Oriole Park is the Stadium that forever changed baseball in a positive way by helping baseball return to its authentic roots and providing fans with a great experience. Oriole Park at Camden Yards in Baltimore was the first of the “retro” major league ballparks constructed during the 1990’s and early 2000’s.

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Customer Experience is key differentiator for brands and businesses today. Even hospitals are now focused on improving the patient and visitor experience. Good customer experiences are useful, easy and enjoyable. A positive customer experience creates a strong emotional connection with your customer. A positive customer experience creates a much stronger emotional connection than traditional advertising messages.

A visit to Camden Yards in Baltimore is a positive customer experience. It has old-time charm with modern conveniences. Camden Yards has a great selection of food and drinks. The people who work at the stadium were polite, friendly and very friendly.

In his book “Platform.” Michael Hyatt describes a WOW experience as having some combination of the following elements:

•    Surprise – always exceeds our expectations. It creates delight, amazement, wonder or awe

•    Anticipation – anticipating a WOW experience is almost as good as the experience

•    Resonance – touches the heart

•    Transcendence – you experience purpose

•    Clarity –  creates a moment when you see things more clearly

•    Presence –  creates timelessness

•    Universality – nearly universal

•    Evangelism – has to be shared

•    Longevity – The shine never wears off

•    Privledge – Makes you proud in a good way

My visits to Oriole Park at Camden Yards last summer combined many of the elements that Michael Hyatt outlined in his book. It was an experience that I anticipated and will always remember.

Can you share a great fan experience?