Companies spend a lot of time on what their messaging should be — although truthfully, I think this is still an afterthought relative to the time they spend on the visual aspects of a brand. However, as I have stated in numerous other blog posts, in the end, the brand experience the consumer has will always say more than any words the company chooses to put in print. The company messaging can act as a catalyst to get peeps to try the brand, but if you fail to deliver on a positive brand experience, you might as well have just said “we suck” in your messaging.
So what does Boston Sports Club (BSC) say to me based on my brand experience? It says “Free Pool Hair!” and unfortunately that overshadows everything else about the brand.
I joined the Westborough Boston Sports Club last winter when I started training for a triathlon. The facility was brand spankin’ new and quite simply, stunning. It was huge, well lit and featured all new equipment. The pool was phenomenal with a wall of floor-to-ceiling windows that ran the full length of the pool. Ed, the man who signed me up, was a great personification of the brand. He was super attentive, physically fit, and genuinely engaged in hearing about my fitness goals. I walked away thinking the company had done a fantastic job in creating a brand experience that would prompt me to be a “repeater” and tell all my friends. After all, positive word of mouth marketing is nirvana for any brand in any segment in any country. However, it can be a double-edged sword. Negative word of mouth communication can stop a brand dead in its tracks.
So what happened? Unfortunately, it was a deja-vus experience because it had happened to me once before and involved the same person. Last night I went for a swim. It was late, so nobody else was in the pool when I started — quiet, peaceful and meditative. About twenty minutes into the swim, I could see someone entered the lane next to me. No big deal, it’s better than having to share a lane and playing bumper car swim with that person. I continued doing laps and noticed the woman kept stopping after she swam one length of the pool. Then the epiphany hit me like a knife in a low budget horror movie — it was her — Hair Woman! This woman has long, thick, dark, unruly, black hair. Her routine was to swim a length, take her hair out of the elastic band, dunk it in the water, squeeze the water out with her hand, put the elastic back in, swim a pool length and repeat. I swear on my four kids’ lives that I am not making this shit up. I lasted about 3 more minutes and after seeing floating hair through my goggles I felt too ill to continue. I got out of the pool and went to talk to one of the pool attendants. I was calm and respectfully explained the situation knowing full well she wasn’t in the conference room at corporate headquarters when BSC decide to offer all you can eat, free pool hair. The pool attendant said, “That is disgusting. I agree with you. Unfortunately, the corporate policy doesn’t require bathing caps.” I told her that I appreciated that she was not responsible for making policies and promised to try to leverage Web 2.0 to try to get this resolved.
I began a spew of tweets on the subject:
boston sports club: allowing peeps w/ long hair swim w/out bathing cap is disgusting. change ur policy. if not, i’ll put video on youtube.
boston sports club: woman pulls long hair out of elastic after every swim lap, runs fingers thru it & puts back in. youtube video will rock!
boston sports club: a pool filled w/ long hair is terrific. it’s effing awesome to have someone elses hair in mouth when swimming.
boston sports club: since u don’t require bathing caps, why require bathing suits? no suits will help promote more floating hair. wtf peeps?
boston sports club: suggest ur ceo write blog post on all the compelling reasons why u don’t enforce swim cap policy. is floating hair #1?
Now one of the things I love about the world is that almost always, there are two perspectives on virtually every subject on the planet: sports teams, healthcare, politics, religion…you name it…but not when it comes to floating hair. Aside from those acid-tripping hippies in the musical Hair, I think the perspective around the world is that other people’s hair in your pool or food is not a desirable experience. I received a tsunami of responses on twitter and Facebook on my BSC hair tweets. Without exception, everyone thought it was nasty. Not one person said, “Really? I love pool hair. It takes me by surprise and tickles my skin as it floats over my body. And I find it tasty. I will actually play a game and try to catch as many floating hairs in my mouth as possible. My personal best is seven in one lap!”
Now, if you go to the BSC website, the About Us section has messages about:
- a multitude of option
- wide range of group exercises
- fully equipped
- innovative programs
…all that is effing great, but you know what I think of when I think of Boston Sports Club — pool hair! You know what most people who read my tweets, Facebook status and blog will think — pool hair! Even if their brand experience to date has been positive, they will always have “pool hair” as one of their many references.
The good news is that BSC has a simple fix: institute a bathing cap policy. It won’t take a long time, it’s not expensive, and customer satisfaction will go up.
The moral of this story is that that companies need to own the brand right through every aspect of the brand experience. Even overlooking one, little part of the brand experience can derail and overshadow every other branding initiative.
What are your thoughts?