A story of brand forgiveness
Let's face it. I'm hooked. I've drunk the Kool-Aid. Since opening our second office a year ago and commuting from Rochester to the Queen City, I've fallen in love with Buffalo. I do my best to explain to friends and family the energy I feel just driving into town, the great restaurants, breweries and entertainment, the boutique shops, the people I've met, its all-around passion for sports, the urban redevelopment on seemingly every corner.
And then it was Declared. An upset of epic proportions. Buffalo was named America's Favorite City (#1) by Travel & Leisure. Radio guys across Upstate still claim the voting was "fixed," but we know better, right?
In my personal campaign to create more brand advocates for Buffalo, I tried it out last weekend with my 5-year-old son. He's been begging to ride "a real train" (“not Thomas”) so I booked roundtrip tickets on Amtrak for just $30 each and off we went for an overnight.
I had such high expectations for the weekend that I didn't give it much thought as to how we would get around. After all, I've stayed at the Hilton on Lafayette Square for most of the year and have taken the free Metro Rail anytime I needed to get to an event or game. We got off at the BFX station just south of Coca-Cola Field and got into a taxi. The interior was filthy and smelled awful (an observation unfortunately confirmed aloud by my vocally opinionated 5-year old), but we were on an adventure and kept a positive attitude.
Off we went and checked into our hotel. We had a great meal on the patio, met other friendly guests, and swam in the pool. On Sunday, we needed a taxi to get to the Buffalo Zoo. Stop the presses.
Apparently, not many cab companies are open on Sundays in Buffalo. My first call was answered by an owner who was clearly still sleeping at 11:30 am and said incoherently, "Honey. I don't work Sundays," as if I should've known this. Some taxi companies let the phone keep ringing and didn’t even pick up. One had a recording asking me to leave a message. Two numbers were disconnected. But then a taxi service DID answer my call.
My son and I met our cabbie in the parking lot in the most broke-down, rust-corroded vehicle I've seen in years. I couldn't even tell it was a taxi until I was close enough to read a small sign on the car door. We rolled our overnight bag towards the trunk… which was literally filled to the rim with garbage. I squished our bag into the trunk and opened the car door for my son. The driver's seat was practically in the rear of the taxi, so the two of us sat closely on the right side in the back as I fumbled around in the greasy crease of the seat to find the seatbelts...and I prayed we'd make it to the zoo alive.
The Buffalo Zoo is a tremendous place. A taxi drop off and a baggage check for visitors with luggage would be helpful additions, but so what when they have five giraffes and a polar bear who actually comes out and walks around? We enjoyed several fantastic hours at the zoo, and I almost forgot about our awful drive in – and hadn’t started thinking about the last leg of our journey.
I wasn't going to be a repeat customer of either of the previous two cab companies, but finding a cab back to BFX threatened to be the same bad experience. I skipped the unavailable cab services, and finally found a service that answered. We waited on the corner of Parkside Avenue for 20 minutes while the driver tried locating us amongst the traffic. My optimism about weekend transportation in Buffalo was at an all-time low.
Then, Bob (not his real name) greeted us with a smile, loaded us into a clean vehicle, and turned to ask us how our day went at the zoo.
I laughed quietly to myself, smiled and said, "It was lovely. Thank you."
For me, that's all I needed. I needed this to all work out in the end. In marketing, we sometimes learn the hard way that customer experience defines the brand. If I was a first-time visitor, this experience could have ruined my perception of Buffalo. But because of the many prior positive impressions I've had, I left happy and grateful for the quality time I had with my son and the memories we created together. The lesson: brand forgiveness happens when brand equity is greater than the missteps.
I had almost expected that my trip to Buffalo was going to be like last summer’s to Washington, DC with my older son. But it’s a huge city, host to all of the world, and they have Uber. (UBER. Get There. Your day belongs to you.) My 10-year-old and I loved the ease of using the app to get around the city and visiting all of the sites. We even loved the drivers. Most of them were funny and offered us a free bottle of cold water since it was 100 degrees that weekend. What a difference Uber would make for the Buffalo tourism experience.
So whose OneProblem is this? A bad first impression can’t be blamed on the successful marketing or the tremendous investments made by local community leaders and developers. No, now it's time to get the entire front line, the cab drivers, on board to deliver on the OneBuffalo brand promise and properly welcome, its growing number of visitors. A “Director of First Impressions” might be in order. If we aren’t going to have Uber any time soon, let’s jazz up what we have.
For a girl like me who is forever the optimist, an entrepreneur who lives in the vision of "what could be," and is a marketer to top it off, I know we’re building a world-class city. I'm confident OneBuffalo is on its way.
About the Author: Michelle Ashby leads the research, business development, and agency operations teams at Tipping Point Communications. Michelle commits to helping clients solve their toughest business and marketing challenges. In her free time, she enjoys traveling and is a frequent contributor to TripAdvisor. Michelle was named Business Person of the Year by the Small Business Council in 2014 in Rochester, NY, is a Forty Under 40 recipient, and was named Outstanding Volunteer Fundraiser in 2016. Follow her on Instagram and Twitter @mylifeMashUp.