When you are one small part of a conglomerate, mass merger, or joint venture, how do you move ahead and strengthen your brand? Not like this. Referrals are a very common method for generating business, and having said that it’s not uncommon to see collateral stamped with multiple brands as a result. Wholesaling, brokering, joint ventures… these are all recipes for confusing your prospects. How many times have you seen marketing pieces that sound more like movie credits than anything else? Sunshine Corp., presents a product by Green Grass Inc., in partnership with Big Box Corp. Don’t delay, call the Seemingly Totally Unrelated Group for more information, today. Huh? I ran into this when I booked our family vacation. I called Bellair Travel to book a Sunquest vacation offered by Thomas Cook Canada, which is owned by Jazz. Hmm. I’ll be honest here, branding was not foremost on my mind, but the Cabo sun was. I didn’t really care about the who and the what so long as I was drinking a margarita and hanging by the pool. Then we got to the airport. Interesting. So, if Air Canada owns Jazz, and Jazz owns Thomas Cook Canada, where in Terminal 3 did they want us to end up? Hold on.. is Thomas Cook the same as Thomas Cook Canada? Luckily we got dropped off by the right entrance, and the Thomas Cook signage was pretty visible. Or so we thought. We queued up and began to relax into the 20 or so minutes that was our wait-time. After about 10 minutes ticked by, a Thomas Cook employee announced: “This line is for all those who are travelling to Germany. If you are travelling to Mexico you should be in that line.” She waved down to the other end of the terminal. I didn’t see where because my eyes were glazing over. At this point, my husband was fuming pretty loudly about a lack of signage and a waste of time as were a throng of people behind us. We all trudged over to the other Thomas Cook line where the wait time was reset to 25 minutes and none were too happy. But again, brand, shmand. Maragaritas, warm sun, infinity pool, family time.. service providers are lucky that consumers on vacation have this kind of mantra, otherwise there would be hell to pay. Although it probably explains the free booze on the flight. Just when I thought the messy experience was through, I had to fill out my entry card to Mexico and got stumped for a few minutes. There was a space that said ‘Airline’ and another to fill out that said ‘Travel Company’. So, under travel company do I write Bellair Travel, or did they mean Sunquest Vacations? And is the airline Thomas Cook? Thomas Cook Canada? Or Jazz? Nuts. The vacation was amazing. We were met by a Sunquest rep at the airport (so, was I supposed to write Sunquest after all?) and loaded on to our bus. The rest of the week was a pleasant blur of sun, rest, and relaxation. On our way home an announcement was made that the ‘Thomas Cook flight would be checked in by West Jet’. I wasn’t even going to ask. Of course there was no signage to indicate this, and there was no incidence of the Thomas Cook logo to be found. And then I saw it. To complete my experience and tattoo the indelible brand imprint of Thomas Cook in my mind, here was my final impression: Excuse the blur, but yes. It does say Thomas Cock. Ouch. Watch your brand placement people! Apparently windows can turn respectable names into evil nicknames and this is really not good when your nod at experience design is more like ordeal design, bolstered by a nice policy and procedures manual. Now, was my experience bad? No. Not really. The vacation part was a smashing success and I would go again in a heartbeat. But a little planning and experience follow-through on the part of Thomas Cook..Canada? Jazz? Whoever.. A little planning could actually strengthen their brand, not to mention take pressure off of their limited staff. (I don’t think that nice lady was being paid just to walk around and tell people they were in the wrong line. And if she was, a sandwich board would most certainly mean progress.) I know the airline industry is rife with mergers, and that branding doesn’t seem to float to the top of the list when you yourself probably don’t know who you work for anymore. But rest assured, the consumer mindshare is still being formed. To start, two signs, one saying ‘MEXICO’ and one saying ‘GERMANY’, are not going to rock the boat. And instead of creating a massive disruption which requires more staff/resource allocation to offset, how about having a greeter ask people which Thomas Cook flight they were on? I know. Revolutionary. I’m not even talking about branded signage, or advertising. I’m just talking about a little bit of way-finding. I’m not ganging up on Thomas Cook here. This happens all the time. Every industry has its Chinese Checker stacked brand venture just waiting to be promoted. But where that potential confusion lies in wait, Experience Design is the answer. If you walk through a process from a client side, and from your internal staff POV, and design around it, you are going to guarantee less bottle-necks, and a general air of happiness. Here’s a simple design that illustrates what I mean. Below is a small map of our experience going from YYZ to Cabo. Here are a few simple changes mapped from birds-eye view that make everyone’s experience better, from the staff to the travelers. Here’s some food for thought. Wouldn’t it be nice if your vacation started when you got to the airport instead of when you got to the resort? I’m not saying that it would take all the stress out of travel, but it would definitely give some order to the process and smooth over brand confusion created by mergers or just plain weak strategy. What can I say? Branding still shines at 30,000 ft.