The triumph of brands over experience

(Yes, I know, it would be a better headline if the word “brands” rhymed with the word “hope”.  Oh well.)

Over the last few days, I’ve been having my first airbnb experience, trying to sort out three or four places to stay during a short trip in the New Year.

I suppose the initial online experience is OK, although there are some highly un-intuitive page layouts and the whole thing certainly conforms to my comments about idiosyncracy from a few blogs ago.  But it’s once you’ve tried to book somewhere that it all gets very tricky.

I may have been unlucky, or maybe people took an instinctive dislike to the slightly self-conscious personal profile that I was obliged to provide.  (Or maybe it was just that it was obvious from my photograph that unlike the large majority of male users, I don’t have a beard.)   But for whatever reasons, it happened five times in three or four days that my bookings were accepted, and then within 24 hours cancelled again – involving me in a less-that-straightforward refunds procedure, and of course the need to go through the whole rigmarole again.    (In the end, I decided to quit while I wasn’t too far behind, booking half the trip on airbnb but turning to expedia for the other half.)

This was all extremely tiresome, and not at all what I expected from the service that has been hyped as the future of leisure travel.  But here’s the thing:  at a brand level, I don’t really mind.  In a service industry sector where we all agree that brand perceptions are overwhelmingly driven by experience, my experience has been rather less than mediocre.  But I still perceive the brand as the future of leisure travel, and I expect I’ll still go back to it again.

This doesn’t really make sense.  My not-very-positive experience should be powerful enough to overwhelm the fairly feeble positives built up in my mind by seeing some posters on the tube and reading some PR in the newspapers.  But somehow, it doesn’t work like that:  with brands that you kind of like, as with people that you kind of like, you’re willing to set aside the negative experience and carry on with the liking.

If there’s some kind of general theory about how brand relationships work, and specifically about how some kind of positive emotional engagement can offset a whole lot of negative experiences, it’s obviously important to try to understand how it works.  Can anyone help me with this?  If anything’s been written on the subject, I’d like to read it.

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