Why Having a Brand Story is
Your Most Important Asset

St. Lucia has been called the Jewel of the Caribbean, and it is indeed an island that perfectly embodies all the ideals of an island.

However, a sparkling location and glorious beaches are only small parts of why The BodyHoliday is one of the most unusual stories in the annals of Caribbean tourism.

The hotel’s picture-postcard location, on a virtually private quarter-moon of white-sand beach, is managed with the idea that a comprehensive spa experience, combined with all the benefits of a luxurious and first-class beach resort, brings a new and unique experience to the Caribbean – one that fills the growing need for people to experience better health and well-being, mixed in with the hedonistic desire for sea, sun, and sand.

Craig Barnard owns and runs the hotel on behalf of the Barnard family. His team thought long and hard about the name and the inherent quest that would fulfill the promise of self-chosen wellness in body and mind.

What they came up with tells the brand story with a vivid presence that both the staff and the brand’s customers can internalize with passion and conviction. It’s a provocative, highly involved proposition that says: “Give us your body for a week and we’ll give you back your mind.”

This is the brand’s North Star and is not only the driving brand quest, but also the headline that has adorned every ad the resort has ever run since 1995!

People deserve an involved experience along with their hard-earned sunburns, and that is what they get when they choose The BodyHoliday.

“Give us your body for a week and we’ll give you back your mind” is not just the ad campaign for this year. It is the driving force behind the brand’s ambitious purpose. Craig protects it with the zeal of a red-coated British Army Guardsman at Buckingham Palace, which is where he went to receive his Member of the British Empire honor from Queen Elizabeth a few years ago.

The Holiday That Goes Home With You

The team also recognized that while each guest can customize his or her own holiday experience, those who choose to pursue the exercise and spa options garner skills and insights that last long after their tans have faded.

While the conventional beach resort will leave you with pleasant memories and a few good Facebook moments, going to The BodyHoliday is a bit like learning to ride a bicycle; once you learn something like how to meditate for the achievement of inner peace, you never forget it.

Same for yoga and Tai Chi, or the tips you pick up from the golf and tennis pros – or customized dietary advice that might forever change your eating habits. These are among the many skills you can acquire and call on when the events of work and life back home leave you feeling up to your knees in alligators of stress.

This puts The BodyHoliday firmly in the camp of brands that don’t just tell a good story; they do it. Craig and team did not read a book that inspired them to dream up a higher-values purpose for their enterprise. Their instincts naturally led them to believe that they should actually deliver the experience they promised.

They also did not think they were making tourism history, but The BodyHoliday story is used as a case history at the Cornell University School of Hotel Management. Little did they dream that Conde Nast Traveler magazine would, in 2013, vote The BodyHoliday the No. 1 destination spa in the world, as well.

The BodyHoliday name evolved as a natural extension of the brand purpose, and the desire to communicate the active essence, experience, and role they intend to play in their customers’ lives.

As Jim Stengel says in “Grow: How Ideals Power Growth and Profit at the World’s Greatest Companies”: “If you are not ambitious enough to want to make a big difference in people’s lives, you won’t make a positive difference in your business. Ideals move millions, along with politics, war, peace, art, science, and maybe mountains.”

The thought here is “go big or go home.” The world does not need another nice little hotel on the beach where you can get a tan. There are thousands of them already out there lining beaches all over the globe.

Do As You Please, Please

Craig and his team initially spent considerable time refining the salient touchpoints of the experience. To this day, it still remains unique not only in the Caribbean, but also in the entire world.

The most important feature turned out to be the opportunity for each guest to custom design the holiday experience of his or her own choosing.

“It’s your holiday, not ours, and we never forget it,” was one of the driving mantras. Do you want to fill your days with vigorous exercise in the form of tennis, golf, fencing, archery, sailing, snorkeling, scuba diving, pool and beach volleyball, rain forest hikes, Tai Chi, gymnasium workouts, Pilates, and more – all with as much expert instruction as you require?

Or do you want to find your own bliss in the form of many different kinds of exotic massage and special baths given to you with discreet, expert hands?

The resort avoids the label of ‘all-inclusive’ simply because that smacks of downscale, which is never an adjective anyone would use to describe the evident luxury and aesthetic charm of The BodyHoliday.

Rather, Craig simply sees the fact that most of what is available is offered on a complimentary basis as a matter of convenience and an escape from ever thinking about what things cost on your precious vacation time.

This little thing is appreciated by the largely international clientele who value this experience as a moment of escape from carrying anything in their pockets beyond a room key – especially since they were probably nickel and dimed to death by an airline on their way to St. Lucia with extra charges for bags, seats with legroom, drinks, wireless, and anything else most airlines can think of.

Craig also sees the idea of “there’s no charge for that” quite literally as a matter of good manners.

He puts it this way: “I would not invite you to my house and expect you to pay me for cocktails, wine or dinner. And why on earth would you consider leaving me a tip?”

As a result, only the more exotic discretionary treatments come with any kind of charge beyond what you pay your travel agent.

The Brand’s Most Important Assets

By the very nature of its function as both a luxury hotel and full-service spa, The BodyHoliday has a high staff-to-guest ratio, and it is instilled into every staff member that they are an essential part of the holiday.

They are not passive servants. They are on the front line of all that goes on, and they are taught that their behavior can make or break the way a guest feels about the total experience. This includes everyone from housekeeping to gardeners to the guy who certifies you for scuba diving and the massage therapist whose hands transport you to heavenly bliss.

This is an intimate resort (no more than 120 rooms) that guests take very personally. While most people come as a couple, singles are made to feel at home with a special room rate, and well-trained “Body Guards” make sure they are never made to feel like outsiders. The Body Guards (male and female) are social hosts who might stop by your breakfast table with an invitation to the afternoon beach volleyball match between staff and guests.

They are not the “rah-rah” merchants you find in a lot of cruise ships; rather, they are discreet facilitators ready and willing to help guests get the most out of the experience. They are more like a band of fun-loving concierges who live by the credo that nothing you want is ever a problem.

These socially adept people exemplify that there is a strong correlation between employee attitude and a brand’s financial performance. Hotel margins are notoriously slim, but when you fill your facility with people coming back for more year after year, you are bound to do very well. For one thing, it costs a great deal less to entice returns from loyal customers than to recruit new ones.

As willing brand ambassadors, these customers are the brand’s most important assets, and the resort sees them as essential purveyors of the customer experience when they return home.

If You’re Good, Get Better

Heir apparent Andrew Barnard is both marketing director and deputy CEO, and he has lived with a deep-seated understanding of the brand’s culture since childhood.

The tradition of never being quite satisfied is one he feels as deeply as his father, and many millions of dollars have been spent to enhance both the physical surroundings and the content of the experience over the years.

Andrew proudly explains: “We do not go along with the idea of, ‘If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.’ It’s our job to listen to what our guests want, and to even anticipate their needs before they voice them.”

This process of listening and responding to what is heard is the mark of all great brands, and it returns expected dividends. Guests appreciate being met at the airport and getting transportation provided to the hotel.

They like not having a front desk; rather, when they get to the hotel they are invited into a comfortable lounge and offered a cold drink after their journey while they fill out their short registration form. If they do not want to be bothered with it on arrival, they can take it to their room and do it later.

Highly attentive receptionists sit casually at desks and guests take a seat when speaking to them, rather than standing at a counter. Your luggage is whisked away on your arrival and is magically there when you get to your room, which is beautifully furnished with a king-sized four-poster bed and usually an ocean view from an inviting balcony.

A ritual afternoon tea is elegantly served in the spacious, open-to-the-sea clubhouse at the end of every day with a background of classical music softly playing as the falling sun paints the sky with its gaudy brush.

Guests like it that one of the restaurants is casual about what you wear at dinner, that the piano bar doesn’t close until the last guest goes to bed, and that there is hardly a moment during the day and evening when you can’t get something very good to eat.

If all of this sounds idyllic, it is idyllic on purpose. A famous designer once said that God is in the details. Details, by their very nature, are always little.

At The BodyHoliday, the details of each day form the important little touchpoints of the experience that create rave reviews and an unprecedented number of guests who return year after year. Multiplying detail after experiential detail is simply part of the brand’s purpose and culture.

It doesn’t cost more to be considerate of how even little things contribute to the customer’s experience and how it makes them feel. The Barnards see it as investment rather than cost.

“We are a customer culture, not a cost culture,” says Craig. “When you command a premium price, you can’t afford not to do more and more.”

Incidentally, the little things you do, the human things, don’t cost more, and those things easily pay for themselves with the high returns earned as a result of customer satisfaction, loyalty and advocacy.

While The BodyHoliday was indeed ahead of its time creating an extraordinary customer experience coming out of a quest of a very high order, it is now what new brands in any field aim for from the brand’s very beginning.

Michael Wilkings, a wise man in the hospitality field who runs a company called Leisure Resources Group, put it well in one of his quarterly newsletters: “Impeccable service is now the norm. Anything less becomes the subject of comment…well-traveled consumers today are seeking experiences, emotional connections that excite and linger longer than normal. Customers want to feel an emotional response from a server or resort concierge. A mechanically perfect job is never enough. The hospitality professional must put his or her heart into giving the customer an experience to remember.”

He could easily be describing The BodyHoliday’s philosophy and modus operandi. He could also be describing how many of today’s more enlightened brand builders plan to dominate the marketplace of the future.

Well and Good for the One Percent

Of course, higher-end, more discriminating customers expect better service and tender loving care and demand as much from a destination like The BodyHoliday. What do the rest of us mere brand mortals take away from this extraordinary example of brand experience? What do we learn from this story of emotional brand experience?

There was a time, not so long ago, when companies could get away with misplaced, self-serving motives without getting caught. Many companies still try, but people can smell a rat a mile away and warn millions of other customers with a few keystrokes. Customers have too much experience and too many options to put up with anything that smacks of hyperbole or feels inauthentic.

Trust me, it’s not just that you’re telling the truth; it’s whether or not you actually believe it. You cannot fake it. If your brand is not authentic, everyone will know. We’re discovering that new brands and old brands seeking revival are much stronger when we think of them as causes or quests rather than businesses.

When a company has an authentic, higher-order reason to exist, the brand becomes that much more believable and appealing to customers. Higher order can be something you hope will change the world, like healthy organic beverages or something a bit more basic, such as extraordinary customer service.

It matters less exactly what your company’s higher order is than whether or not it’s real. Why is honesty the best policy? Authentic companies on a quest will not overlook or sidestep what matters most to customers. They are not just trying to sell stuff and grow their market share.

Creating valuable products and meaningful customer experiences are essential to their very nature. Your company becomes attractive to customers and they grow very loyal to your brands.

Everyone at The BodyHoliday actually believes they are on a quest to deliver an experience that truly changes their guests’ lives and leaves them in a better state of mind than when they arrived. When businesses strive to do something better – reform an industry, streamline a process, right a wrong, or simply treat customers well – they create such positive feelings and experiences that doing it better becomes the most important thing.

When you focus on doing the right things, people, starting with employees, experience your integrity firsthand and naturally trust you more. Trust leads to loyalty and people team up with you and join your cause. Nothing is more profitable to a company than loyalty. Every company should be living a brand quest.

The BodyHoliday did not adopt a higher-order purpose after it became The BodyHoliday. It became the world class resort and brand that it is because it embraced a brand quest and lives an authentic brand story every day and in everything it does. This is not a chicken-and-egg phenomenon – it’s the difference between great brands and mediocre ones.

The same premise is true in any industry and for any class of customer. How do you do it? It’s really rather simple. You do it in the same way The BodyHoliday does. Just step squarely into your customer’s shoes and truly strive to understand how you can improve their emotional wellbeing with your products and services.

Have a Brand Story, Whether Big or Small

Your quest can be crazy complicated or stunningly simple depending on the wrong to right, what problem to solve, or what paradigm to shift. You can have a big, hairy, audacious quest to change the world or simply make your customer’s experience the best it can be.

It doesn’t matter how grand or how basic your cause is as long as you have one. It makes no difference if you are in business-to-business or consumer markets, jet engines or toothpaste. Your customers are people who are alive (hopefully) and want to find ways to make their lives better – even in the little things.

Lastly, there is no mystery to the power of living a clear and compelling brand story. Every brand is a story. The question is how will yours be told and lived?

We learn from The BodyHoliday that brands must create energized moments that customers can experience firsthand. These are stories made possible by the brand that customers will inevitably pass along to friends and family. It’s the same for any company that wants people to believe it believes in something.

The company doesn’t just tell its story; it creates encounters or touchpoints in which customers experience its story firsthand in a way that the customers become the story.

As a parting thought, consider one of my favorite examples that illustrates this so well. If you want people to believe you are funny, you don’t walk into the room and tell them you are funny. You tell them a joke. Otherwise, how would they know you’re funny?

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