Brand Your Sand

In the minds of most consumers there is little difference between one timeshare resort and another except their location on the beach or simply . . . the sand beneath one's feet. While some may offer "a system of points", "others floating weeks or fixed", the fact remains, timeshares are more strikingly similar than they are different. And all tout their ability to exchange, “So if you don’t like the sameness at our place, you can always trade and go somewhere else . . . equally just the same”.


So What’s Missing?


Brand identity. Not reputation or recognition, but ’brand’, those intangible qualities that connect emotionally with consumers, that create intrinsic value and differentiates your product from the herd. The term originates from the Old West practice of marking cattle for identification. Today brand management is a major industry utilizing statistical surveys, market analyses and neurological science. What motivates consumers to buy one product over another is BIG business.    


Branding in the timeshare industry receives little attention. Marketing after all, is merely the time between an OPC encounter and a couple’s arrival in the sales room. Even the presentation is compressed into just 90 minutes. Branding has little time or little place to make a difference -- that was until now.


Events over the last few years are challenging that notion and should serve as a wake up call to resort developers. It’s time to brand your sand. 


 Brands: What Are They?


The definition of a ‘brand’ offered by The American Marketing Association is: a name, term, design, symbol, or any other feature that identifies one seller’s goods or services as distinct from those of other sellers.


From that is derived Brand Impression: the experiential residue or emotional experience left in the consumer’s mind by an encounter with that product. It serves as the touchstone for future decisions. If positive, it represents an added value called brand equity or the likelihood you would buy that product again or return to that resort or purchase a membership there. You might even refer a friend.


Brands are iconic, larger than the product they represent. They are trusted, stored in memory, nested among emotions associated with that experience. They are a promise to maintain the relationship and until or unless broken will habituate the consumer’s choice for that product.


Think how you go about purchasing your toothpaste, detergent or favorite beverage. Brands are motivational magnets. Brands sale at a premium to the competition. And importantly, if you are not a brand you are a commodity – headed for the sale bin.      


Here Comes the Brands


Over the last few years we have seen national hotel brands successfully extend their presence into the timeshare space. Industry pundits even attribute their entry as a signal of timeshare’s growing acceptability.


Brand extension is the expansion of a brand’s influence from one product sector to another, like Mr. Clean the household cleanser expanding into automotive care by leveraging its brand identity as the magic picker upper." On the cautionary side, if it doesn’t click with the consumer or is overdone, brand extension can become brand dilution. In timesharing, Marriott, Hilton and Hyatt are examples of successful brand extension from hotel lodgings to timeshare memberships. To the consumer the circle remains unbroken, the promise kept; their trust intact.


Suddenly all other timeshares are relegated to the lower shelf so to speak, of the grocery aisle. Many of these resorts are in no way lesser quality, but they are without an acknowledged national brand and  . . . if not a brand, a commodity. Is it time to brand your sand?


You Can’t Hide Behind Transparency


Secondly and vastly more injurious; the once encapsulated world of timeshare marketing, where almost no light escaped is now transparent and broadcast on the internet for interested travelers. And interested they are. Studies suggest more than 76% of vacationers research their destination on the internet before departure. Once back home many return to the web and post their experiences and opinions to share with the next wave of travelers. And of course, those most embittered, mistreated and misanthropic are the loudest and most likely. Here’s a portion of an actual user-posted opinion:


Pros: Beautiful beaches with pearly white sand. Heavenly!

Cons: Stay away from the timeshare goons. They’re everywhere and will ruin your vacation.


It’s clear in the above post that the sand made a good impression; timeshare not so good. Accordingly the responses to the web page question: “Did you find this post helpful” were a resounding yes. Eventually this percolates to the bottom line by increasing marketing expenses, reducing closing ratios and raising rescission rates. What’s a poor timeshare developer to do?


Draw Your Line in the Sand


Simply building a bigger castle in the sand will not a ‘better brand build’. Before setting out to build your brand you need a solid foundation. Follow the three essential steps in the sidebar.  


Firstly you must get some kind of benchmark of your present brand equity, meaning a market study. Does anyone know you exist? What’s their opinion of your product? Start with your own members and spiral out from there. It looks easy, but it takes a real pro to probe and find the answers. An inexperienced nephew won’t cut it. Hire the best marketing consultant you can afford. You’ll get the reliable data you need now, and have demographics to use later.


Secondly do damage control if necessary. Volunteer your best customer service person to be active in popular chat rooms or do it yourself. Look to solve problems and win hearts. A genuine apology can subdue a ranting fanatic and earn kudos from others present in the forum. Branding is a contact sport!


And finally schedule weekly audits searching the net and print media for new posts. Protect and preserve whatever brand equity you have. Save your data and group comments by type and category. There are easy to use computer programs to capture and save web pages. Look for hot spots and solve those first. Then rinse and repeat periodically to view improvements or problems

[This was an edited version of a larger study on resort branding and the consumer. For more information contact the author.]