Is it time to send a Dear John to the Four Seasons?


Posted on 13. Feb, 2012 by in Blog, Blog

Last March, as I made the trek north on Interstate 35 following another successful SXSW week, I called my assistant and asked her to make a reservation at the downtown Austin Four Seasons Hotel for the following year. She made the reservation for the same week and without mention of SXSW, since 2012 dates had not yet been announced. I decided to book with the Four Seasons because it’s, well, the Four Seasons, and all week I’d found myself in and out of meetings there. I knew that’s where my home base needed to be for next year’s event. So, with my reservation secured, I could rest easy.

Fast forward 11 months…

As SXSW approached, I’d started to finalize details for this year’s event. I asked my assistant to call the hotel to see if I had a single or double room. The Austin Four Seasons representative told her that “due to a new reservation system, the old reservation had been lost” and, since it was SXSW week, they would not be able to accommodate me. After speaking with the local manager and employing several additional attempts to resolve this issue with the hotel, the answer remained.

Sitting there I was dumbfounded, then frustrated, then pensive about the whole situation. What should the Austin Four Seasons have done to help rectify this mishap? Comp me a room? No, that’s not what I want. Give me a gift certificate for a free two-night stay (continental breakfast AND mini bar key included)? While tempting, that’s not really it either. I want something different. As a consumer, I’m a shared stakeholder in the Four Seasons brand. As a marketer, I’m championing this notion of consumers and stakeholders being co-creators of brands. So, what I’m looking for is the acknowledgement and understanding that this issue has impacted me. It has diminished my level of trust with the brand. I want them to care, I want them to treat me as if I’m in an actual relationship with them.  The Four Seasons, deservedly so, boasts a brand equity that is through the roof. They offer unrivaled customer experience and (usually) impeccable service. This brand has many passionate and loyal fans, and yes, I am one of those.

You see, I work for an agency that believes in the power of relationships, especially authentic ones built between brands and consumers. Brands can no longer market to people like they did in the Consumer Era – pushing messages onto consumers to simply drive desired behavior. Brands also need to be concerned with creating value and enhancing trust in the in their consumer relationships, so they can attain both high transactions AND high trust. imc² defines this as a ‘sustainable brand relationship.’ Transactionally, this mishap won’t impact the Four Seasons immediately or in their near-term financials. However, when it comes to trust and  long-term impact, I’m one of their brand ambassadors. But that can change.

We’ve now entered the Relationship Era, where brands need to be engaging and authentic with people and follow the golden rule of treating others as you would want to be treated.  In fact, Four Seasons marketers proudly display this philosophy under their Service Culture on their website. It’s with this mentality and the hotel’s response, or lack thereof, that inspired me to launch the following experiment.

Over the next three weeks, I am going to again attempt to reach out to the Austin Four Seasons and corporate using multiple channels of communication (Facebook, Twitter, email, etc.) to see if I can elicit a response beyond, “sorry we can’t do anything.” The purpose of my experiment isn’t to complain. Rather, it is to see if this brand that has such clout and respect with its consumers can embrace some of the Relationship Era principles to keep (or heck, maybe even build) the relationship with this one fan.

Follow my experiment via @imwolfman, and through regular blog postings here at

Contribution by Ian Wolfman, imc² Chief Marketing Officer.

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