… why you are getting it all wrong when it comes to the visual revolution

We are in the age of the visual revolution. Sorry? What? Yes, visuals are the bomb. Not just a little bit, but all over the place. Where Instagram is growing like crazy, YouTube is the second largest search engine and even LinkedIn is growing when it comes to images and video.

A real big chance for everybody. Not only telling how good your products and services are, but also showing it with images. Because images speak louder than words; right?

Let’s dive a little deeper where it tends to get ugly when it comes to visuals.

Let’s go on a cruise

This April I went on a cruise. In 2016 we cruised with Carnival Cruises, which was a big eye opener and fun and brilliant customer experience (on which I blogged). So in 2019 we wanted to push it a little, go on a longer cruise and see more islands. We changed to Celebrity Cruises, because their ships were newer, the destinations fitted and the whole look and feel of the website, matched with what I was longing for.

This is where it all went wrong. Please take a look on their website: I am curious what you see and what impression you get? Well I got the impression of modern luxury (which is also what they promise, as one of the guest relations officers told me) and the website shows guests like me.

The Stereotype Exercise

Now, let’s do a small exercise that I learned at Disney Institute. The Stereotype exercise. When you think of cruising and the typical customer. What things come to mind? Before I type any further, you could pick up pen and paper, but you can also keep reading. I will join you in your mind.

When I stereotype cruising and their guests, I think of an older population, a little grey-haired to be honest. Pensioners, who love jewelry and play bridge. They are grandparents, children moved out of the home. Who want to experience luxury and comfort and want to dine with captain Stubing (little joke).

Our experience in 2016 was really different. Carnival is known for their fun and they attract a young crowd. That is also what their website shows when it comes to visuals. Now let’s switch back to Celebrity. When I glance at their visuals on the website or their Instagram, I see people like me. Young, okay, this is debatable 😉, but between 40 and 55. Young, right?! A young crowd who enjoys life, who likes to explore and have new adventures. This is what they market, this is what they sell on their website.

Different expectations

So imagine entering the boarding area in Fort Lauderdale, where the first impression was… An old peoples home. The stereotype we just imagined. Yes, we saw canes, walking racks and wheelchairs. That is not any issue, but I booked this holiday with a different expectation. Praise the lord there were younger people aboard, but they were scarce. And that was a real pity for my daughter of twenty, who I brought along. Yes, we had a great holiday, but thinking back of the Carnival Cruise and the fun we had with most of the guests; I wish we booked with them.

During the cruise, we shared tables with many people and for example had a chat with a couple (in their 70s) who were on their tenth cruise with Celebrity. Yes, they admitted Celebrity is known for a little older crowd. That is what they liked and why they came back. Again and again. And we had many more chats like that.


The fourth day of the cruise, I decided to have a conversation with guest relations. Because it somehow itched that the cruise was marketed in a way, which wasn’t delivered. I explained my disappointment and the lady behind the desk spoke these words “Yes, we have an older population on board. If you would have liked a younger cruise, you should have booked Royal Caribbean.” What?! Really?!

While I am writing this, I feel the same emotions again. Those of frustration and disappointment. You sell me a cruise with a certain expectation, I book online, I have to let you know who I travel with (a twenty-year-old), you give no advice and then a little twat behind the desk tells me this. My oh my.

Where did it go wrong from an organizational customer experience point of view?

Honor your clients

I think the marketeers of Celebrity Cruises are all pretty young and hip. Chances are they hire other hip website builders, travelers and influencers to create visuals and tell stories. Probably the board wants to rejuvenate their passengers. Marketing most certainly works with personas, but I don’t think the older traveler is in there. They aim for young, as shows their website and Instagram.

Now comes the truth and nothing but the truth. Be happy with your clients. Give them the credits they deserve. Because these older guests are filling your pockets. Make sure you show reality in your visuals. Not just polishing it up with models and stock photo’s you use now. Show your real customers in your visuals. Give them the place they deserve on your website, Instagram and Facebook.

Because what happened with me, is not an N=1 (just one traveler) situation. We had a conversation with over ten other young guests, and they had the same experience as we had. They were also not coming back on Celebrity. At least not in the next twenty years 😉, as at that age we fit their age group in a better way.

My dear marketeers, when you show pictures that are too far from the truth, you are the reason why customers get disappointed. Guest relations can’t fix it down the line. They can only fix it with some extra’s, but you are two steps behind.

Be real

Does this only happen in the travel industry? NO. This is the hard truth in many areas of visual marketing. For example, have a look at websites of golf courses. The pictures are beautiful. The sun is rising. Greens look so green. Bunkers are all raked meticulously. And the most surprising thing; almost never do you see any people golfing. It could be a very young and slim couple, but most often these golf courses are photographed at moments of total ‘nobodyness’.

Reality is different. Most golf courses host many flights of golfers. There are PEOPLE on a golf course. Not models, but people like me, my mom and dad. Normal people.

Of course, you want to look your best on a website. You want to show things on a sunny day. Literally and metaphorically. But don’t overdo it. Make sure it looks great, but also real. Because if you don’t: reality will hit and create disappointment down the line.

So, my plea is: do the reality check. Take a look at your website and other social channels where you use visuals like YouTube, Facebook, Instagram and Pinterest. Are you telling the truth, or should you take it down a notch? Me and my fellow customers would appreciate the real story. Thank you.


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More and more, I come to the conclusion that this is the missing link in many businesses and a must have when it comes to customer experience. The need for clear promises to customers. To see if this is an issue in your company, please try to answer these questions:

  • How does your company or brand stand out in comparison with your competitors? What is really distinguishing your company when it comes to the offering to your customers?
  • What do you promise your customers when they do business with you? What can they really expect from the product?
  • What kind of service promises do you make to customers? What do you want your customers to experience in which channels?

To deliver great customer experiences, you have to begin with the end in mind

What do you want your customers to experience? Were you able to answer at least 2 of the questions above? No? Now it is time to pay attention. I like to use airlines and cruises as examples. Let’s start with airlines.

Two complete opposites when it comes to flying. RyanAir and Emirates. When diving deeper into Ryanair, they have the brand promise “Low fares, made simple”. Everything they do is translated from this branding principle. The blue and yellow returns everywhere, on their website, banners, even in their planes. As a customer, you know what to expect. The low cost airline in Europe.

When looking at Emirates, they have the brand promise “Comfort and attention to detail you can rely on whenever you travel.” A whole different ball game from a branding perspective and you know what you can expect. Attention to detail, from the greeting in the plane, to the chauffeur service when you fly business class. They focus on a different customer, a different segment as does Ryanair.

Let’s also look at the cruise examples

I have picked three.Carnival is the cruise company I traveled with in 2016. They promise you “Fun for all and all for fun”. Knowing this, it makes it much easier to translate it into actions. Into moments in the customer journey where fun can be delivered. Also where there are possibilities for up and cross sell.

In the cruise business, there are more and another distinguishing brands. One of them is Disney Cruises. As soon as I write it down, you will know. This is all about Mickey and Minnie. As I have been browsing the web, it is still not crystal clear what their brand promise is, but it all comes down to “Creating happiness through magical experiences”.Focusing on families, on entertaining people who love the character experience.

Taking it down a different road is the Monsters of Rock cruise. Yes, a cruise that travels only once a year, fully booked with hard rock fans. No family vacation, but a real niche in the cruising industry. Customers that love hard rock and heavy partying are taking this cruise. So a clear branding, which also easily translates in entertainment, food and beverages. Take a look at their website and browse the FAQ. Their brand identity, has been translated in the way the questions are asked. As would their customers. I love question #9. Not “What kind of food is on board?”. No, it is all aligned with their Hard Rock image “Am I going to starve on board?”.

The key in all these examples, is that it’s about choosing. Who are we to our customers?

Brand promise, customer promises; what is the difference?

Some companies have a brand promise, like Carnival Cruises. Another example I like is KLM. They don’t have a brand promise, but they have customer promises. When looking on their website, you’ll find WHY to fly with KLM. They promise: 1. Direct flights around the globe, 2. Favorable flight schedules, 3. Typo? No charge, 4. Weather in your way? We got your back, 5. 24 hours to cancel, 6. Fly more, benefit more.

See the photo for a clip of the website. Where I especially like the promise “Typo? No charge”. It’s a very specific promise, where they explain: “Booked flights on and discovered a spelling mistake in the name on your ticket? We don’t charge you for being human. Just contact us via social media to correct your name. Please make sure to have it corrected at least 24 hours before check-in of your first flight starts.”

What I like about this customer promise, is that it addresses a fear that customers have. It reassures customers and takes care of them.

Now it comes back to you. What kind of promises do you make to your customers, or do you want to make to your customers? A promise on the highest level: a brand promise? Or rather customer promises that focus on elements in the customer journey?

What are crucial elements when it comes to choosing brand and/or customer promises?

There’s no easy answer here. But let’s try. When reading the blog of Bruce Jones (Disney Institute), I am attracted to the four elements he claims a brand promise must have from a customers perspective. The four things customers are looking for in a brand promise to be:

  • Important – Customers have expectations regarding the fair exchange of value. In exchange for their money and time, they rightfully expect something meaningful in return. The brand promise must convey what matters most to your customers.
  • Credible – Customers must believe that what you’re promising is possible and deliverable. It has never been good policy to “over-promise” and “under-deliver.”
  • Exclusive – No organization can be successful at trying to be everything for everybody. Find your niche, and carve out a unique space to “own” in the mind of your customer.
  • Differentiating – The brand promise must truly set you apart from your competitors and be based on legitimate differentiators.

I am curious. Do you dare to set yourself and your business apart from other businesses and stand out with an Important, Credible, Exclusive and Differentiating brand promise? Please let me know where you struggle in your company to stand out with your brand promise and maybe I can help you out. Let’s help each other in creating these Great Customer Experiences.

“All for fun and fun for all.” Does this appeal to you or would you rather go on a heavy metal cruise? Would you like to go on holidays with a cruise company who is really clear on what to expect? Let me take you on a cruise and learn about Customer Experience in the meantime.

The slogan “All for fun and fun for all” appealed to me and my 17-year-old daughter when we wanted to take our first cruise ever in 2016. We had some ideas that cruising was for older people, senior fellow humans, to be honest. But when I dived deeper into the world of cruises, I found out there is much more to it. From Disney cruises to heavy metal cruises, from classy to fun and party cruises. That’s what we wanted, a fun cruise, on a boat in the sun where at least we could pay a visit to the Bahamas.

The booking of the cruise, the information I received, the boarding (which was the moment I dreaded the most in the customer journey), the cabin, the logistics on the cruise ship, the trips on the islands, the employees… This cruise was a best practice when it comes to customer experience. Not only as a guest, I enjoyed it to the max. But also as a customer experience professional I couldn’t stop smiling. Cruising the Caribbean and experiencing a brilliant CX journey. It couldn’t be better.

So, let’s cruise this CX best practice. What was so brilliant? When I look at a simple (but very effective) strategy, the transformational CX model comes to mind. Companies that want to become customer centric, work on the 3 strategies of the model with determination and fun, will make customers happier, earn their loyalty, their spending and end up with raving fans.

The three strategies of the transformational CX model

  1. Brand Delivery in the Customer Journey
  2. Voice of the Customer
  3. Employee Ambassadorship

Let’s take a look at Carnival Cruises and their promise “All for fun and fun for all”. For me this is the start of all good customer experiences. No, let me correct myself, for great customer experiences. As a company or as a brand, you probably have a purpose, a mission, even a vision. But what do you want your customers to experience? Elements that are crucial here, are customer promises, or maybe even a brand promise like the one from Carnival Cruises. Because when you know what you want your customers to experience, you can start reverse engineering.

Begin with the end in mind

This is what I mean: begin with the end in mind. What do you want your customers to say, to feel, to tell their friends and family when they did business with you? If you know these words, these feelings; you know what’s needed in the customer journey to deliver these experiences daily. Where can you make a difference, what are moments for up and cross sell, what are great moments to listen, what’s needed from the employees?

So, begin with the end in mind when it comes to customer experience. At Carnival Cruises they go for Fun. They offered fun from their booking emails to their cabin experience in the towel folding. They had upsell packages at the moment of boarding “Faster to the fun”. I could board earlier than other guests, if I paid some extra dollars. What a smart way to use the brand promise, make me happy as a customer (because who likes waiting?) and increase revenue at the same time.

Now it’s me who’s curious. What are companies that are spot on when it comes to customer experience? That begin with the end in mind and shine in daily delivery? Share your best practices in companies with outstanding customer promises, so we can all learn and dive deeper into the magic behind these great customer experiences.


** Nienke Bloem is expert in Customer Experience (CCXP), both as Trusted Advisor, Keynote Speaker and co-founder of the customer experience game. Do you want to receive regular updates? Subscribe to her monthly CX Greetz and don’t miss anything! **

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