By: Abraham Kasbo
If the most successful brands on the planet live at the intersection of delivering consistently exceptional experiences and authenticity (the latest in industry speak – will address later), then Ireland, yes the entire country, is indeed well within great company, and from my perspective ahead of the class. There’s no need for brand training, public relations strategies, or messaging in Ireland because on our most recent vacation to the Emerald Isle, it appeared that the entire country, from the minute we landed in Dublin to our departure from Shannon, was “on brand,” “on stage” and seemingly well prepared to orchestrate an exceptional vacation experience.
At first, I thought that there must be some centralized, formal training scheme at work because it’s impossible, or perhaps naïve to think that every Irishman and woman we encountered – from executives having dinner at the next table to pub dwellers, shop owners and keepers, to people we met on the street – and I do mean everyone we met, happened to be genuinely nice and helpful.
From pubs, restaurants, historical sites and shops, to the streets of Dublin, Kilkenny, Cork City, Killarney, Kenmare and
Bunratty, everyone – did I mention everyone? - we met along the way was “on” the Irish brand of hospitality. Both my wife and I got the feeling that the Irish seemed to be deeply connected with and invested in not just their town and local heritage, but in other areas in Ireland. They freely shared their experiences about other areas of Ireland complete with specific recommendations of restaurants, hidden gems, what roads to take and avoid, and so on. They also asked questions about America, New Jersey (where we live), and our work in ways that made us feel like we were engaged in a normal conversation and not a tourist transaction. On our way to the Guinness Storehouse in Dublin, we got lost. A cabbie surprised us when he pulled up while we were examining our map and said, “You seem lost, can I help you?” After a friendly chitchat, he pointed us to the right way and quietly went off into light Sunday morning traffic. That goes a long way when you’ve already walked about 3 miles with 9-year old twins.
It got exceedingly better at the Guinness Storehouse and not just because we had the opportunity to indulge in the good stuff at the Gravity Bar. It seems to me that the Guinness Storehouse is reflective of how the well Irish tell their story to make it meaningful and connect with people. Isn’t after all the purpose of branding? To make meaningful and lasting connections with a product or service?
Nothing could have been more surprising as what happened over the course of the next days. For the next leg of our trip, we were heading to Cork and reserved a car through Hertz. When we got to Hertz’s offices on South Circular Road, we noticed the street was closed because of a marathon route planned for that day. Our taxi dropped us off at the intersection where we walked the rest of the way. When we arrived at Hertz, I was informed that we would have to wait another 2-3 hours for an automatic car because truck carrying automatics could not enter the street because of the marathon. The clerk offered us a manual shift BMW, and off we went. Mind you, having only driven a manual car once before, 10 years earlier on a visit to Ireland, my kids and wife were a bit nervous about my driving skills…so was I. I must have stalled six or seven times in traffic coming out of Dublin backing up traffic several times. Embarrassed, frustrated, and at times angry at my inability to get us out of first gear, let alone Dublin, I realized what I was feeling was directly related to another deep experience. The incorrigible brand of cutthroat driving in the New York, New Jersey area, where if you don’t step on the gas within a millisecond of the light turning green, you’d be bombarded with beeps, shouts, and unpleasant gestures. On my way out of the parking garage in Cork City I stalled on a ramp backing up business commuters two to three floors deep for about 10 minutes, seemingly forever to me. Through the stalls and back-ups, there was not one beep, not one horn, in four days of my dubious attempt to drive a manual vehicle across the Ireland from Dublin to Cork City, Cork City to Kilkenny, Kilkenny to Killarney, from Killarny to Kemare and on to Bunratty and Shannon. Not one horn or beep from my fellow drivers. The silence of those horns spoke volumes about the people in the cars.
On our stroll to dinner in Cork City, we misread the map and got lost. As we walked, we saw a couple of firefighters in front of the firehouse and asked them to set us straight. That’s when we met Gerry Myers, Third Fire Officer of the Cork City Fire Department and his colleague. We ended up chatting with them about the States and our itinerary in Ireland. They recommended areas of Ireland to consider visiting “next time” and then pleasantly surprised us by offering to drive us to a restaurant they recommended as having better food and prices than the one we selected. The kids were obviously elated to find themselves in an official fire department vehicle! The next day, we went back to the firehouse where the kids presented Officer Myers a gift of an American Silver Dollar and Mr. Myers reciprocated with pencils and fire department pins, and more importantly, an unforgettable experience.
There’s the Disney Experience and then there’s the Irish Experience. The former is precise, systematic and formal business process. The Irish Experience, is organic, credible and engrossing. The business community should take notice of keen lessons to be learned from the Irish Experience. In an era where authenticity is a hot topic, Ireland transcends authenticity – which in many ways is an overused and hackneyed industry mubo-jumbo. its incredible natural beauty aside, Ireland seems to tap deeply into its most precious resource. By harnessing the energy and enthusiasm of its people and how they represent their country, Ireland’s brand as experienced by us and other visitors stands strong and credible. After all, authenticity is perceived but credibility is earned. For Ireland, it’s well earned.
Abraham Kasbo is CEO of Verasoni Worldwide. Follow him @akasbo.