Beyond curb appeal

"You have to be different in this business to be noticed," says Rosa Alvarez-Cambo, vice president and owner of Omnibus La Cubana, Florida. Proprietor of a fleet that gets a lot of attention for its hot colors and bold graphics, Alvarez-Cambo is operating on more than a hunch. She's actually polled her customers. "When people called, we asked how they heard about us — newspaper ads, radio, television, or the bus. The majority said it was the bus."

You don't have to have coaches that look like, as Alvarez-Cambo says of hers, "a rocket coming at you," but using your coaches' visual appeal can go a long way toward helping establish your company as a brand. And it's a unique opportunity. After all, it's not every business that has a stock of 45-foot billboards in its garage.

Branding defined

"Branding is not a name, it's not a logo, it's not a slogan or a product or service. Instead, branding owns an emotion and conjures up a single feeling," said branding expert Rae Ann Good during a recent MCI webinar. "It has become the way of selling in the new economy, and it's not just for the big guys."

Good says that effective brand images usually exemplify one of several archetypes, such as hero, leader or rebel. She suggests that companies approach branding analytically, taking measures such as surveying employees on company culture, interviewing customers, mining public perception and discovering what's true about the company while gaining knowledge about what emotions motivate potential clients. Once a company identifies the emotion it wants to — and can — own, it's time to develop the brand promise and develop a personality and a tagline. Finally, staff should be trained to embrace the brand and let the brand guide all actions and communications.

Good gives examples such as Apple Computer, which she terms a rebel brand, and Starbucks, which she says is a brand about discovery. All of these companies' advertising efforts and products fit with the brand message, and it's a lesson from which a lot of tour operators can draw inspiration.

Positioned for pampering

Holland America Line is one such company that uses its coaches to personify a leadership position. Its "Explorer" coaches feature bold exterior images such as moose and bear decals to visually signal a premium level of service. The coach interiors include only 44 seats for a feeling of spaciousness; other premium touches include custom leather-trimmed upholstery, drop-down video monitors and top-of-the-line audio and video. David Beagle, vice president of transportation, says, "It was all part of an upgrade of our level of service. You whet their appetite with curb appeal, then deliver on the promise when they get inside. Customers definitely 'get it.' The comments have been extremely favorable."

Exemplifying a personal touch

Chuck Rustad, who runs Rustad Tours with his wife, Jean, uses the company's coaches to reinforce a brand image as well. Rustad Tours is known for its hands-on service, and its coaches set the scene for the service they provide — literally. Each coach carries a mural depicting some of the grandest scenery North America has to offer. Rustad's newest MCI E4500 will feature attractions from U.S. Interstate 80, known as Lincoln Highway. Rustad didn't just settle on the scenery because he thought it was pretty. "I wanted something to show that we go from East Coast to West Coast," says Rustad. "Wherever we go, people look. Our passengers take a lot of pride in our coaches."

So what's your unique brand? Check out MCI's Branding Webinar at for a more tips and insights.

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