when brands mail it in

last night, i had experiences with brands i like but hadn't seen in a while, and the impressions couldn't have been further apart.

after work, i met my wife as she was finishing up at kiva, a spa off michigan ave. (once a decade, i splurge for a spa gift certificate, just to make her feel all special-like.) it had been a while since i was there, but where it once felt like an urban oasis even in the lobby, it now felt like a drug store. no, a drug store outlet. no, a drug store outlet the day after whatever holiday would be big at a drug store outlet. the music was piped in from a cheesy local station. merchandise was strewn about. employees gossiped loudly about other employees. when my wife and i left, she said what i could already tell - after 15 years of semi-regular visits, that was the last time she'll ever visit. they had created a strong brand experience, and are now clearly in the "milking it" phase. (a visit to their website confirmed it - new owners. you can rarely trust new owners.)

afterward, we went to one of my favorite restaurants, japonais. again, hadn't been there in a while, and they're now in 3 cities and soon a fourth. i worried they too would be mailing it in as a brand, but ahhhh. it's perhaps even more awesome than ever. great food, great service - even in the midst of the crowd from NeoCon.

the lesson? that success - and even expansion - doesn't mean an abandonment of a brand experience. (though i have to admit, the fall of kiva is going to save me some serious cabbage in the future.)

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