Monday, October 26, 2009

How to Trash a Successful Brand

In 1957, when my late first-wife (Lola) and I first reached California, we stayed with an old friend of hers from Liverpool, at that time married to a Canadian-born Phd (in psychology). I really admired their skill in running a counseling practice, known as The Learning Center, in a clever way. Most of their clients were the parents of children suffering from dyslexia. A non-profit operation, with it's own Board, encouraged tax-deductible donations from the wealthier clients. The non-profit employed the psychologist and his wife, who was the business manager. In parallel with this, a more conventional counseling practice charged relatively modest fees. The non-profit furnished the psychologist with an appropriate automobile, and so forth.

I was reminded of this example of American ingenuity when I learned that the Boston-based Elder Hostel organization, also a non-profit, had some relationship (I don't know the details) with two travel organizations, headquartered in the same city. The very successful Elder Hostel program presumably furnished the travel businesses with a mailing list for their own commercial offerings.

Barbara and I returned on Friday from what had originally been advertised as an Elder Hostel trip. We were surprised to find that Elder Hostel has changed it's name to "Exploritas" (ugh). The director of our program explained that the Elder Hostel folk were finding that as the Boomer generation reached the age of elgibility for Elder Hostel, they were not joining in the program with the numbers desired.

The Elder Hostel folk employed a consultancy firm, which held focus groups, etc. The upshot was that Elder Hostel changed it's name to "Exploritas", to avoid any reference to aging. At the same time, age restrictions were eliminated.

We have now attended three Elder Hostels: the first held at Apalachian State College in Boone, NC; the second at Sienna, in Tuscany; and the most recent one, in the Monterey area of California.

Elder Hostel attracts folk of retirement age, or approaching that. My guess is that far more women than men attend these programs, based on my limited observation. The programs are described as "Lifelong learning" and typically contain a blend of three or more unrelated topics. Our "magical Monterey" program combined biographical information on John Steinbeck and Jack London; with the music of Scott Joplin, the Ragtime pioneer; with the natural history of the region; a tour of the seventeen mile drive and other attractive points in the area; and winetasting, with the fine products of what is now the Carmel Valley appellation. We had three couples, and a dozen women, including widows and single women. The majority of those present were past or present school teachers or otherwise involved in education. I think we all felt that we were getting good value for our money, and cheerfully put up with the dormitory-style accomodations. Our food was quite adequate and varied.

No one there liked the change of name and the opening to younger participants.

I could have accepted a new name, such as "Senior Adventurers", but we didn't get to vote.

The website tells us that it has nearly 8000 educational tours in all 50 states and more than 90 countries. Participants are asked to pay by check, to help the organization avoid "more than $2,000,000 annually on credit card fees".

The people behind the program are professionals, and presumably know what they're doing, but I am left remembering the old saying "if it ain't busted, don't fix it".

1 comment:

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