I've just returned from my first "real" international trip -- a week long sojourn to Asia. As I've never traveled internationally and certainly never to Asia, I was faced with a number of firsts. Which got me to thinking about firsts and specifically how brands and especially hospitality brands can build marketing approaches around a consumer's first time.
The first big opportunity I saw last week was nerves. I travel a lot in the US and frankly don't give much thought to really anything to do with travel. That wasn't the case here. I found myself a lot more nervous about everything from making the check-in gate early to hailing a taxi (and not getting ripped off) in Asia. I just wasn't running on my normal autopilot mode. And frankly -- that is where I think there is a marketing opportunity. With nothing more than a simple email, any number of brands I just dealt with over the last week could have asked if it was my first time. Heck, that was the single most asked question by the people I met there, so why wouldn't the airline, the hotels or the cities I was visiting have asked. And if they had asked, they could have done all kinds of cool things to make sure my first time was a great time.
For instance, as I was giving SocMe Seminars during the day, I had precious little time to explore KL or Singapore. I was also quite busy leading up to the trip, which meant I didn't get to do any real research on either destination to put together a plan for maximizing the visit. But what if either city had offered to do it for me? What if the hotel had done it or maybe even a local taxi company...which of course would have suggested I take their taxi's to the various areas they suggested I frequent. The point being, in the week I was gone, I uploaded over 100 photos to Flickr a few videos to YouTube. What if I had been given a good plan? A plan that would have resulted in my posting not just 100 random pics but 100 pics of the most important, most interesting or simply the most well known areas of each city. Imagine the SEO effect of 10,000 consumers doing that and properly tagging the photos and videos. Do you think that would help a tourist destination? Do you think it would help a local restaurant or attraction in your city? Oh, and I didn't even mention FourSquare -- mainly because I didn't use the data roaming feature but if I had, imagine if I had checked in at all those places and 10,000 fellow travelers did the same over the course of the year. Now you're starting to add in Twitter search as another vehicle you can impact by doing little more than helping make sure my first time is a great time. (assuming of course that each person chose to notify Twitter of the check-in)
The airline could have sent me a First Timer's FAQ to traveling to Asia. It might have included layouts of the airports I'd travel to/through and helpful hints like, at the Hong Kong airport, if you want to eat you have to go to level 7, which requires you to pass through a security check-point. Maybe even point out where that is, which would have been helpful. It might include things like don't buy water at the Hong Kong airport before boarding the plane because they're going to take it from you as you enter the jet way to board.
These are little things yes, but after a 15+ hour transpacific flight, finding out you missed your connection to KL and now must chill in the Hong Kong airport for a four hours -- I can assure you, anything and everything is magnified and pushes your nerves a bit farther on edge. If the airline really wanted to make my first time special, they might have given me a special Twitter handle or IM handle that I could instantly contact for information or maybe even a special phone number... anything to give me that comfort zone.
Now I'm focusing a lot here on tourism/travel because that is the experience I just had and it is prompting this post...but there are lots of firsts. Think about buying your first car, house, major appliance purchase, etc, etc., etc. For any product or service there is a first time. The question is, are you taking steps to make sure every new customer is having a good first time or a bad one?
Tomorrow we'll talk more in Part II about why focusing on the first time experience is so vitally important. Till then, let me know what you think about the whole idea of first time and feel free to share some of your really good or bad first times.