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Sunday, June 15, 2008

Welcome To Chicago and Contradictory Messages

Welcome to Chicago originally uploaded by checoivan.
Have you noticed that we often send out contradictory messages? Ones that welcome and threaten in the same breath?

Earlier this week, heading home after NeoCon 2008 in Chicago, I noticed a welcome message. It was intended primarily for car traffic, but from the Blue Line train headed toward O'Hare I noticed it, too.

Nothing unusual about an airport welcome message. I don't think I've ever not seen one.

What was unusual about this sign is that it displayed multiple messages in addition to 'welcome to O'Hare!' Messages like 'cars are subject to search' and 'standing is forbidden' interspersed with an informative message or two [terminal information ahead?].

I couldn't help wonder how welcome we really were.

Imagine if that were how we welcomed customers to our store: 'Welcome, but we will frisk you' and 'don't dawdle here.' How much business would we generate?

An airport differs somewhat from a retail store, but -nonetheless- given how travel has evolved into a painful, lengthy crush wouldn't it be nice if travelers were welcomed in stronger, more positive terms? With albeit necessary negative messages being reframed to focus on the positive? Or maybe made more palatable through humour? The Las Vegas airport has taken that approach with its celebrity video messages as you wait to get through security....

Another aspect of contradictory messages is inappropriate delivery - i.e., communicating a message at the wrong time or place. For example, a welcome sign as you exit a store.

Inside O'Hare, have you noticed the repetitive recorded message announcing in a clipped voice that we are under a code orange alert? Now, how long have we been under code orange? According to Terror-Alert.com since August 10, 2006. That's a long time. In fact, in my mind, it has been forever. It is the new reality. So, how meaningful is it to remind us that the status quo is the status quo? And so frequently? I wish I had timed the frequency of the messages...

Finally, once through security and gate bound, there's another recorded message. This one about 3-1-1 on Air Travel. Let's be logical: I have exited security. I passed. I have collected my stuff. Those concerns are irrelevant to me on the plane side of the security process. So why remind me about 3-1-1 when I am seated at my gate? Why not take the St. Louis airport approach and do it prior to going through security?

So, please. Consider your messages. All of them. Listen to them from the perspective of your customer. Do they truly communicate what you want them to at the appropriate time and location? Do they express delight and an authentic welcome? Do they communicate valuable information in the right tone?

Or, do they send contradictory messages?

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