This year, we drove a couple hours to lovely Hershey, PA. We stayed at the Hershey Lodge, where we spent time each day at their indoor water park, complete with two pools and three water slides. We went to the Hershey Park amusement park two times in three days, and then hit the Dutch Wonderland amusement park on the way home.
It was the most physically exhausting vacation ever. But the mental break was much needed and the kids had a blast.
Overall, I have to say that the Hershey Lodge was definitely worth the price, especially when you factor in the special offers for nearby attractions, free shuttle to Hershey Park, the water park, in-house restaurants and other perks. I can’t think of one instance when an employee was anything but friendly, which is something I’ve never experienced while on vacation.
Of course, the nerd in me is always looking at things from marketing and customer experience perspectives, even when waiting to go on rides or walking up a hill with a 4-year-old on my shoulders. Here are some of those observations.
The Hershey Brand Is Everywhere
When I say everywhere, I mean everywhere. I’m not just talking about the full-size Hershey Bars you get at check-in. I’m not just talking about the handful of Hershey Kisses the server hands you with your bill at a restaurant, or the Kisses the housekeeping staff leaves on the nightstand after they tidy up your room.
Street names in include Chocolate and Cocoa Avenues. The streetlights are shaped like Hershey Kisses. The shampoo and conditioner in the Hershey Lodge smell like chocolate. One of the restaurants serves ribs with chocolate barbecue sauce.
It’s powerful brand marketing without banging you over the head with billboards and ads.
I guess it makes sense because Milton Hersey, founder of the Hershey Chocolate Company, basically built the town from the ground up. More on that later. But you can’t go anywhere in Hershey, PA without being constantly reminded of the Hershey brand.
Where’s the Call-to-Action?
There are photo ops all over the place at Hershey Park and the Hershey Lodge, from candy bar characters to the Hershey Bears hockey mascot. While some include social media icons and a hashtag, like the one above, I don’t recall seeing any that included a call-to-action.
Why not encourage people to share their photos on Facebook or Instagram and offer an incentive to do so? Hell, I would have done it instantly if it meant I had a chance to win a free park ticket or a food credit.
Helping vs. Rambling
Dinner one night included fine cuisine, a rare treat when you have a 4-year-old and 7-year-old with you. The server, a 22-year-old who was extremely friendly, courteous and well-prepared, highlighted a few menu items that were his personal favorites. Great, and appreciated.
But he spent a solid 30 seconds on each dish he recommended, explaining how flavors work together as if he was the judge of a competition on the Food Network. When he returned with our drinks, he proceeded to do the same thing, discussing three more of his favorite menu items in painful detail. He even explained why we might not like certain dishes.
Helpful recommendations are great, but those long, drawn-out explanations were painful. We felt awkward. It was overkill. And my 4-year-old had to tinkle.
The Refreshing Absence of Overt Marketing
Before checking in to the hotel, we made a stop at the Indian Echo Caverns. Sure, they have a gift shop that they promote on their website, but that’s about it. Thank goodness.
We walked through the same caverns and paths that were first inhabited by Native Americans more than 300 years ago. There are carvings on the rocks from the 1800s. The history is impressive.
Overt marketing and advertising would have detracted from the authenticity of the experience. Instead, the operators of this property let the tour guides and the caverns themselves tell the story and sell the product. Smart move.
Map to Nowhere
Good old-fashioned paper maps and displays are readily available to help you navigate Hershey Park. Except they didn’t.
Honestly, it was the most confusing map I’ve ever seen. A guy saw my wife looking at the map and said, “Am I the only one who looks at the map and feels totally clueless?”
Apparently, there’s a mobile app that includes a GPS-enabled map. Call me old and crotchety, but I refuse to walk around an amusement park staring at a mobile phone as if I were playing Pokemon Go. There’s no sadder sight than an adult giving more attention to their phone than their kids.
I just wish the physical displays were more helpful.
The Full-Service Bar at the Indoor Water Park
This brilliance requires no explanation.
The Milton S. Hershey Story
Milton S. Hershey founded his first candy company at the age of 19. It failed. After working for a confectioner, he launched another candy business. He failed again. And again.
He then set up the successful Lancaster Caramel Company, which he eventually sold to focus on perfecting his chocolate formula. The Hershey Chocolate Company was born.
The first Hershey’s bar was produced in 1900. Milton Hersey himself named the Hershey Kiss, which was developed in 1907. He soon became one of the richest people in America.
Milton Hershey used his wealth to build a community around his business. He built housing, schools, churches, parks and a trolley system. After his wife died, he transferred his wealth to the Hershey School, which he created for underprivileged children.
Milton Hershey has a remarkable, inspiring story. A video chronicling his life plays in a constant loop on a dedicated channel in every Hershey Lodge room. The story is told at Hershey’s Chocolate World, where you can see how Hershey candy is made and create your own chocolate bar.
Your story is the one thing about your business that no competitor can duplicate. They can match services, products and pricing, but your story is your own and nobody else’s. Make sure people know who you are, what you do, why you do what you do, and what motivates you.
When all other things are equal, your story can be a powerful differentiator.
One is only happy in proportion as he makes others feel happy and only useful as he contributes his influences for the finer callings in life.
–Milton S. Hershey