Lake Como

A day trip on Northern Italy’s Lago di Como uncovers some enchanting lakeside towns – and reveals that people have a fascination for movie stars.

In this exemplar we take a trip on Lake Como, However, the trip is described through the yes of a marketing practitioner – there are two big takeaways [1] for seasonal businesses the importance of ‘making hay while the sun shines’ is stressed and [2] that understanding the customer and delivering beyond their expectations is the key to customer satisfaction.

We arrive at the office of tour operators, Zani Viaggi, at 7:30 am. Domenic [our driver] greets us and we had a chat whilst we waited for others to arrive, he had a calm and quiet disposition and we immediately felt in safe hands as we boarded our coach. The previous day was a big day and we were feeling the effects – often when I visit somewhere and I know my time is limited I feel compelled to keep going to search for something that is new and different, the e-book discusses this as the search for epistemic qualities.

With a sense of relief, Anna and I sank into the big comfortable seats of the coach.

Our guide Nadia was a delight, she outlined the itinerary for the day, gave us our badges and our audio systems and on the road to Como she gave us a commentary about the history of Milan. When we arrived at Como, Nadia gave us a broad overview of the town and then went off to buy our ferry tickets.

The town of Como is well known as the home of Alessandro Volta who invented the battery in 1799 [hasn’t this played a major role in the evolution of marketing?] and I set off to find his statue, then we bought some lunch to eat and then met up with Nadia and our fellow travelers at the ferry jetty. There was a bit of pushing and shoving [obviously not from our group :-)] as many wanted to get the port side of the ferry as that provided the best view of Villa Oleandra or Villa Clooney as it is now referred to.

Famous people have long come to Lago di Como and fallen in love with the lakes, the mountains and forests, and the villages – at the end of the 18th century and around the time that Volto was inventing the battery the English poet Wordsworth visited and fell in love with the region – and it is said the young women of the region.

It became quite obvious as we sat on the ferry and listened to those around that many of the passengers on the ferry became aware of Lago di Como through magazine stories featuring the famous actor and his wife. I spotted that the ferry was equipped with a defibrillator and perhaps and judging by the frenzy that happened as we passed his home it appeared to be prudent purchase. This was heightened when people noticed that the windows shutters were open and a white Italian lakes speed boat was moored out front. If I heard the name Clooney once I heard it 1,000 times – some even called out his name.

The point is – that awareness, interest, desire and action [AIDA] for this lake and Italy in general has been created by an actor and his famous friends. AIDA is a key consideration for every organisation and something that needs to be nurtured, measured, and managed.

My favourite building on the lake shore is a museum, Villa del Balbianello [the image at the top of this page]. There are many other beautiful buildings – some of which are grand waterfront hotels – Villa Flori, Villa Carlotta, Villa d’Este, Villa Vittoria, Hotel Il Sereno , Hotel Belvedere, Grand Hotel Villa Serbelloni. Along the way we can see a variety of water craft, beautiful wooden lake boats with their varnished woodwork sparkling in the sun as the race by, yachts quietly sliding through the water. People on our ferry wave to people on the boats and often the boatpeople smile and wave back – the lake casts a spell. Also there are more utilitarian watercraft such as fast hydrofoil ferries, car ferries and passenger ferries. This all adds to the theatre of Lago di Como.
Our ferry stops at many charming villages along the way, each one worth visiting and we made an affirmation to return to the Lago di Como and to stay a little longer.

We are heading to Bellaggio where Nadia will give us an overview and a few hours to explore. The town of Bellagio is – beautiful.

The day is now hot. The pace has slowed.The tourists were in the bars and cafes escaping the heat. The Bellagians, the ones not making money from the tourists, are having a respite from the heat. Anna and I explored the stepped alleyways and the shops that line each side. It is clear that this is peak season and the traders want to make the most of every minute. Bellagio is at its loveliest. The alleyways are adorned with window boxes and planters – the purple, crimson, and orange Bougainvilleas and the pink Oleanders are stunning. Little pop-up restaurants are located in the shade of grapevines and lime trees. Each shop is stunningly presented – beckoning travelers to come inside for crochet and linen handicrafts, a hand painted bottle of Bellagio wine, hand painted pottery, or glassware. There are the ‘typical tourist’ shops with sunglasses, hats, T-shirts and postcards – two shops really caught our attention.

The first shop, I guess it could be described as a ‘leather and gift shop’; was run by three sisters. We started chatting. They mentioned that the shop was founded by their father and the ladies have kept on the tradition and it appears as if the tradition will continue as a granddaughter now works in the shop.

One of the sisters stated that she was in her eighties and that during the summer months they are very busy and she loved to come to the shop, however, in the winter months when there were no tourists in Bellagio she lacked the motivation to come in, but, in winter when she doesn’t come in the locals ask where she is and then if she hasn’t been in for a while she misses the shop and the people and is drawn back. Clearly, she has a love of retailing and I think she also loves being involved in the sales process and I have to say she was particularly skillful. I was able to spend a little bit of time observing the three sisters and the granddaughter and they managed the customers with an ease that has to be seen to be appreciated, they knew that their customers were tourists and the had a limited time to make a sale, but they were charming and never pushy. However, they worked the shop and moved the customers along the salespipeline. They explained how their suppliers were ‘artisans’ and were, over many years, personally selected for their quality; how many of their products were exclusive [so don’t miss out on this opportunity]. They worked the crowd with multiple presentations happening simultaneously, busy showing their products to everyone – creating awareness, interest, desire and action.

For the second time on this trip Anna’s shoulder strapped purse became the centre of attention and ‘the boss sister’ decided to show different styles of small bags ‘that were far more stylish and could be worn confidently in more situations’ – ‘have a look at the quality of the stitching … you can see that this is made by an artisan … you will not find this in Firenze [Florence is renown for leather goods]’. Needless to say – Anna could not resist her charms and bought a little black bag.

The sisters stated that they liked to fill the shop with products ‘Made in Italy’ and had over the years built up relationships with a number of businesses. What I enjoyed as I took in this ‘theatrical production’ was that the sisters were skilled salespeople – little snippets of their history and their values were embedded in their sales scripts and I have no doubt that this happens 100 times a day – it is well rehearsed – but experiencing the theatre of a Bellagio shop is part of the enjoyment of being a tourist – without the theatre it would be a lesser experience. It also highlights the importance of working effectively and efficiently when sales are there.

Often people think of products as the goods for sale in the shop. In the case of the three sisters the product is everything the customer receives in the exchange – to emphasise this we refer to this as the total product. This highlights an important consideration that product life cycle may refer to the shelf-life of a product but may also refer to the seasonal nature of a business such as this leather and gift shop in Bellagio.

The next shop that caught our attention was ‘Fresia’ a shop devoted to the art of Jerry Fresia. I love photographs and appreciate a good image; sometimes I encounter photographs that are, perhaps, more art than photography. I understand that the photographer has used software like Photoshop often with multiple image layers to achieve the look and I can appreciate this as art-photography.

Nevertheless, there are many occasions where a photograph will not authentically capture a scene – sure it is a lovely photograph and when printed on a large canvas and framed it will receive many compliments, however, often the essence of the scene is not captured – and no amount of photoshopping will give it the right colour and opacity. That is why I stopped in my tracks when I saw the paintings of Jerry Fresia in Bellagio because, for me, his painting captured the very essence of Lago di Como in a way that I cannot hope to with my photography.  I spoke with his partner Conchitina who looks after the shop in the summer months, she was really proud of Jerries work and gave us a little insight into her well travelled life – just a snippet or two. Then, I put on my consumer behaviour hat, we discussed how the people who buy Jerries’ paintings are almost purchasing a souvenir of their time near Lago di Como. I don’t mean a souvenir like a kitsch Lago di Como snow dome from some pop-up souvenir stall but as a exquisite momento of a trip.

Although – I have to admit I once purchased a snow dome souvenir from an old lady on the Great Wall of China because she had carted a huge load up the steps and I admired her perseverance and courage. This old lady had a really interesting face – one that was sculptured by decades of sun, wind, rain, cold, pain, and work. I wanted to take a photograph but didn’t want to offend her, but it is still in my memory. A female soldier who had watched me from about 20 metres away, thanked me for not haggling over the price. She told me that this old lady has had a hard life, she is a Christian and has been persecuted for her beliefs but remains true to her faith, her family circumstances were tragic, and every day she carts her 60kg load up and down the 1200 steps. I have that snow dome in my lounge room – having a special possession is not always about the cost.

On the bus back to Milan I thought about Jerry Fresia’s paintings – I was still wearing my consumer behaviour hat – I realized that if we consider his paintings as products, and they are after all there is an exchange, then what are the most important product components [the e-book identifies six product components – goods, services, ideas, experiences, people, and place]. It is likely, the hierarchy of components would vary according to the purchaser.

For someone who had never been to Lago di Como and wanted a painting to match the colours of a room it would be goods dominant. However, for most people the painting would represent much more involvement – it would represent a special time at Lago di Como; be a symbol of their experiences in a special place – the walks, the lunch in a small café, a romantic diner, the view from the hotel that is etched in their mind, the trip on the lake.

When we consider the six product components for most people his paintings would be rich in ideas – emotions and feelings – some that may be impossible for the owner of the painting to fully articulate, it would represent a place that they had visited and loved and perhaps one day may, hopefully, return.

On another more superficial level it may represent how someone wishes to position themselves to their family, friends, and business associates through their home and their art – what consumer behaviouralists refer to as the extended-self. For some, it may be about presenting an ideal self-image of ‘a world traveller’ – what consumer behaviouralists refer to as ideal-social-self. The ideal-social-self is how they would like to be perceived by others. I guess we have all met this person and I can hear him now – ‘yes Bellagio … We had a lovely summer there – didn’t we dear? Gertrude fell in love with the painting and she just had to have it – didn’t you dear … lovely painting’ – ‘I just had to buy it for her’ [the Australian acronym for this person is FIGJAM].

Now I am a marketing academic not an art expert and I later when I contacted Jerry he said that marketing was not his strength but he believed that was the key to their success was about the “authenticity” of his art – I would suggest that Jerry Fresia’s painting represent ‘pure marketing’ – producing paintings that best satisfy his customers’ needs and best satisfying his own needs in life. I admire talented people who follow their love and produce pleasure.

You may have noticed, that in the successful businesses that I visited authenticity has become a recurring theme, and I feel that authenticity is at the very core of the marketing concept – setting high standards and consistently working to achieve the standards set not by the customer but by oneself – as marketers we should strive to be authentic in what we do.

While my brain was working overtime, our fellow travellers were very quiet on the bus back to Milan; it had been a busy day were soon back at the offices of Zani Viaggi. We thanked Domenic our driver and Nadia our guide they had been the best of hosts and made the day stress free. We walked down the street and paid one last visit to the Galleria and then caught a taxi to the Starhotel.

Our ‘favourite’ receptionist was on duty and we thanked her for her recommendation and for organising our tour, and we mentioned that it was a fantastic day. She just smiled and said ‘You’re very welcome, I am glad you enjoyed your day’.

Service, when it is well delivered, is a determinant component of customer satisfaction. Here is the thing, when we make a booking for a hotel we know that service is important. However, post-purchase when we reflect on our product experience, then the great service experience becomes part of the augmented product and often it is the augmented product where customer satisfaction is enhanced.

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