I’ve traveled my entire career. A lot. Over the decades I have directed my loyalty and patronage to a handful of travel partners. It makes sense, right? If I’m going to slog across the country, I’m going to focus on the reward and status opportunities available and achieve the highest levels that I can earn. Spreading my spending across multiple providers and not climbing the loyalty hierarchy just doesn’t make sense.

The rewards can be substantial. My family has benefited multiple times, utilizing free airline tickets, resort accommodations, rental cars and the like. Of course, one would argue that for a guy who travels all the time, is more travel really a reward? I’ll let you decide that for yourself, but for me, having a happy family is the real reward.

Occasionally I have to break my one-source loyalty focus when it comes to hotel rooms. I belong to almost a dozen programs, but like most seasoned travelers, it comes down to one or two… again to concentrate and accumulate as much benefit as possible. I always try to book with Marriott or Hilton. Both offer a wide range of brands, locations and consistency. Familiarity helps to dull the pain of being on the road, particularly in an unfamiliar location.

Historically, I’ve always looked for Marriott hotels first. I started with them and have had an admitted bias toward them over Hilton. When I couldn’t find a Marriott brand hotel to fit my parameters, I then looked to Hilton. My loyalty to Marriott was fairly fierce.

That loyalty has now shifted. And the reason is a cold bottle of water that probably costs around 50 cents. As you may know, if you are at a certain status level with Hilton, they will give you a bottle of water or two when you check in. As you may also know, local water in various parts of the country doesn’t taste very well. I’m sure there’s nothing wrong with it, but it’s different than what you are accustomed to and it can be downright awful in taste. And don’t get me started on the quality of the ice in the machines down the hall or on another floor. It can all get a little nasty.

I used to get pretty dehydrated in a hotel because I would curb my consumption. Sure, I realize that I could hit the vending machine for a bottle, but who carries dollar bills any more? Besides, once I enter a room and the door swings closed, I loathe to leave it and traipse down the hall or to another floor looking for the vending machine.

Hilton must have conducted primary research with their road warrior guests and discovered the same thing. So there’s the real lesson in all of this, you’ve got to speak to your members, customers or clients and find out how you are doing. And listen for the little things. The devil is in the detail and detail matters. My peers must have spoken up and told Hilton that they were drying up in their rooms and boy wouldn’t a long cold fresh drink of water make a difference. Hilton listened.

Are you listening? Are you asking? Those of us in the branding and marketing world tend to focus on the big shifts while orchestrating the perfect brand engagement.

After my repeated exposure to this simple act of providing water, I finally realized what a difference Hilton was making in my experience and satisfaction with such a small gesture, solving my issue and earning my loyalty.

All with a bottle of water. Brilliant.

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