Inspirational Owners: May 2006
Avant-Guide Travel Books
Daniel Levine is a leading international trend hunter. He is the founder and series director of Avant-Guide Travel Books and travels the globe in search of hip hotels, extraordinary restaurants, unique shops and the best nightlife. Daniel shares with us what puts Avant-Guide Travel Books at the forefront of travel book publishing and what makes a place a Lovemark.
Lovemarks: With so many travel books on the market, why do you think people love Avant-Guide Travel Books? What sets you a part from the rest?
Daniel Levine: People love Avant-Guide because the brand speaks directly to them: Avant-Guide is a lifestyle brand, for sophisticated, brand-savvy, 21st century urbanites who are searching for understated, leading-edge experiences. Our brand is closely associated with hip hotels, stylish restaurants and designer clothing for people with more money than time; people who define themselves by where they go, where they stay and what they do. No other travel media brand even attempts to target this psychographic.
Lovemarks: The world has become much more accessible through technology and fast travel. What, in your opinion, makes a Lovemark location/place?
DL: It’s been very interesting to see locations becoming popular Lovemarks. In a way I think that locations are the ultimate Lovemarks because, more than anything, a sense of place speaks to one’s heart. I also think that there is a parallel between being a Lovemark destination and an avant destination: both are informed by distinctive experiences that provoke an emotional response. When people write to both Avant-Guide and Lovemarks about why the love London, Paris or New York, they write about feelings they have in those cities that they don’t have anywhere else.
It’s been very interesting to see locations becoming popular Lovemarks. In a way I think that locations are the ultimate Lovemarks because, more than anything, a sense of place speaks to one’s heart. I also think that there is a parallel between being a Lovemark destination and an avant destination: both are informed by distinctive experiences that provoke an emotional response. When people write to both Avant-Guide and Lovemarks about why the love London, Paris or New York, they write about feelings they have in those cities that they don’t have anywhere else.
Lovemarks: An idea associated with Lovemarks is the idea of Loyalty Beyond Reason – in thinking about your brand, how, in broad terms, do you define Loyalty?
DL: Loyalty is the result of two equally strong emotions: passion and emotion. Broadly speaking, Avant-Guide has a unique goal related to loyalty - it is for our customers to be so faithful that they actually choose to travel to a particular destination simply because Avant-Guide covers that destination. People often travel to visit friends, and our goal is to be such a trusted "friend" that people will travel to "visit" us.
Lovemarks: Lovemarks recognizes that the senses are portals to our emotions. Sight, sound, scent, touch and taste…from packaging to music, from an intangible “feel” to the shopping experience. Can you identify how one of the five senses – or a combination or interplay of more than one – connects most strongly with your product?
DL: We identified early on that looking stylish is important for us and our customers, and that’s something that travel guidebooks never thought of before. When I travel with other books, I always find myself hiding my guidebook and maps so I don’t stick out like a clueless tourist. Avant-Guide understands this, which is one f the reasons we put so much emphasis on the stylish way we look. That’s also why each Avant-Guide is bundled with an ergonomically designed 52-page Pocket Informer containing intensive maps and complete contact information for every avant listing in the city. A reader can put this in her pocket or purse and leave the main book back at the hotel. When it comes to our listings, we are very conscious of including places that appeal to all the senses. When we visit hotel rooms, for example, we are aware of the feeling of the carpet beneath our feet.
Lovemarks: Inspirational Consumers have been described as the people who, without any prompting, tell other people about the business you’re in and what it is doing for them. These savvy people take their Love of a brand very seriously indeed. Can you recall any encounters you’ve had where a member gave you a new insight to the rationale of both your business and your marketing?
DL: Yes, it happens all the time; which is how we know we are a true a Lovemark. We elicit and receive lots of feedback from our customers and the expressions are often heartfelt. One of the most common comments we hear is that Avant-Guide is our readers’ travel "bible." I can’t imagine anything more respectful or inspirational than that.
Lovemarks: Aside from your own organization, there may be other businesses operating in other categories that you consider have the edge it takes to be a ‘Lovemark In Action’. Can you name 2 or 3 other companies, and what you Love or Respect most about them?
DL: Blue Ocean Strategy, a management strategy whose premise is that companies can rearrange conventional factors of competition in order to create a leap in customer value, has changed my life. It shows us how to identify our competitors’ strengths and weaknesses and how to take advantage of untapped market space. In the process companies make their competition irrelevant and discover unoccupied market space (hence the shift from a bloody, confined red seas to an expansive blue ocean). It’s a powerful and different way of thinking that provides the guidance behind everything we’re doing at Avant-Guide.
Joie de Vivre Hospitality, the largest boutique hotel operator in California, speaks to me because, like Avant-Guide, they take a conceptual approach to the creation of their properties. Each is differentiated not only through compelling design, but through establishing an emotional connection with guests by catering to their psychographic rather than demographic profile.
Lovemarks: What are 5 of your Lovemarks?
DL: MAXjet, Moleskine, Prague, Russky Standart Vodka and Samsonite Black Label.