To paraphrase the American Author’s E. Abbey’s thoughts about California: “There is science, logic, reason; there is thought verified by experience. And then there is Morocco”.
It’s like the vintage new it. A country that you simply must visit in order to find peace for your soul (peace for your stomach is definitely not guaranteed).
To set the record straight, no I am not planning to present you with yet another travel diary or tell you stories of me being the modern version of a Saint-Exupéry character as I fall in love with the dunes. However, as the aroma of saffron and roses mixes with the stench of African leather tanneries and the 30thjuice vendor in a line starts to entice you with offers of dubious legality, this land of experiences and inconsistencies forces you to reflect upon your thoughts.
A different question seems to be important here. I do not remember if I have ever met a person who would, with the well-known higher than thou attitude people reserve for telling you that they don’t own a TV, proclaim to not like traveling or vacations. After all, vacation seems to be one of the main types of modern fuel for people, allowing them to relax from the tedious work routine and recharge for future work related challenges. For some it becomes a magic elixir that is supposed to make you into a new, and different, person; and for others it is simply an excuse to escape from themselves, the further the better (as long as off-line maps work and their email, don’t).
Alas, you can’t escape yourself, nor can you escape your own profession. With that in mind, in terms of communication lessons, what can we learn to avoid/emulate from the beautiful piece of land that is more than just the location for a few scenes in the old blockbuster The Gladiator.
When different brands and products form histories and symbolism about themselves, the fact of owning a specific thing becomes a part of the person, a reflection of their character, something that the person uses to echo information to the world around them. The job of a communication specialist becomes to help tell that story and teach their tourist/client how to enjoy the trip.
I believe I am not the only one that suffers from emotions and spontaneous ideas beating out reason and clever planning when trips and vacations are concerned. This land can teach you a lot about sales, persuasion and how to perfect your negotiation skills.
When you start to barter and are confronted by an astronomical price, but you fake being a poor student the delicate dance of negotiation begins. It involves generous show of body language to form trust. When your offered price will be rejected as the vendor tells you that the barber woman that made the shawl would kill him for selling it this cheap, you will catch hints of co-branding. When you encounter a vendor that will stay silent on the price while he louds the many great qualities of the product you will recognize the stance of a teaser. And then, when you will drive 800 km with a driver that does not speak English, but will keep repeating ‘mange’ which means ‘to eat’ in French, you will appreciate the hand gestures he made as a good indicator for the meaning.
Once the aforementioned driver takes you to city straight from a war movie and you enter a dim light carpet shop you will experience a very potent form storytelling. Greeted by a tall African landlord, whose every other tooth is golden (the ones that are not are missing anyway), you will notice the door close behind you and hear the very persuasive“Hello my friends, how was your trip, now you pay 400”. By this point, you will no doubt see the power of what is called a unique selling point. This last lesson ranging true even to a fellow German tourist who was initially told the price of the stay would be four times lower, and who now find himself nervously looking for the nearest ATM, or in the context of our story here, experience product placement. So what else can we learn?
When YOU are the deficit. In a country governed by religious belief that proclaims abstinence, certain products can be found without flashy ads, through word of mouth. You merely have to skim through pages upon pages of internet commentary, slip out from medina before sunset and carefully, yet with dedication in your step go into streets that definitely did not make it into tourist brochures. This is all it takes to find real Moroccan rosé wine. You will be privy to a quick exhibition of the bottle being opened, closed up again and tilted to the side to make sure not a drop is leaking through before it being wrapped up in the morning newspaper. The result? You feel as if you didn’t just find some wine, you actually learned its history. In other words, even if the government does not allow people to work on Fridays, if you managed to be in demand, the right people will find you.
Persistent or irritating? Irrelevant of where you find yourself: in the local station, the seaside or in any of the many dead-end streets lining the complex labyrinth of this million strong city, people shouting offers at you will remain a constant. Similar to pop-up ads hard sellingtaxi drivers, ticket salesmen and children selling water (even at times where you are already holding a bottle in your hand) jump at you from every corner. Stations are especially interesting in this regard as they showcase the division of labor. Certain people are the drivers, others make their living by placing your bags into cars, others still are the guides loudly listing off names of cities. This seems so authentic, since if one of them manages to attract a tourist, all of them will benefit. However, with time it can become very tedious and you might faze out even the people that are genuinely trying to help you locate whatever you are looking for. To be seen and to be heard is important, better still when you get integrated communication that buzzes as a single melody with many tones. Alas, there is a thin line between everybody seeing you and getting annoyed by you.
Flawed yet honest. In a country, which sees tourism as one of its major economic pillars it is easy to feel the lack of honesty seep through, after all, everyone wants something from you. However, when sharing an evening on the porch with the owner of the riad (a type of guesthouse in old towns) you find yourself enthralled in the stories about his family and the local culture, you feel something genuine. Suddenly the fact that hot water in the shower is a rarity and the sound-proofing of the walls is less than stellar become less important and you decide to hold off on any scathing reviews on Tripadvisor. After all, there WAS that signed confession about the hot water supply having its quirks, but “don’t worry, it will come”showcasing brand personality. Sometimes you don’t need to airbrush the truth, all you need is honesty. As far as adverts are concerned, perhaps sometimes it is best not to think about clients and tourists, but rather think about people.
What to choose when everyone is offering the same? Jewelry, leather products, fresh squeezed juice and massages are but a few things on offer all the time in Morocco. The amount of stores and shops is mind boggling and every single one of them offers the real deal. Sure, you can filter out the few overly shady looking vendors and perhaps avoid the store with a bike parked next to it that has 7 freshly cut goat heads hanging from it, but that still hardly narrows down the remaining cavalcade of stores.
The truth is, the people that know how to approach or, for the less extraverted, give space to you will be the ones that win. What if they don’t invite you to check out their wares, but rather to drink a cup of tea with them instead? Believe me, after two hours of drinking sweet tea with them, you will not leave the shop without buying three bottles of that ‘magic oil’ (spin sales), even if they initially used the foot in the doormethod and were offering you a full meal and a collection of spices as long as the eyes can see. Sure, the sceptics among us can deny being swayed. They know that all of those niceties are just a way to make a sale, but is that wrong? After all, the times of buying products are long gone, nowadays we’re buying experiences.
Free is good only if it is actually free. Giving a taste test of spices or even a feel test for a freshly caught fish is all good and fine as long as the person does not feel obliged to buy it afterwards. However, when you quickly and without receiving prior consent give someone a hennatattoo and immediately start asking for 60 Eur. you can make the client/tourist feel uneasy. This is reminiscent of a mother putting all sorts of security locks on her phone, and her unaware child still managing to swipe up a hefty phone-bill at the end of the month. Sure, you can score a client for that one time, but they will hardly be tempted to ever return.
Find something attractive and live it. People of Morocco have perfected the art of turning all of their cultural landmarks into tourist magnets. Although most of them are unguarded and in the context of the world rather plain, through the art of storytellingthey weave a story that entices you to see them. To be honest, the lauded recommendation to “get lost in medina in order to experience the real feel of the city” is no different to getting lost in any other neighborhood in any other town in the world. Even the diabetes inducing tea with 8 scoops of sugar is presented as Moroccan whiskeyhere. A field of stones encased by a stone-wall is a picture magnet here and people are willing to travel hundreds of kilometers to see the Aït Benhaddou fortress for the sole reason that the film Gladiatorwas filmed there, even if no signs of that remain today; and no amount of trash being flown into your face by the mischievous winds or questionable hygiene and food will quench your eagerness to experience that. We can definitely learn brand strategyfrom Morocco i.e. how to create the must see, must buy and must try experience.
Dust in your face
Gold glimmer on teeth
Unwanted be it may you hear a whisper
Although I did not take up the offer, the constant sales pitch to each and every tourist was definitely heard more commonly than the call to prayer that happens five times per day.