Your brand cannot live in the C-Suite

92970691 Here's the challenge with most brand promises.  They only live at the top of the org chart.  It usually happens on a corporate retreat.  The C-level gang gets together at a lodge or fancy hotel and they talk about vision, mission and maybe even a company pledge or promise.  Then, they either lead themselves or hire a consultant to lead them through a 2 hour exercise and from that exercise emerges their new brand.

(cue the trumpets blare)

Now…the front line employees aren't involved or consulted.  In fact, they first see the new brand promise as a tagline on the new ad campaign.  They don't understand it's not just marketing spin.  They don't get that it is a promise that THEY are supposed to keep.  Because no one told them.

Let me tell you a story I heard a few years back.  A concierge in a luxury hotel with an impressive brand name was working her usual shift. She was accustomed to handling requests and complaints from the most discerning and demanding of guests. But she was surprised when a first-time guest criticized the quality of the hotel’s complimentary combs.

“They’re horrible combs,” he told her. “They’re not like the combs at XYZ hotel.  Now they have good combs. They’re heavier and you can't bend them like this," he said as he demonstrated.

The concierge apologized and asked what kind would meet his satisfaction.  She promised him a better comb on his next visit.  Sure enough, a few weeks later when he checked in,  the guest found a selection of high-grade combs in his room. When he checked out, he left a note for the concierge. “Thanks for the combs. Much better. See you in a few weeks.”

The guest became one of the hotel’s most frequent guests. That one interaction, over a complaint most employees would not be aware that they should care about, created a loyal guest who has meant tens of thousands of dollars in annually recurring business.

All for a comb.

You see….that's the problem.  While the C-suite can come up with a brand….they're actually not the ones who deliver (or don't) on the promise.  Odds are, that hotel guest couldn't tell you the hotel's tagline.  But he could sure tell you the comb story.  Now that concierge was either just naturally gifted at customer service or she was well trained.  She could make the brand come to life because she had been taught what it meant.  She had been trained to look for opportunities to make it so much more than a tagline.

Think about how she could have reacted:

  • She could have shaken her head as soon as the man walked away and declared him a pain in the rear.
  • She could have given him directions to the nearest drug store so he could buy a better comb.
  • She could have pacified him and then forgot all about it.
  • She could have "written it up" in some notebook, assuming someone would (or wouldn't) do something about it.

But she didn't.  She recognized an opportunity to create a "story worthy" moment. 

So one guy loves the hotel.  Does it matter in the grand scheme of things?    You bet.  The ROI of customer loyalty has been proven again and again.  This isn't just touching-feely stuff.  This is bottom line results.

It's not enough to say you have a brand.  It's not enough to have a good brand.  It's whether or not your employees know and live the brand.  And that doesn't happen by happy coincidence or luck. 

It happens when you involve them from the beginning and it becomes a part of your company's DNA thanks to plenty of reinforcement, training and best of all — the "lore" that grows from customer stories.  Whether it's the age old favorites of Nordstroms (who hasn't heard the tire story) or the latest example — Zappos — when you create story worth moments, the brand really comes to life.

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