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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6 comments on “Your brand cannot live in the C-Suite

  1. Eric Brody says:

    Good post Drew.

    Much of our firm’s work is top-down strategic rebranding, mostly of corporate brands across the health continuum. And we spend a lot of time ensuring we deliver (that leadership delivers) on the points you make in your post.

    Unless employees are educated, engaged, inspired and aligned — promises are worthless. And will do more harm than good as they go unfulfilled. So many studies have shown the real, tangible value of engaged and aligned employees in building brand value. Ashame this incredibly rich asset isn’t more consistently leveraged.


  2. Claire Celsi says:

    Hey Drew! Great post. I experienced this first hand when I recently visited Dell for a customer advisory panel. There is a disconnect between the company’s vision and the actual reality of the customer service provided by its front line employees. Though I hardly doubt the sincerity of Dell’s upper management, it rings very disingenuous when regular customers like me don’t feel taken care of. Thanks for the insight.

  3. Lenae says:

    Great story. Our agency just completed a director retreat so this sounds familiar. I plan to review your story to direct line staff. I will ask employees to give me there feedback on how they would had responded to the guest. It will be interesting to hear their comments before I tell them the outcome. I feel employees day to day involvement means more to solving problems than always taking them to upper mgmt.

  4. Cool Words says:

    Nice post, yup the big boys at the top are often not suportive enough of those under them. Sure it is great to come up with a new initiative, but it has to become part of the coporate culture for it to succeed.

  5. I think one of the more interesting aspects of this story is that the employee believed she was allowed to meet the customer’s request.

    How often do you think front line employees believe they have that power/right?


  6. Jimmy Chan says:

    That’s a very good point Drew, which is “How often front line employees believe they have that power”. Which also brings to mind leadership skills and a direct alternative marketing people; most people say marketing is common sense but not so as when you put a marketing person in there, they will fight for that comb for the customer and convince the management to see the hidden value for it.

    To other readers, I was not so familiar with the other stories hence I requested info from Drew and he speedily replied with the below which I like to share:

    Here’s a link about Nordstroms legendary customer service:

    And here’s one about Zappos:

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