What a trip to Whole Foods will teach you about branding.

A few weeks ago I went food shopping at my local (but regional chain) grocery store. I shop for food in a few places as I can’t seem to find one store that offers me everything. I wandered the store gathering my items when I realized I couldn’t find this one type of snack my daughter likes. I swear I went up and down every aisle, but no luck. I finally found an employee walking my way and I asked politely if she knew where these snacks were. “Aisle twelve I think” and she kept walking. She was polite enough and clearly had someplace to go, but she wasn’t very helpful.  I went to isle twelve, again, but still no luck. I was exasperated and left without the snacks. My experience definitely soured me on the store and the brand. This got me thinking about branding and how clearly the company hadn’t aligned their brand building efforts with their customer service actions.  But what is a ‘brand’ really?

There are many definitions of ‘brand’ of which you might be aware. Since you’re not likely branding your cattle (the older definition of brand), let’s focus on what people think is the newer definition. A brand is a logo and what it stands for – what comes to mind when people think about a company or something it offers. Think search engine, think Google. Think fast internet product delivery, think Amazon Prime. Think organic, think Whole Foods. You get the idea.

Here’s the problem. The older definition of brand limits us to what people see. The newer definition limits us to what people think. Guess what? They’re both wrong as far as definitions go. They’re wrong because they only focus on perception, on what happens in the eyes of the customer and potential customer outside the company walls. But your brand is more than your logo, more than what’s in your ads, more than what’s on your website and more than what’s in your sales presentations. Your brand is who you are, what you believe in. It’s the relationships that you’ve made; both internal and external. Your brand is how your employees feel when they show up for work. Your brand is your operational processes. Your brand is your core purpose and this is something you can’t broadcast, rather it is something that is believed and built by everyone working at your organization and by every one of your customers and potential customers.

You ARE your brand. You might not think so, but every single employee has a role to play in working together to build your brand. From the front-line folks to the back-office staff to the executive management – all of you are your brand. How you talk to customers, how you treat employees – THIS is your brand and this goes far beyond the cool logo and website you’ve created or even the unique service you offer.

Working together to deliver unique value and doing so in a polite, responsible, meaningful way is the only way to build your brand. Don’t forget, each day your customers are besieged with ads, calls, emails; literally thousands of messages. And, if you don’t have the budget to outspend your competition on marketing, you can compete with value. But in the end, people will remember how you made them feel more than they’ll remember what you said. People like to do business with people they like. So, in addition to offering a wonderful product or service that your clients need, you can build your brand through the experiences you offer customers. How were they treated when they called your office? How were they treated when they had a complaint? Did you deliver on your promises? Did you make them wait days or weeks for an email response or transfer their call three times? Did you, even once, point to some fine print during a customer service issue?

It all comes down to human insight. Do you really know your customer? Do you know what drives them? Do you have the human insight to really connect with them?  You have to tailor your approaches to clients based on their personality and ambitions. You already know you have to offer value, but you have to do so in a way that makes them feel good about doing business with you.

When you understand your clients on a human level, you can create win-win relationships based on who your customer really IS. Again, this can’t be broadcast. Your marketing is purely a way to begin a dialogue with customers. Then you have to deliver value with every interaction, not just value for money, but value for their time and value for their trust. Make them FEEL special. THIS is your brand.

So, how do you build your brand? It starts with you. It starts when you believe you ALWAYS have to be at your best to truly offer value to your customers. Being at your best takes insight, it takes empathy and imagination on how you might connect with customers better, on how you’ll make them FEEL.

Last week I went to Whole Foods. As I walked in, I was greeted by the person behind the juice bar. As I shopped, I realized (again) that I couldn’t find something so I asked someone who was stocking shelves; “Excuse me, do you know where the fig bars are located?” I waited for him to tell me they were in aisle twelve, but instead he stopped what he was doing, got up and said with a smile “I’m happy to show you.” He then walked me clear across the store to where the fig bars were stacked. “Can I help you find anything else?” At that moment, the Whole Foods brand was more than the organic fig bars, more than the neat logo and more than the Whole Foods gift card I had in my pocket. At that moment, I FELT like a VIP. I walked in a Whole Foods customer and walked out a brand ambassador. This wasn’t a one-time thing either. Whole Foods employees are always polite, helpful and knowledgeable. Whole Foods has clearly aligned customer experience with their brand building because I always feel like a VIP there. Given Amazon’s attention to customer service, I don’t expect this to change. My family has had nothing but positive customer experiences with Amazon. Plus, now that Amazon has lowered some prices at Whole Foods, maybe people who weren’t customers might now experience it for themselves.

You want another one? Just yesterday I went to Joann to buy some fabric (I like to sew – you have a problem with that?) and when I got to the check out, the lady said the total was $80 and asked for my coupons. When I said I forgot them at home, she suggested I go online with my phone and get one, which I did, for 50% off. She saved me $40! Now that’s service!

Aligning your brand building with your customer service is incredibly important. The good news is that its relatively easy and completely within your control. If you do it properly (and regularly) you’ll build brand loyalty with new and existing customers. If you don’t align your brand building with your customer service, you risk serious damage to your brand.

So, is your brand aligned with your customer experience?

 

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About John T. Peters

Since I was a young boy, I've been in business for myself. Sure I've had 'jobs' along the way; some actually quite senior roles in major companies. My entreprenurial spirit however, keeps me going. Life's challenges however, happen in and out of the office. I'm constantly trying to improve as an executive, father, husband, brother, son and friend, all at the same time. I've determined that in everything you do, you're better off "outside the box." So, read on for Fresh Thinking. View all posts by John T. Peters

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