I Dare You: Create a Brand Challenge!

Challenging something we do quite naturally and easily is indeed the perfect challenge. We all get into ruts—some even good and well-intentioned! Challenging ourselves to reflect, relook and rethink why we do what we do (or don’t do) can be just the process we need to achieve something different, something unexpected, and quite possibly, even something more.

When I popped into my local independent bookstore this week, I saw a slip of paper promoting The 2015 Reading Challenge. Intrigued, I read through a list of eclectic reading prompts, wondering if they’d be of any interest to me because I already am a highly self-motivated bookworm, and always have been. The only prompt I need is to not read 24/7! But I kept an open mind and read through prompts like the following:

  • Read a book from your childhood
  • Read a book in a genre you don’t typically read
  • Read a book you’ve been meaning to read
  • Read a book published this year
  • Read a book you should have read in high school

I changed my mind after reading the list and realized that challenging something we do quite naturally and easily is indeed the perfect challenge. We all get into ruts—some even good and well-intentioned! Challenging ourselves to reflect, relook and rethink why we do what we do (or don’t do) can be just the process we need to achieve something different, something unexpected, and quite possibly, even something more.

These reading prompts made me think of how I gently provoke my clients when I am in the midst of leading brand tune-ups. “Look up! Look around! Look sideways!” I encourage. “What has changed in your marketplace? With your customers? With your product line? Your promotional offers? Your marketing communications? With your competitors? With YOU?” I ask. We grapple with these challenges together, always wanting to examine and understand status quo before dreaming big.

In that creative and open spirit, why not, as a brand leader, create your own Brand Challenge? Make a list of all sorts of prompts that may both ignite new brand behavior and reexamine old behavior. Review with your team and then just jump into it! Here are just a few ideas to get you started:

  • Call a customer and have a meaningful conversation about their brand experience and insights.
  • Clean out your brand closet … what do you need to let go of?
  • Take a BrandAbout field trip and visit five brands not at all related to yours. See what you learn.
  • Take a BrandAbout field trip and visit five brands very much related to yours. See what you learn.
  • Make a branding TO DON’T LIST.
  • Figure out your brand verb.
  • Take a customer service person out to lunch and LISTEN to their experiences.
  • Simplify one process.
  • Spend a day in another department.
  • Find something interesting that your brand did 5 years ago, 10 years ago.
  • Eliminate one thing that does not enhance your brand.
  • Get a reverse mentor in some area.
  • Send a thank you to someone internally.
  • Send a thank you to a customer.

That’s it. I dare you!

Take Heart: Send a Brand Valentine!

‘Tis the season for valentines. What makes me smile in my professional life is finding companies that foster an intentional and caring attitude towards their employees all year long. Of course, I am taking for granted that these brands already show an intentional love for their customers all year long. That’s certainly how they have become “Lovemarks” (to borrow Keven Roberts’ term for beloved brands) in their industries: building trust, continually wooing and wowing new and existing customers and exceeding expectations.

‘Tis the season for valentines. Those who know me well know that I am partial to all things heart-shaped … especially when found spontaneously in nature. I am drawn to heart-shaped rocks while hiking, heart-shaped shells on the beach, clouds in creative heart forms and fruits and vegetables that have grown unexpectedly in heart-shaped ways. Yes, these hearts make me smile in my personal life. But what makes me smile even more in my professional life is finding companies that foster an intentional and caring attitude towards their employees all year long.

Of course, I am taking for granted that these brands already show an intentional love for their customers all year long. That’s certainly how they have become “Lovemarks” (to borrow Kevin Roberts’ term for beloved brands) in their industries: building trust, continually wooing and wowing new and existing customers and exceeding expectations.

But I want to focus on a brand-building ethos that often can get neglected as companies pour all their attention in outward facing ways: internal brand love. A brand valentine of sorts! Brand leaders need to be sure that first and foremost their employees feel empowered, respected and celebrated.

Without an ethos that highly values employees’ contributions, there is no foundation for valuing customers or stakeholders. Even the best external brand-building activities will be soulless. You know it when you experience lukewarm (at best) service from a brand ambassador at a retail establishment or at a restaurant or on a plane. There is no real human connection … it is simply a transaction. Conversely, the experience that occurs when brand ambassadors feel highly motivated and engaged with their work comes across as genuine, true and helpful.

Several years ago, Kip Tindell, CEO and cofounder of the Container Store, started National We Love Our Employees Day—a celebration (coinciding with Valentine’s Day) to show appreciation for all that its employees do for the company, their colleagues, customers, vendors and communities. This is not a publicity-driven effort. It stems from Tindell’s deep-seated belief that employees are the heart of its business and how employees are treated are how customers will be treated. (Read Tindell’s inspiring book, “Uncontainable,” for a deep dive into this stellar brand.)

And, just last year, Tindell continued to celebrate this ethos by creating The Container Store’s Employee First Fund. Here’s how it is described on the website:

The Fund provides grants to employees experiencing unforeseen emergencies like a major medical situation, a catastrophic event, or other grave challenges that they are not financially prepared to deal with. This fund will support our company’s commitment to an employee-first culture, ensuring all employees are well taken care of, safe, secure and warm. It’s a culture that is driven by our seven Foundation Principles® and results in an environment where the lives of everyone connected to our business are enriched and brimming with opportunity—where everyone can thrive—starting with our employees FIRST!

So, take heart! In this season of love, why not take some inspiration from Tindell and find a creative way show (and tell!) your employees just how much they matter to your brand!

Redefining the Art of Minding Your Ps and Qs

You know hospitality when you feel it, or as officially defined by dictionary.com it’s “the quality or disposition of receiving and treating guests and strangers in a warm, friendly, generous way.” Hospitality is actually more valuable than ever in our rushed, device-first and attention-deficit overloaded world. And yet, I find it missing in many brand experiences.

Multi-restauranteur Danny Meyer wrote a book called “Setting the Table: The Transforming Power of Hospitality in Business” that caught my attention during the holiday season. Both in his book and on his website, Meyer shares his main business philosophy that has guided all 11 of his New York-based restaurants:

This is the age of the Hospitality EconomyTM. Superior products and excellent service are no longer enough to distinguish your business. How you make your customers feel is what sets your business apart—and that’s what hospitality is all about. Organizations that embrace a hospitality strategy:
1. Earn a reputation as a best place to work
2. Win customer loyalty
3. Generate persistent top line growth

Meyer believes wholeheartedly that “Hospitality is a sustainable competitive advantage. While others try to copy your products, no one can replicate the hospitality experience you create for your stakeholders.”

I couldn’t agree more. You know hospitality when you feel it, or as officially defined by dictionary.com it’s “the quality or disposition of receiving and treating guests and strangers in a warm, friendly, generous way.” Hospitality is actually more valuable than ever in our rushed, device-first and attention-deficit overloaded world. And yet, I find it missing in many brand experiences.

Perhaps, you, too, experienced this lack of hospitality over the past holiday shopping season: Brand ambassadors who often didn’t make meaningful eye contact, brusquely said “not a problem” when there was indeed a problem you needed for them to solve, and a goodbye after a transaction without a “thank you.” Why do businesses spend lots of capital on ad campaigns and new product introductions only to slip up on these basics—the real, face-to-face human interaction?

When I do experience genuine hospitality from companies, the repercussions are long and lasting and bring a smile to my face. This is likely to happen when I fly on Southwest Airlines or grab a quick lunch at Chipotle or Chick-fil-A. These brand ambassadors exude enthusiasm, seem to truly love what they are doing and make a conscious connection to engage with their customers, to treat them as friends and in doing so, validate the reasons the customers choose to spend their time and money with these companies.

Earlier this month I checked into The Ritz-Carlton for an annual girlfriend getaway. The brand lived up to its reputation for luxurious elegance, but what impressed me most was their lived value of “being ladies and gentlemen who serve ladies and gentlemen.”

My conversations with the various Ritz-Carlton team members I encountered—whether with parking attendants, concierges, front desk clerks, wait staff or spa personnel—were gratifying. They were genuinely concerned about all aspects of my stay and welcomed me like a good friend you were looking forward to getting to know better on this visit.

I like thinking about the verbs that drive hospitality—welcome and empathize—and just how they can be leveraged to a brand’s competitive advantage. I spoke with The Ritz-Carlton’s Human Resources Manager Greg Croff about this exact topic.

“Here at The Ritz-Carlton, we are all about memory-making. We want all our interactions to be positively memorable experiences. And, it all starts with our hiring process. We look for people who care about building relationships, who are naturally empathetic and easy to talk with, who make eye contact and who truly believe it is ‘their pleasure’ to take care of our guests. We welcome our new hires in a way we want them to welcome our guests. Constant hospitality is our DNA. We reinforce this each and every day with our Daily Lineup where at the start of each shift the team gathers for 15 minutes to focus on one aspect of our Gold Standard. We share WOW! stories of how team members reinforce our service mystique. We learn from each of our ladies and gentlemen about raising the bar and creating memories.”

Just how well does your brand mind its Ps and Qs? “Please,” “thank you,” “my pleasure” … simple words and phrases that may or may not bookend a customer’s experience with your brand. Why not conduct a hospitality audit with your leadership and see if this is one area of competitive advantage your brand can improve upon this year?

Take Along, Share and Simplify: Essential Verbs to Enhance Your Brand Strategy in 2015, Part 2

Back in November, I shared with you two essential verbs to enhance your brand strategy: amaze and respect. Now I have three more verbs to share with you for your 2015 brand plans:

Back in November, I shared with you two essential verbs to enhance your brand strategy: amaze and respect. Now I have three more verbs to share with you for your 2015 brand plans:

Take Along
Pomegranates have always had a rough reputation in the world of fruit: How do you eat them? How do you peel or cut into them without getting that staining red juice all over the place? And, once you figure that out, how do you remove all those beautiful ruby seeds (actually called arils) out easily? Pomegranates are the antithesis of take-it-everywhere, eat-on-the-run bananas.

But 10 years ago, the folks at POM Wonderful took it upon themselves to make pomegranates more accessible to Americans and introduced the nutritional wonders of pomegranate juice in a big way to our health-obsessed country. Customers found POM Wonderful Juice delicious to drink, fun to hold and loved the antioxidant boost. Sales soared. Pomegranate juice became a part of healthy lifestyles.

Over time, the brand builders at POM took on this fresh fruit’s primary pain point among customers—extracting the seeds without a huge mess. There had been a brief instruction on the website, but then POM took it a step further—it was simply done for customers! POM introduced conveniently packaged arils in easy-to-tote cups so customers can use them in salads or just pop them in your mouth like you might raisins. Voila! Ease, convenience, antioxidants … all portable.

Brands that gain the coveted access into their customers’ daily lives do so by creating products that are in some way meaningful and easy to use. This “take along” effect (also mastered by others quite successfully like Starbucks and Republic of Tea with their traveler’s tins of teas) keeps a brand top of mind. Is there any way this “take along” verb would help your brand become a bigger part of your customers’ lives?

Share
GoPro’s founder and CEO, Nicholas Woodman, writes this:

We help people capture and share their lives’ most meaningful experiences with others—to celebrate them together. The world’s most versatile cameras are what we make. Enabling you to share your life through incredible photos and videos is what we do.

The verb share centers GoPro’s brand mission. Woodman elaborates, “Like how a day on the mountain with friends is more meaningful than one spent alone, the sharing of our collective experiences makes our lives more fun.” In today’s visually dominant world, the products that GoPro creates enhance its customers’ experiences and make shareability easier than ever.

As stated on the website: “Our customers include some of the world’s most active and passionate people. The volume and quality of their shared GoPro content, coupled with their enthusiasm for our brand, are virally driving awareness and demand for our products.”

Does your brand make sharing possible in some easy and virally visual way? How can you differentiate your brand through creative sharing strategies?

Simplify
In brand building exercises, it is quite common to play with questions like “What if your brand was an automobile … or a celebrity or a color? What would it be?” Those activities are often thought provoking if most of the conversation centers around the why that particular model/person/hue was chosen.

Along those playful lines, here’s another question to ponder: “What if your brand was a magazine … in this case Real Simple?” Real Simple is one of women’s favorite magazines because it truly demystifies almost everything … from cooking several course holiday dinners to removing wine stains to entertaining outdoors to mentoring. Here’s how the brand describes itself:

Real Simple is the everyday essential for today’s time-pressured woman, the guide she can trust to make her life a little easier in a world that’s more complicated by the minute. With smart strategies, genius shortcuts, and shoppable solutions, we help her simplify, streamline, and beautifully edit her life, armed with calm, confidence—and the power of the right lipstick.

Real Simple’s articles are practical and informative and surrounded by lots of white space and often summarized in the back of the physical magazine on perforated tear off cards that their readers can slip in their wallet and take to the store or save in an easy to find manner. Real Simple is part knowledgeable friend, part cheerleader, part organizer and the verb simple is a brand filter for all they do. In our complex, hyper speed, information-overloaded society, Real Simple is an oasis of uncomplicated and straightforward answers.

Customers crave simplicity (just take a peek at Google and Apple’s strategic success). Is “simplify” a conscious part of your strategic plan in 2015? How can this verb be incorporated more holistically across all your brand touchpoints?

Take along, share and simplify … three more robust verbs that have the potential to set your brand apart this next year. Think through these verbs in relation to your brand mission. Fast forward and consider how your customers might feel if these were a part of your strategy, and then, go ahead do something with these verbs!

Amaze and Respect: Essential Verbs to Enhance Your Brand Strategy in 2015, Part 1

No doubt your strategic plan has powerful verbs in it already: verbs like activate (previous customers), entice (new customers), cross-promote (merchandise across channels), engage (customers with content) and increase (profitability). I expect those verbs are baked into most plans. But brands that make a difference in the lives of their customers often add a few unexpected verbs into their strategic planning and their actions.

Harvard Business Review recently featured a cover story that promoted three key verbs as critical to marketing success: THINK, FEEL, DO. Does your 2015 brand plan include those verbs?

No doubt your strategic plan has powerful verbs in it already: verbs like activate (previous customers), entice (new customers), cross-promote (merchandise across channels), engage (customers with content) and increase (profitability). I expect those verbs are baked into most plans. But brands that make a difference in the lives of their customers often add a few unexpected verbs into their strategic planning and their actions. As the new year quickly approaches, I invite you and your team to consider a few of these:

Amaze
The brand builders at Quicken Loans, the nation’s largest online retail mortgage lender and the second largest retail home lender in the United States, have mindfully incorporated a powerful verb in its tagline: Engineered to Amaze.

The verb amaze is a driver in all of the company’s brand touchpoints—from the short video clip of Quicken Loans’ amazingly simple mortgage process on the home page to the text query (“AMAZE” to 26293) to the Zing! Blog where “Amazing Insights on Home, Money and Life” are offered to customers.

Breaking out of the maze of bureaucracy and painstaking processes that the mortgage industry is known for is what drives the leaders of Quicken Loans to create products and services that are amazingly useful to customers. Delighting its customers with a fast, efficient, friendly loan process distinguishes this brand and is part of the reason J.D. Power ranks Quicken Loans the “highest satisfaction in primary mortgage origination” for the last four years.

What do your customers find amazing about your brand? What new strategies might you adopt in the upcoming year to be even more amazingly useful to your customers?

Respect
Where does the verb respect fit in your brand’s DNA? For Jeffrey Raider and Andy Katz-Mayfield, the two co-founders of Harry’s, an online men’s shaving boutique, this verb dominates their strategy. Here’s how the two describe their service:

Like most of you, we’ve long had to choose between over-priced, over-marketed razors that disrespect your intelligence, and low quality, cheap razors that disrespect your face. We knew there had to be a better way, so we created Harry’s as a return to the essential: a great shave at a fair price.

Respecting customer intelligence, respecting the customer’s face, lathering in an edited and simplified shopping experience (like one of these men did in his first business—Warby Parker) and creating a meaningful charitable connection all adds up to a new venture that elevates a daily chore. Harry’s believes “a great shave is powerful, preparing you to conquer the world in your own way, every day.”

It’s apparent that this respect for their customer’s time, attention and wallet coupled with respect for the activity of shaving informed all Raider’s and Katz-Mayfield’s brand launch decisions. The co-founders conducted their own shave tests and found all existing products on the market lacking. In addition to finding a European manufacturer to make a different type of blade, it led them to reconfigure the razor handles and craft two unique and exclusive Harry offerings: The Winston and The Truman, inspired by old pens and knives.

“With Harry’s,” Raider says in a Fast Company interview, “I think we care about customers a lot, but it’s more about respecting them and giving them a product they really like, but not overwhelming them with choice-just sort of giving them a shaving tool we think will work really well.”

Plain and simple, how well does your brand respect your customers’ attention, time and wallet? In 2015, how can you be ever more respectful?

Tune in in early December for the final three verbs you should use to enhance your brand strategy in 2015!

Is It Time for a True Goodbye?

As I reflected on a client interaction I had this week, I thought about how helpful it is for organizations to learn from the past and then also to let go. I had facilitated a meeting where we tried to embrace failure not as life-over, but simply as feedback—to have a more positive outlook on the unplanned learning lessons that failure brings a brand. It was a tough sell. These young, smart, good-hearted brand builders were perfectionists. They only ever saw A+ on their report cards. Red Fs would have been scarring.

This morning we woke up to our first snow in the foothills of the Rockies. Even though it was only a light sprinkling—like powdered sugar on our lawn—it seemed entirely way too soon. We were not ready to say a goodbye to summer. We assumed we had a couple more weeks to enjoy patio dinners, the window boxes in full bloom and the hummingbirds on the feeders. We had to readjust.

Later in the day, I read this from Jeffrey McDaniel: “I realize there’s something incredibly honest about trees in winter, how they’re experts at letting things go.” I appreciated this advance lesson about winter … it helped me set my favorite season aside and anticipate the cozy fires in the woodstove, cross-country skiing and holiday family gatherings.

Many of my clients are multichannel retailers who introduce hundreds of new products in a season. Very few of these new rollouts become brand rockstars (as I call their bestsellers); many more end up in the middle of the performance pack and the rest trickle towards the bottom. This is a repeat pattern. I believe there is as much value in the bottom learnings as there are in the top-of-chart learnings. The conversations about the bestsellers are just more fun.

As I reflected on a client interaction I had this week, I thought about how helpful it is for organizations to learn from the past and then also to let go. I had facilitated a meeting where we tried to embrace failure not as life-over, but simply as feedback—to have a more positive outlook on the unplanned learning lessons that failure brings a brand. It was a tough sell. These young, smart, good-hearted brand builders were perfectionists. They only ever saw A+ on their report cards. Red Fs would have been scarring.

But, here’s the thing: Unplanned lessons are the exact opposite of lesson plans … those neat and tidy curriculum plans teachers try to follow until the students show up and things go awry. We often learn more from things that don’t quite go the way we hoped than things that do. If we dare to review our actions.

In a BusinessWeek article entitled “Radio Flyer Learns from a Crash,” Thomas Schlegel, VP for product development at Radio Flyer shared his thoughts on a product launch that was halted. After months of development and lots of production time and dollars, Schlegel scrapped it. “It didn’t live up to Radio Flyer standard,” he said. According to the article, “his boss, Robert Pasin, CEO, told Schlegel failure was OK as long as the company learned from it. Pasin now holds a regular breakfast for new employees at which he impresses upon them the idea that failure is inevitable if you want to innovate and valuable if you can learn from it. And after every project ends—whether the project has been shipped or been killed—Radio Flyer is developing what Schlegel describes as an ‘autopsy without blame,’ in which everyone involved in the development of a product discusses four questions: What went well on the project? What didn’t go well on the project? What did we learn? And, what are we going to do next?”

Author James Joyce gives us a new perspective on unplanned lessons: “A man of genius makes no mistakes. His errors are volitional and are the portals of discovery.” Bravo to Radio Flyer. They made discoveries and acted on their volitional errors!

So, I switched gears in my client meeting and described to these Type A risk-averse professionals how another client actually embraces failures—publicly and light-heartedly. This company even had more than 300,000 customers take a tour of its flops: Ben & Jerry’s Flavor Graveyard. It’s a real live collection of 31 ice cream mistakes and missteps over the years memorialized for all to see.

Ellen Kresky, Creative Director for Ben & Jerry’s shares this: “One of my favorite things about Ben & Jerry’s is that we’re not afraid to acknowledge our shortcomings or failures to consumers. Take our Flavor Graveyard for example. We use it on our website, and you can actually go visit real tombstones at our Waterbury tour. The Flavor Graveyard features limericks to eulogize our flavor bombs. We even sell Flavor Graveyard t shirts. A few years ago we had a contest to bring consumers’ favorite flavor back from the dead for a limited time in scoop shops. A lot of us were secretly hoping that a flavor with a low gross margin would win so that consumers would benefit in more ways than one. And our wish came true. For me, this is an example of contrarian brand management. Projects like this help continue to build consumer love and trust, and manage to do that in an un-contrived way that stays true to our roots.”

I know it used to be a common practice for many multichannelers to take the time to have strategic post-mortem conversations evaluating a season’s results by sales channels (retail, on-line and catalog) and by customer segments. Product visual boards would be created and the nuances of what worked and what didn’t would be discussed along with promotional strategies and competitive tactics and offerings. In today’s attention deficit business culture where every one is chasing the next new thing, I’m afraid these important cross-departmental meetings have morphed into line item reports read individually and acted upon in silos. The subtle underlying threads of what didn’t work do not get fully analyzed and the real failure of this short cut practice is that similar mistakes get made again (and possibly again).

I am a proponent of serious, slow talk (like the Slow Food, Slow Travel and Slow Christmas movements!) post mortems where true learning and insights can occur. I have both led and participated in these with my clients and they work and are worth it. Stop and think time. Concentrated focus on the previous season’s happenings both for your brand and your customers’ experience with your brand. Free flow of information. Open agenda. Robust conversations. Potential surprise endings.

So, have you dared to slow down and look back with your brand team? Why not take time to better understand and collaboratively converse about your brand faux paus openly and then, and only then, bid them a true goodbye!

Season’s Greetings!

Perhaps like me, you love summer and all it entails: longer days, outdoor play, flip-flop casualness, patio grilling, hummingbirds, wildflowers and a beachy attitude (even here in the midst of the Rocky Mountains). As a greeting card from artist Renee Reese playfully reminded me, the summer season is nearing its end. Rather than bemoan its passing, why not spend some time with your brand leaders reflecting on these questions.

Perhaps like me, you love summer and all it entails: longer days, outdoor play, flip-flop casualness, patio grilling, hummingbirds, wildflowers and a beachy attitude (even here in the midst of the Rocky Mountains). As a greeting card from artist Renee Reese playfully reminded me, the summer season is nearing its end. Rather than bemoan its passing, why not spend some time with your brand leaders reflecting on these questions:

Has your brand taken full advantage of this season’s learnings? For companies like Ben & Jerry’s, these 100 days from Memorial Day to Labor Day are the company’s prime ice cream selling days. For back-to-school retailers like Bed, Bath and Beyond and Staples, the late summer proves to be a mini-Christmas. Nordstrom’s annual Anniversary Sale in July/August is highly anticipated by its customers and gives the company a retail boost that most of their competitors won’t see until the fourth quarter. Even if your peak selling seasons don’t fall in this timeframe and your brand braces itself for the dog days of summer, it still can be a quietly productive time of the year. What did your brand do differently these past 100 days to help strengthen your customer engagement for the next 100? What more did you learn about your customers’ lives and pain points that will enhance your service levels and enrich your product development efforts?

If indeed this is a quieter season for your brand, why not literally get out of your office, away from your devices and take your leaders on a Brand Vacation day to explore and learn from what other companies in noncompetitive industries are doing? Go to a gardening center and see how the owners entice their customers to keep coming back for more plants and flowers all summer long. Go to a new restaurant in your town and see just what the trendy new chef is cooking up to lure patrons to this establishment. Go to a store in the midst of back-to-school madness and see how it organizes and promotes each school’s necessities for the kids and parents. Go to any enthusiast-specific retailer (camping, cooking, beauty, hardware) and see what impulse items they are selling to their brand fans. Gather back together and relax over a summer cocktail and talk about these field trip learnings and their potential impact and inspiration for your brand.

For many of my clients, taking time to pause, to play and to embrace a different pace—if even for an afternoon—is something that falls off the urgency-driven to do list. However, as Stephen Covey reminds us, it is just this kind of important time that refreshes and reenergizes your team and prompts new thinking.

After reflecting on these questions with your team, why not construct your own summer season greeting card to tuck away for next year as a reminder to embrace these 100 days fully?

PS If you’d like to order this handmade card, you can find it here on Etsy.

Linger Longer: A Branding Imperative

“Summer afternoon—summer afternoon; to me those have always been the two most beautiful words in the English language,” wrote Henry James. I couldn’t agree more. I just love summer. Summer is the time for a new speed. For sauntering and slowing down. For purposefully stretching those extra long afternoons into all sorts of pleasurable outdoor activities like gardening or grilling or just unscheduled hammock time. For three- or four-day long weekends spent with family and friends or just catching up with yourself. For easy everything.

“Summer afternoon—summer afternoon; to me those have always been the two most beautiful words in the English language,” wrote Henry James. I couldn’t agree more. I just love summer. Summer is the time for a new speed. For sauntering and slowing down. For purposefully stretching those extra long afternoons into all sorts of pleasurable outdoor activities like gardening or grilling or just unscheduled hammock time. For three- or four-day long weekends spent with family and friends or just catching up with yourself. For easy everything.

I think brands have a lesson to learn from this time of the year. Summer is the season that encourages lingering. Brands that consciously create space and time for customers to linger within their brand experience win their hearts. Grant it, sometimes you want to dash into a store (or website), hunt down your purchase and leave promptly. Other times, a store, a site, an atmosphere is so compelling you want to linger and linger and linger some more.

Terrain is one of those kinds of places. It’s part of the Urban Outfitters family of creative retailers whose stated goal is “to offer a product assortment and an environment so compelling and distinctive that the customer feels an empathetic connection to the brand and is persuaded to buy.”

Terrain was designed purposefully for leisurely strolls through all its “mini-terrains”—eclectic little rooms and areas that beckon customers with all sorts of indoor-outdoor lifestyle products the company hopes you’ll find irresistible. The merchant has waved its magic fairy dust over everything: meals, merchandise assortments and even Web copy to create a menagerie you want to somehow recreate in your own life.

Terrain has elevated lingering to an art form with experiential pauses built into its brand DNA. Both stores have delicious “farm-to-table” restaurants that encourage spontaneous long lunches and Sunday brunches, as well as scheduled events and workshops. Here’s the invitation the Terrain restaurant in Glen Mills, Pa. puts forth:

Share our local, organic meals with close family and friends as you create lasting memories in our charming antique greenhouse. Taking your personal style, interpreting it by our talented culinary team, and presenting it all in our horticultural setting, we’ll create a truly unique experience for you and your guests. We work tirelessly to craft an environment that aesthetically and gastronomically reflects the cycle of the seasons.

President Wendy McDevitt shared this in a Bloomberg interview: “Customers typically spend 1.5 hours browsing Terrain and that can double to three hours if they’re visiting the café and shopping between glasses of wine or lunch. The one thing you can’t get in the cyberworld is the tactile experience and that won’t go away.”

Lingering happens online as well as you stroll through their three main categories with simple teasers like Garden + Outdoor, House + Home, Jewelry + Accessories. Spend time on Terrain’s site and you’ll want to know more about Branches + Bunches or what’s in The Reading Room or what Wanderlust is all about. You are enticed by the plus and you aren’t disappointed. The Bulletin, Terrain’s eclectic, informative blog is like a gardening class, cooking class, landscaping class, and artist date all rolled into one lovely scroll you can’t help but linger on.

Does your overall product experience invite lingering? Is it a sensory, tactile experience? What unusual product assortment combinations might you create to entice your customers to linger longer within your brand?

Make Brand Waves This Summer!

A recent Sperry Top-Sider ad caught my attention. In five sentences, the brand story of Sperry Top-Sider was succinctly and engagingly told. I believe it also unpacks two important lessons for all brand-builders.

A recent Sperry Top-Sider ad caught my attention with this bite-sized story:

A Man – A Boat – A Dog

A True Story

The seas were rough. A man was tossed about trying to steady his sails and struggled to find sure footing. Paul Sperry almost lost his life that day. He was a lifelong sailor and inventor, driven to perfect a non-slip boat shoe. One day after watching his dog dart effortlessly across the ice, he carved grooves—like those on his dog’s paws—into the bottom of a rubber sole. In that moment of inspiration, the legend of Paul Sperry was born.

In five sentences, the brand story of Sperry Top-Sider was succinctly and engagingly told. I believe it also unpacks two important lessons for all brand-builders:

1. What is your brand driven to perfect? A former Sperry Top-Sider ad was headlined with the words: MAKE WAVES. This innovative, problem-solving mindset is part of Sperry’s brand DNA and drives all they do. Their “passion for the sea” infuses their brand with a desire to make life better for those who love being near the ocean. Does your brand provide buzz-worthy, practical and useful solutions for your customers?

2. Where do your brand ambassadors—those creating problem-solving products and services—get their inspiration? How much time is dedicated to “moodling” and looking up and outside your industry for creative solutions? A similar story to Paul Sperry’s can be told about Martin Keen, founder of the KEEN sandals. After he perfected the design of a practical hybrid sandal and grew KEEN into a significant brand in the outdoor sporting world, he found inspiration for his second company in his barn. A rusted metal stool with a tractor seat became the impetus for his ergonomically designed Locus Seat, marketed as the “the perfect balance between sitting and standing.” Rarely is brand inspiration found in a cubicle.

This summer, why not give your brand the gift of spaciousness and see what waves you might make?

At Your Service! Really!

I had to meet a friend unexpectedly at the hospital the other day. As you would expect, my mind was racing with all sorts of “what ifs.” I was wondering where to park when I pulled into the main entrance, and several kind people positioned at the door offered to valet my car and escort me to where I needed to go. This level of service reminiscent of a fine hotel, not a hospital, pleasantly surprised me. Genuine helpfulness and sincere caring. (And, thankfully, all turned out well for my friend.)

I had to meet a friend unexpectedly at the hospital the other day. As you would expect, my mind was racing with all sorts of “what ifs.” I was wondering where to park when I pulled into the main entrance, and several kind people positioned at the door offered to valet my car and escort me to where I needed to go. This level of service reminiscent of a fine hotel, not a hospital, pleasantly surprised me. Genuine helpfulness and sincere caring. (And, thankfully, all turned out well for my friend.)

As a brand strategist and a customer of many brands, I am in tune to the many ways companies tout their customer service. If your experiences are akin to mine, actual meaningful and truly excellent service still seems to be a rarity. Customer service gets lots of talk time (the one true brand differentiator!) these days, but is it time to double check and see if your brand is paying more than lip service to this important customer-centric activity?

Do you know if your service level is actually accomplishing what matters most to your customers? Would customers consider it a concierge experience? Take a peek at these examples and see how a few companies pay more than lip service to this important function:

Focus: Target Audience
Bed Bath & Beyond knows that the back-to-school season is almost akin to Christmas-in-August for its brand. With thousands of new freshmen heading to campuses nationwide in need of all things dorm related, Bed Bath & Beyond has truly gone beyond in creating an amazingly useful college-prepping brand experience. The website is chockfull of helpful advice about pertinent things top-of-mind for new college students. Take a peek at the topics covered in their online College Checklist:

  • Storing Your Stuff
  • Making Your Bed Better
  • Climate Control
  • An Inspiring Work Area
  • Resolving Technical Difficulties
  • Keeping Your Room Clean
  • Doing Laundry
  • Surviving a Shared Bathroom

After perusing both a printed checklist, a succinct magalog and an online version, students can enter their colleges in the company’s website and see if there are convenient Bed Bath & Beyond locations near their dorms so they don’t have to haul all this new merchandise from home. This concierge-esque brand takes it even a step further and has prepared lists of what the specific colleges and universities have already provided, what they want students to bring and what is not allowed. There’s even a college registry available, all set for family members who may want to gift the new freshmen upon high school graduation with these dorm life must haves.

And, once those students are settled in and living their particular collegiate lives, Bed Bath & Beyond continues to develop its student relationships with a “Grade My Space” program described as follows:

Grade My Space is a new interactive site where you’ll get an inside look at college living spaces and residence halls. Students connect and share ideas, designs, comments and provide the inside scoop on campus living and more.

How might your brand borrow brilliantly from Bed Bath & Beyond and put this usefulness in action for one of your specific customer segments?

Focus: Product Category
Target’s “guest-centric” brand attitude has always hit the bull’s eye, but the company is building on this experience in one particular category in a more nuanced way across 300 of its stores—Beauty. According to a recent press release:

Participating stores are staffed with a Target Beauty Concierge, a highly-trained, brand agnostic beauty enthusiast who is available to answer guests’ questions in-store. Serving as a trusted expert, the Beauty Concierge provides guests with personalized, detailed and unbiased information about beauty and personal care products offered at Target and acts as a knowledgeable source of advice in what can sometimes be an intimidating department. Beauty Concierges are located in the beauty aisles at Target wearing a distinct black apron. No appointment is necessary.

In addition to Target doing this with beauty, Lands End has done this with swimwear … a troublesome category for many women. Might there be a department or category within your brand that customers would welcome some one-on-one consultation? How might you enhance your service level in a key product category to generate not only more sales, but a more customer-centric experience?

Company-Wide Focus
Nordstrom has long wowed its customers with service that goes the extra mile. Today, its website reminds customers that unlike some other department stores, working with Nordstrom personal stylists is “fast, fun, free and zero pressure!” They’ll even prep your dressing room for you in advance of your visit.

“We’ll be there the whole time to offer new suggestions and honest advice—even if you are only looking to research, not to buy.” My girlfriend utilized this service in helping outfit her son, a new college graduate preparing for an international job opportunity. Not only was the time saved important, but now this stylist has all his measurements and style/color preferences recorded to make future shopping needs a breeze.

Office supply multichanneler, Staples, also is promising a company-wide concierge experience to back up its brand promise of “EASY”! Under its “Need Help?” tab is a listing for Product Concierge. Here’s what Staples says:

Can’t find what you’re looking for? We’re here to help! If you need help tracking down an item, we’ll search for it for you-even if it’s something we don’t currently have on our site. Tell us a bit more about the product and we’ll do our best to find it. There’s no obligation to buy.

Might your brand be able to promote this kind of across-the-board expectation? If not, what might have to change to do so?

Truly serving your customers concierge-style takes a full commitment from each and every brand ambassador within your company. It requires active listening and keen observation. It requires a servant heart and a willingness to sweat the small stuff to provide an excellent and memorable experience that will not only delight your customers once but keep them coming back for more … and raving about your brand to others.