There are many elements that make up a branding strategy, but the most important is how the people of a company exemplify the brand when they interact with customers. It’s branding at the human level – and it’s the pivotal point where many brand promises fall apart.
Think about the last time you had a bad customer service experience. A negative encounter with a human being who works at a company – during a customer service call or a visit to their retail store, for example – can irreparably harm your perception of the company’s brand. No matter how much great marketing or advertising the company sends your way afterwards, what you’ll remember most is how you felt when you experienced the brand at the human level.
The good news is that a positive encounter can have the opposite effect on brand perceptions and customer relationships. When you have a terrific customer experience, your positive feelings about how you were treated become part of your perception of the company’s value, which is what the brand should represent. You might even become an advocate for the brand, someone who tells others about your brand loyalty. That’s the Holy Grail of branding strategy and the goal of every smart marketer.
Here’s a personal example from my recent experience at a Nordstrom department store. Entire case studies have been written about Nordstrom’s extraordinary commitment to customer service. I once had a Nordstrom salesperson who was selling me a pair of dress pants go to another retailer in a mall in California to find a belt that would be the perfect accessory. That was more than 20 years ago, but it was so amazing, I still remember it.
Just this week, in Columbus, Ohio, another Nordstrom employee delivered on the brand promise at the human level once again.
I was shopping with my daughter to buy her a new pair of sneakers when the Nordstrom sales representative noticed my shoes, a pair of New Balance 845 running shoes. She pointed out that Nordstrom had the same shoes on sale this week-would I like to pick up another pair at a sale price?
Bingo. I already had “buy another pair of these great running shoes” on my to-do list. I was going to order them online, but I bought them on the spot at Nordstrom and saved money in the process, thanks to a perceptive, sharp-eyed salesperson.
Most companies train their salespeople to up-sell and cross-sell. When you’re buying a pair of shoes, a sales pitch for socks or shoe cleaner is to be expected.
But this was an entirely different level of salesmanship and service. Because Nordstrom trains its staff to quickly gain an understanding of the customer and look for ways to make the shopping experience unforgettable, they consistently deliver on their brand promise at the human level.
That’s the kind of branding strategy that turns people into advocates. And it sells a lot of shoes.