Brands are born from experience. Common Brand Touchpoints including icons, graphics, websites and marketing materials should be a reflection of a “brand’s reality”, but they alone do not form the brand entirely. We believe a brand is reflected most acutely by the “felt sense”; the ethereal sub conscious feeling you get from interacting with a brand.
Starbucks, for example, has mastered the art of the “felt sense”. When asked, most Starbucks customers likely will share a similar experience with you: positive remarks about consistent product, consistent atmosphere, and a general positioning in their mind of Starbucks as a premium coffee destination.
So how does Starbucks do it, and how can you?
Starbucks starts everything with a documented promise, which could easily serve as an overall brand-promise: “To provide an uplifting experience that enriches people”s daily lives.” Interesting, primarily because it says nothing about their core (and truly overpriced) product: coffee! In fact, the entire culture of Starbucks is built around experience, first. They believe that if their partners (at Starbucks, employees are referred to as partners) are equipped with effective product knowledge first, then their minds are free to offer a sincere customer experience with every opportunity. This is the primary reason why Starbucks spends so little on advertising, and re-allocates the would-be advertising fund to human resource development, primarily in the areas of product knowledge and customer service training. 11,000 locations later, they have proven that they can build a world-class brand, without spending world-class dollars on product advertising. They believe that their best ad is the last customer that walked out of a Starbucks store, and they have proven it to be correct. The powers-that-be at Starbucks know full well that their people are often the first interaction customers will have with the brand and as such warrant the bulk of their promotional investment.
More than just focusing on their employees though, Starbucks also has aggressively pursued the positioning of their stores as being a “third destination” between work and home, and have thus oriented the in-store experience to match that of their take-out experience. Far from being limited to logos on coffee cups and store-fronts world-wide, the “felt sense” of the Starbucks brand extends to the overall physical space and experience of purchasing and enjoying Starbucks” product. Additionally, the true “advertising/marketing” budget Starbucks” allocates in its traditional markets is typically in the form of community partnership and engagement, like community program sponsorship, youth group support and as the hub of community interaction and engagement ” all experience-based; a better spend of money, and a far cry from the crass, in-your-face advertising other similar brands tend to favour.
Can the same principals be applied to other brands, even if they are not in the food service industry? Absolutely, and there are strategic experts *ahem* that can help with this process. We think of it as building a brand from the inside, out. It comes down to knowing when (and how) to invest your marketing, communication and HR dollars, and building the right strategy for your brand and business goals. If your company offers industrial tools, corporate accounting service, strategic consulting or even janitorial services, there is significant opportunity to apply similar philosophies, and build a genuine brand experience.
Start with a promise, make a wholesale commitment to executing it by training your employees, partners and associates, and define the guiding principals that determine (and differentiate) who you truly are. Do not enforce rules; rather, coach people on adopting the brand principles and remember that your people are often your greatest brand asset. Encourage an atmosphere of empowerment, and reward positive behavior. Most importantly, lead by example, and demonstrate sincere belief in what you are doing. Genuine brands start with stating beliefs, and sincere brands live by them.