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Brand Matters : Season of Thanks

How your brand can show employees, customers and vendors appreciation any time of the year

December 2012 By Andrea Syverson
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Remember this cheer often chanted on school buses in your youth? "Two, four, six, eight, who do we appreciate?" And everyone yelled, "The BUS DRIVER!"

Recently the entire brand team at CHEFS, a multichanneler of kitchen goods, got to put this cheer into action. President & CEO, Tim Littleton, and all the employees at CHEFS felt strongly that they had the brave team at Colorado Springs Fire Station No. 9 to thank for saving the neighborhood and area surrounding their company during this summer's devastating Waldo Canyon Fire.

One of Colorado's most destructive fires ever, it caused more than 32,000 residential evacuations and burned almost 350 homes. Littleton said, "CHEFS wanted to show our appreciation in a way that was unique to our brand, and we thought that adopting a firehouse kitchen was the best thing we could do."

The firefighters, who work 24-hour shifts, take turns cooking meals for one another. Their existing kitchen was a motley collection of equipment and utensils. CHEFS raised thousands of dollars from their associates and showed the firefighters a little "CHEFS LOVE" through an extravagant gifting of new, top-quality kitchen gear.

It was a Christmas morning experience in the firehouse that day. The best gift of all, though, was a customized Kitchen Aid electric mixer that CHEFS had painted to match a fire engine. The firefighters were elated, but so was CHEFS. "What fun it was for our team to show our sincere appreciation to these firefighters for risking their lives to save our community. We really couldn't have said thank you enough," Littleton shared.

How is your brand expressing its gratitude to its employees? Its customers? Its partners? Do you have a gratitude strategy? I applaud businesses that make gratitude part of their business life. Here are just a few examples to inspire your own strategy:

Employees
What makes employees feel appreciated these days? It runs the gamut from flexible work hours to verbal recognition on great behavior to compensation that rewards risk. More often than not, though, it's the little things.

Sam Walton, founder of Wal-Mart, echoed his gratitude strategy this way: "Nothing else can quite substitute for a few well-chosen, well-timed, sincere words of praise. They're absolutely free—and worth a fortune."

Doug Conant, CEO of Campbell Soup, lived the Campbell Promise: "Campbell valuing people; people valuing Campbell." One way he expressed that to his 20,000 employees was by taking the time to send handwritten notes. He estimates that during the course of his tenure at Campbell he wrote more than 30,000 thank you notes to employees. "I made it personal at Campbell," he stated in an interview for Harvard Business Review.

Recently, I led a brand team exercise with one of my clients and gave each member of the team three thank you notes. I asked them to write one to a member of their department and to use the other two to connect with people outside their department. I wanted to remind these hard-charging, 115 MPH people to take note of how others had helped them accomplish their goals. We can sometimes forget how powerful those two little words are in the midst of our hyper accelerated business speed these days.

Customers
L.L. Bean is a company that has been graciously customer-centric for its centennial. As a way to celebrate its 100th anniversary, it launched a sweepstakes that is a real win for its cardholders.

L.L. Bean rewards cardmembers have an opportunity for a chance to win one of 25 prizes each month from March through December. Monthly prizes include (10) $500 L.L.Bean Gift Cards, (10) pairs of Bean Boots, (1) Camping Package, (1) Kayaking Package, (1) 100th Collectors Knife & Case, (1) Double L Fly Rod and Reel Package and (1) $500 L.L.Bean Outdoor Discovery Schools Adventure Gift Card. The grand prize is $1 million cash.

"The company has always been about helping families get outside and enjoy outdoor activities. These prizes—and certainly the grand prize—will help people do just that," said Shelly Bartlett, vice president of card services at L.L.Bean. "The sweepstakes is a fun way for our cardmembers to join our 100th celebration. We have also made the entry process as simple as possible—no forms to fill out, online codes to enter."

Clothier retailers Ann Taylor, J. Crew and Boston Proper each send thank you postcards signed by their presidents in all outgoing orders.

What big and small ways might you show your customers some brand love?

Vendors
Not only is The Container Store, a leading retailer of storage and organization products, quite intentional in expressing appreciation to its employees in the establishment of an annual "National We Love Our Employees Day," but the retailer feels the same way toward its vendors and partners. It's one of The Container Store's foundation principles and is stated boldly on the website: "We believe in creatively crafting mutually beneficial vendor relationships."

CEO Kip Tindell gave a talk this year at the Retail BIG Show and explained this further:

People worldwide grow up believing that business is a zero-sum game: that you cannot gain without taking something from the person you're doing business with. That's patently false. There is such a thing as synergy, which creates the most profitable endeavors and long-lasting relationships in business. The circle of stakeholders is being balanced by these management executives in such a way that they create synergy that is beneficial for all, because business really and truly is not a zero-sum game. You don't have to screw around the other guy in order to get ahead; you can find ways for it to be truly a synergistic situation. I hate to say 'win-win', because so many people believe they don't exist, but they do. ... We treat our suppliers the same way we treat our customers; we have wonderfully long-term relationships with them.

What are some ways your brand might be able to show your vendors and partners just how much they matter to your success?

Gratitude. It's never out of season. Make it an everyday thing!

Andrea Syverson, author of "BrandAbout: A Seriously Playful Approach for Passionate Brand-Builders and Merchants," is president of IER Partners, a strategic consulting company. Reach her at asyverson@ierpartners.com.


 

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