Brand Matters: Brand Bookends
Have you ever thought about where and how your brand story begins and ends? What emotional feelings are being conveyed as your customers enter and exit your brand experience? These beginnings and endings are important impression makers. It pays to take some "stop and think" time to evaluate how graciously and memorably you are saying hello and goodbye to your customers.
In working with one of my client's customer care teams recently, I borrowed customer service pioneer Jeanne Bliss' metaphor and question: "What are your customer experience bookends?"
I love the visual metaphor Bliss uses, as it resonates with my feeling that brands are stories, with real introductions, conclusions, themes, chapters and mini-vignettes in between the covers. I brought in heart-shaped bookends for my meeting and then left them with my client as a perpetual reminder to think about how they are "bookending" their brand on a daily basis.
Brand Welcome Mats
Many of my clients are surprised when I tell them what an important role their front desks, front doors, homepages and/or receptionists play in creating an inviting brand welcome mat. Bliss takes it a step further in her book, "I Love You More than My Dog: Five Decisions That Drive Extreme Customer Loyalty in Good Times and Bad" and shares an example from Conn.-based Griffin Hospital: "Griffin had to stop executing required tasks and determine what experience [it] would deliver, what patient and family emotions were involved. What [it] found was that the emotional journey of going to the hospital begins in the parking lot. So Griffin provides free valet parking and concierge services. Music in the parking lots and lobby welcomes visitors and takes away the 'sterile' hospital feeling."
Seeker-friendly churches such as Willow Creek Community Church of Barrington, Ill. and Saddleback Church of Lake Forest, Calif. also subscribe to this "parking-lot-as-brand-touchpoint" philosophy and have greeters in their parking lots waving to folks as they drive in each Sunday morning. This "live" welcome mat is an unexpected touch, and first-time visitors comment on how surprised they were to be acknowledged so cordially. It made them feel that their presence mattered; this brand hello set the tone for the rest of their church experience.
Think about some other ways people and companies create anticipation for their products, services or events: Beautifully worded menus set the tone for delicious dining experiences. Cleverly designed hotel key cards can give travelers a glimpse of the room and atmosphere that awaits them. All these purposeful beginnings require proactive attention and intentional consideration. By pre-opening the brand door in ways like these, brand leaders have the ability to predispose their customers to a distinguished experience.
How does your brand say "I'm glad you are here!" to your customers? Is it a purposeful and memorable hello or is it a tired and less-than-enthusiastic greeting? Why not have your brand leaders pay attention to what kind of welcome mats your company and others in and out of your industry lay at the feet of your customers, and then brandstorm ways to create a more impressionable brand beginning.
Because most companies spend so much of their time in the day-to-day "middle chapters" of their brand stories (creating unique products and services, executing shipments, delivering on agreements, etc.), their brand conclusions are often overlooked. Hopefully they remember the very minimal closing thank you (note, card or comment) to their customers, but endings have as much opportunity for remarkableness as do beginnings.
Luxury-home builders Gary and Susan Lauria have this quote as part of their Lauria Builders mission: "Every job is a self-portrait of the person who did it. Autograph your work with excellence." I like to think about brand endings as the time you get to put the final autograph on your work. Are you taking full advantage of this opportunity?
The Moorings is a world leader in providing yacht charters. When my husband and I were sailing crew with friends on a Moorings charter in Australia, this company impressed us from start to finish. When we decided to do a bareboat charter for the first time many years ago in the Caribbean, we called The Moorings. While there is much to say about the entire customer experience and adventure, I will always remember one small ending detail. In our mailbox (pre-Internet days) when we returned home was a breathtaking postcard of another island destination, thanking us for choosing to charter with The Moorings and an invitation and discounted offer to book that next memorable sailing vacation; The Moorings knew to connect with their customers while they were still on their "sailing highs." This postcard campaign was both a wonderful ending to one brand experience, and possibly an enticing beginning to the next. Two bookends in one double-duty brand communication tool.
How does your brand end its customer experience chapter? Is it in a way that leaves your customers hungry for their next experience or glad it's over? Is your brand ending full of gratitude or nonpersonal attitude? Why not have your brand leaders pay attention to what kind of goodbyes your company and others in and out of your industry use, and then brandstorm ways to create a more positive and lingering brand experience conclusion.
Brand bookends are another avenue to encapsulate your customer experience in a way that differentiates you from your competitors. As a brand leader, you know these are significant moments to create lasting impressions. Don't waste them.
Andrea Syverson is president of IER Partners, a strategic consulting company specializing in innovative brand and merchandising directions, and author of "BRANDABOUT: A Seriously Playful Approach for Passionate Brand-Builders and Merchants." She may be reached at email@example.com.