Engaging CultureMedia Production

The Importance of Living Your Brand

Last week, I had an interesting experience in the Dallas airport that made me realize just how much everyone in your organization needs to live your brand. I’ve always been fascinated by Howard Schultz, the founder of Starbucks, not only for his vision, but the way he designed the stores as a 3rd place (after home and work). The design, attributes, and products in a typical store were carefully developed, and his desire to reflect a great coffee experience is notable. But last week, I was reminded that with thousands of employees, just how hard it must be for Starbucks (and other big companies) to train employees to live out the brand on a day to day basis.

At DFW Airport, American Airlines Terminal A, next to Gate 13 there’s a Starbucks. At 3:15 on Wednesday, while waiting for my flight, I ordered an iced soy latte. I first noticed something odd, when the lady in front of me asked for a drink that was clearly on the menu, but the cashier argued that the drink didn’t exist. Trying to be nice, the lady kept pointing to the menu board, but the cashier wouldn’t even turn around, he just kept saying there was no such drink. Finally, I leaned over and with a little more authority asked him to take a look, and sure enough, there was the drink, right on the menu. But rather than apologize to the customer, he just grunted and rung up the order without a word.

Next, as the barista was fixing my iced soy latte, she inexplicably started squirting caramel into the drink. I asked her what she was doing, and obviously annoyed, she replied, “Putting soy into it.” When I told her that was caramel, not soy, she looked at it, put down the bottle, picked up a spoon, and start trying to scoop the caramel out of the drink. She literally took the drink over to the trash, scooped about a third off the top, put the lid on it, and handed it to me. Pieces of caramel were still floating around, and I had about a third less of the drink in the cup. It was one of those truly amazing moments in customer service…

When I asked her to start all over, she just scowled at me, and refused to speak. She re-did the drink, but obviously was not happy. As I walked away, I noticed the same barista set up the next customer’s drink without putting the top on correctly, so when the customer picked it up, it spilled everywhere. Once again, she simply acted annoyed at the customer.

The point is this – at that moment, all the millions of dollars in advertising, creative marketing, store design, brilliant executives, and great products didn’t matter. The entire brand came down to that single indifferent employee.

Likewise, during the Jet Blue disaster not so long ago so many of their jets sat on the runways for hours during the Christmas rush, none of Jet Blue’s special ticket prices, advertising, innovative marketing, creative efforts, or anything else mattered. To those customers sitting frustrated on the planes, the flight attendants represented that brand, and in the airport, the ticket agents did the same. How those employees reacted to the customers either built customer loyalty or destroyed it.

If you’re church, ministry, or non-profit, whatever you’ve spent on advertising, promotions, branding, or design, can all be obliterated with a single rude usher, phone operator, receptionist, or other employee. Employees and volunteers are the point people in the branding war, and if they’re not qualified soldiers, you’ll lose the battle.

Too many organizations never take the time to share the brand with every employee, from the front office to the shipping department. Train all your employees, and take the time to encourage them to live the brand, every minute they’re on the job. Considering all the interactions your employees have with customers, members of the congregation, donors, or supporters during the workweek, it can make a significant difference in your success.

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  1. Great analogy. It was almost 11 years ago that I moved to Charlotte NC. When I attended First Assembly of Charlotte, I was greeted by several men, officially when I walked in of course, but also by men that would approach my wife and I and introduce themselves – even after we had already taken a seat. I wouldn’t decide on any church after one service, so of course I went back the next week. Four men that never knew me before the previous week, came up to me, shook my hand, and asked me how I was doing – BY NAME. This was not a huge church, but it was not “small” either. I think attendance at the time was between 200 and 300. THAT made an impression.

    You can profess to be a church that cares, but if you don’t show it to a new person, then the branding stopped there. When individuals make an effort to “live” the brand, the reach is much more powerful.

  2. Another example showing that real branding exists in the mind of the customer and is mostly influenced by customer experience, not advertising, logos, or press releases.


  3. I have also seen that brand slide.  I went into a Boston store and asked for an Extra Large Iced Tea.  The clerk froze and looked at me "Sorry.  We don't have Extra Large Iced Tea.  Only Large."

    It was funny because (A) they indeed had extra large iced tea and (B) the guy acted as though I would not be interested in a a large one at all.

    Any successful brand has to be drummed in from the top office to the person sweeping up.  It has to be the culture…what we do…how we do it.

    At OREA serving the partner has be "preached" for decades.  Walk into the building, introduce your self as a partner and ask for a book, and they hand it to you no questions ask.  That is OR's way.

    When that changes, it's all over…

  4. To make it a little more basic, it hurts the brand of Christ. Each of us is representing Christ in our every day lives. If we do not live up to how poeple think we should be living (correct or not) we're hurting the brand of Christ.


    In general I do not like discussing church and God like it's business, but there is some plausible crossover. We should be better than business. We're not working for money, we're harvesting souls for Christ. The cool thing is that it's not even up to us to 'sell the car' only to represent it. The HS does the rest.

  5. Is this a spoof? What do you think, Phil?


    Quoting the web site's proprietor, Dr. Ed van Pelt:

    "Christvertising manages a network of creative, innovating, and pro-active believers, who will help you through intensive prayer, improve your brand in the eyes of the Lord. If God loves your brand, it will become stronger and more successful. Christvertising helps you access the power of brand-targeted prayer (BTP™) using our unique, isoceles approach ot marketing: Reach-Connect-Pray"

    If this weren't a spoof, it may as well be one, because the web site has a certain clever, studied cheesiness about it (even going as far as trademarking "BTP"). But it's a little astonding that someone would go through this much trouble to put together this web site just to make a point.

  6. Weird. I had a similar experience at DFW returning home from Reach/NRB last year. But it was at the "Seattle's Best Coffee" stand, not St. Arbucks.

    The Christvertising site would be hilarious if it wasn't so ironically close to home.

  7. It's a shame that one bad barista can ruin "The Starbucks Experience".  As a former employee/barista myself, I am sorry that you had such a poor experience.  Great thoughts on branding Phil!

  8. As an entrepreneur, I see value in brand. Also see how difficult it can be to do the branding, and can foresee issues with strengthening brand on a larger scale.

    It is easy for a business to see the value in people (employees) when the business is small, and when they are growing. It becomes more difficult for large corporations to retain “belief in the brand” with their employees when the employees feel that they aren’t valued. If the employees lose belief, then it is going to be a tough road to repair.

    Get to the point where the business is a top – ranking company, and the priorities of management often change, and then the brand starts to suffer. The only way to save it is to place tight controls, monitor individual location performance closely, etc. Often when a company goes public, the future is going to start holding change. The CEO starts making decisions that cost the little guys, so that the company will still look good to the investors. People lose jobs, non-management positions now are getting paid minimum wage or close to it, benefits are now not covered by the company, but employees have the benefit of having the options available even if it means half their check goes to insurance….
    Ok… It seems I am rambling, but my point is, that it isn’t always the fault of a “generational change” sometimes it is the actual growth itself that causes change. Some ministries will try a management style that suppresses, and puts tight controls in place. Some just understand that maintaining a good atmosphere, good benefits, and decent pay will keep people happy (well it will keep them working at least). Some will learn that giving the employees “ownership” will be in their best interest. Whether that ownership is a roundtable where everyone feels represented, or whether it is authority to make more decisions, or whether it is making a point to have open doors…
    This last style is the style that today’s generation is looking for. We don’t need to know we have a fearless leader, we want to put to use our own education, we want to feel that we are contributing on a cranial and spiritual level, that we are part of the vision, that we are part of the success…. This is true… It sounds like it is a bit self centered, but it isn’t necessarily totally out of balance…. In the end though – this all ties in – doesn’t it. The branding can be very much affected by the experience that is conveyed by “the least of these”. At the same time management style can play a large part in how the “least of these” operates.

  9. The heaven of heavens is for God, but He put us in charge of the earth. God’s leadership style is still the best. Live with the people or least let the employees/people have access to you, train them in the way things are done and give them a portion to preside over as their own. Everybody wants to rule – that is the way God made us. Once we get it boy we will be very happy to release people and things/stuff. Live the brand – they will become the brand. Look at the parable of the talents and the minas. The Master gave to them a portion and then left them to it. He comes back and expected a return why because they had seen the way the Master did it before He left them. They knew how He did business – he was an example and even the wicked servant testified to it! There is risk involved but the returns are far better than controlling and dominating people to fulfill your vision. Jesus does not lord it over us even though He is Lord but rather He guides us – we should do the same for others.

  10. Starbucks tempted all of us last March 15 with a free 12-ounce cup of premium drip coffee at their “National Coffee Break” across America. The freebie was enjoyed by us coffee addicts only between 10 a.m. and 12:00 noon.  A very creative full-page ad in the Los Angeles Times got my coffee juices going the day before. Did the promo work for Starbucks?

    At my Starbucks experience in San Clemente, Calif., the corporate HQ’s vision was implemented, but surprisingly, the execution was lukewarm. Outside the store, I was greeted by a “Wanna free cup of coffee?” cheery team member who poured my caffeine from a decidedly non-Starbucks 10-gallon institutional coffee dispenser. Miss Perky handed me my topless coffee cup and made one more slash on her tracking sheet. I was Customer #54. No signage, no aroma, no inside-the-store Starbucks ambience. No satisfaction.

    It’s all about detailed execution says the book, "Execution: The Discipline of Getting Things Done."  Co-author Larry Bossidy writes, “My job at Honeywell International these days is to restore the discipline of execution to a company that had lost it.  Many people regard execution as detail work that’s beneath the dignity of a business leader.  That’s wrong.  To the contrary, it’s a leader’s most important job.”

    I wrote to Starbucks Chairman Howard Schultz a few weeks later, and got an equally lukewarm response from a low level employee.  Interesting…today's L.A. Times reports that the Starbucks board just fired the CEO, and Schultz has returned to the CEO helm.  Good luck!

  11. Starbucks brand has been getting away from them the last couple of years since Schultz stepped down and while Schultz was not the FOUNDER of Starbucks he is certainly the architect of the brand.

    One thing that has weakened the brand is that they have entered into relationships with organizations like airport authorities, Target and others who actually employ and “franchise” the location. While Starbucks doesn’t offer a franchise they do work with these groups so they can expand their brand, sadly it hasn’t worked.

    With Schultz coming back to Starbucks I am certain that they will get their act back together and be able to present the brand we all came to know and love.

    I love the “Christvertising” site…VERY FUNNY!!!

  12. This has to be fake. It is too perfectly cheesy! You're right even if it's not I am still falling out of my seat over here!

  13. "Good Commentary" made an astute comment: "It becomes more difficult for large corporations to retain 'belief in the brand' with their employees when the employees feel that they aren't valued."

    I understand the value of leadership, but if it weren't for the "low level" employees willing to actually prepare the products and serve them to the customers, good leadership would be worthless, because such businesses would have no customers and no revenue with which to pay their leaders' salaries. Maybe the enormous disparity between the amounts of money typically made by executives who lead such companies and the employees who make those businesses possible in the first place helps to explain why customers sometimes have customer service experiences which are far less than satisfactory.

    The same principle is applicable to the Church. The rhetoric which often comes from pulpits would lead one to believe that all Christians have equal value in the eyes of the Lord, but the way that "ordinary" (non-professional) Christians are treated in the Church is often despicable, and it can lead to angry and bitter feelings which hinder the cause of Christ. 

    Last summer, I attended a Chicago church which had great music and great preaching (for the most part). Many of the folks there superficially seemed to be nice people. Nevertheless, I stopped attending the church, because I learned during a Bible study that the young leader of that study believed that church leaders should never be criticized under any circumstances! I was appalled that he would think such a thing, and even more appalled when I learned (after taking the matter to others at that church) that his belief represented the general consensus among most of the people who attended that church. I couldn't help but think that such attitudes had contributed to the many scandals which had plagued the Church during the past decade.

    I'm not opposed to the utilization of sophisticated marketing techniques, but such techniques cannot overcome the obstacles posed by an indifferent, discouraged laity. When Christian leaders get a clue and begin to exhibit the humility which ought to characterize faithful servants of Christ, then the allegedly "ordinary" Christians in the pews will begin to get really excited about their faith, and that faith will do far more to spread the "brand" than all of the fancy marketing techniques put together. Then we will see true revival. 

  14. Well said Mark.

    As someone setting up a Christian media organisation, the issue of branding is very much at the top of mind.  How far does one go?  We all know that today people buy a tshirt not because they need a tshirt but because they want to be seen with a particular logo on it.  So how do we use some of that within kingdom building?  Do we even want to?  And where does God fit into all this?  Does He want to be branded?

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