Photo credit: Dikran Iskenderian’s shot of Zankou Chicken in Burbank
1001 North San fernando Blvd, Burbank CA. July 2014
Good Branding should involved every aspect of the customer experience. From the minute they walk in they should smell delicious, roasting chickens. They should start to salivate as they smell that rich garlic sauce, or the sizzling kabobs that are constantly turning on the grill. They should hear the fizzle of the fat being burned of the shawerma on the spit. They should be greeted with smiles from the cashiers, who instantly recognize them. “Hello Mr. and Mrs Smith, welcome to Zankou Chicken! How can we help you?” From the moment the customer walks in to when they leave, they should feel comfortable, welcomed, and even to a certain degree enchanted. They should be able to connect to the brand from a number of different places later as well, including social media, if they wish.
Now, is the customer service experience always like this? No, but as owners and managers it’s our job to make sure that it should be. As much as humanly possible. Because the customer is the most important part of this business. Every aspect of the experience should be catered to them. The smell, look of the place (has to be clean and bright), the music, and the ambience should all match your brand. Imagine a great BBQ ribs place but they play jazz. That doesn’t make sense. It should all match. We should play Mediterranean music for example, since that matches our brand. Not loud hip hop music or dance music (which have their place at clubs and bars), nothing against that music because I love that music too. However, some question wether or not the customer is king.
Within the business community and in places of higher learning across this great country and all over the world, there is a debate about what is more important to a business: Is it the customer, with whom everything should start and end? Or is it the employee?
The two arguments are best understood by reflecting on a deceptively simple question: What make an organization survive—and then thrive—through the years? Is it an organization that’s customer-centric or one that’s employee-centric? Many organizations often start by being employee-centric. That’s understandable—and wise. An organization should always start with the team, assembling the right talent and right people in order to make the organization tick. There’s nothing wrong with that.
But the question at the heart of this chapter is not an open-ended one in which both sides can be right. If we were forced to choose, I would say that without a doubt the customer is more important. And in most cases, where you have to make a decision about choosing between customer and employee it might be wise to put the customer first. In most cases your business will be served best by living with the philosophy that customer is King.
I speak from personal experience. It is through the customer that we made so many beneficial changes to our business. We succeeded because we listened to the customer. The tabouleh that we serve was inspired by customer feedback. So was the rice, the kabob items, and the lavash (during the time we served it). Almost every good idea we’ve had originated from customer feedback.
None of that is to say that employees and managers can’t or don’t come up with great ideas. One of our former operations managers proposed the “falafel special,” a combo that comes with two pieces of falafel as a side—a terrific upsell for each customer that ordered a wrap. In the mid-1990s, a Starbucks employee came up with the idea for their now world-famous Frappuccinos. His name is Greg Rogers and he was an assistant manager at the Starbucks store on the Third Street Promenade in Santa Monica. It’s interesting to note that Rogers’s idea was initially shot down by Howard Schultz, the founder and then-CEO of Starbucks. Schultz’s opposition was based on two reasons that are nothing short of laughable in hindsight: The first reason was that Starbucks had just brokered a deal with Coca-Cola to introduce a coffee-cola drink (the very idea was evidently a complete bust). And second, Schultz didn’t want blenders in Starbucks stores because he believed they went against the company’s coffee culture.
We’ve all heard the phrase about how the customer is always right. But is he—or she—always right? There are always exceptions to every rule, and in this case it must be said that if your customer is being rude to your employees, you should kick the customer out. There are situations in which your employees always need to be defended.
I myself once kicked out a customer from our Glendale store. Okay, I take that back: I didn’t kick her out—I asked her to leave because she was being extremely rude to my employees. And just to press home the point that such rudeness would not be tolerated, I refunded her money for two chickens she had bought—and then took back the chickens instead of letting her have them, as I think she was expecting. As a parting shot, I told her that if she didn’t like her food she should patronize the El Pollo Loco store down the street.
However, at the end of the day if we don’t have customers, we can’t pay our employees. That is why I believe that while the mission statement and values statement of an organization can contain great things about the associates of a business, the essential message should always be customer-centric. You can’t have it both ways.
Here’s what a few like-minded world-class thinkers have said about this issue:
There is only one valid definition of business purpose: to create a customer. (Peter Drucker, management guru).
There is only one boss. The customer. And he can fire everybody in the company from the chairman on down, simply by spending his money somewhere else. (Sam Walton, founder of Walmart).
It is not the employer who pays the wages. Employers only handle the money. It is the customer who pays the wages. (Henry Ford)
There’s a remarkable story about Teddy Roosevelt, the 26th president of the United States, that shines the perfect light on how employees should be treated—even when they appear to have the best interests of the organization at heart.
As the story goes, Roosevelt worked as a rancher before he joined politics, and one day he was riding over the range with one of his cowpunchers who lassoed a two-year-old steer that had never been branded. Roosevelt and his cowhand lit a fire and began heating their branding irons.
As it happened, the part of the range where they were was claimed by one of Roosevelt’s neighbors, a rancher by the name of Gregory Lang. Because the steer was found on Lang’s land, it belonged to him, according to the rule among cattlemen.
As the cowhand applied the brand to the maverick, Roosevelt stopped him. “Wait,” the would-be president said. “It should be Lang’s brand—a thistle.”
The cowboy was taken aback. “That’s alright, boss,” he countered, continuing to brand the steer. “But you’re putting on my brand,” Roosevelt said. “That’s right,” said the cowboy. “I always put on the boss’s brand.”
“Drop that iron,” Roosevelt said. “And get back to the ranch and get out.”
The cowboy protested, but Roosevelt told him that he had no place for such people on his ranch. His final words to the employee were: “A man who will steal for me will steal from me.”
Quotes on the importance of Branding
“Your brand is what people say about you when you’re not in the room” – Jeff Bezos, Founder of Amazon
“All of us need to understand the importance of branding. We are CEOs of our own companies: Me Inc. To be in business today, our most important job is to be head marketer for the brand called You.” – Tom Peters in Fast Company
“Your premium brand had better be delivering something special, or it’s not going to get the business.” – Warren Buffett, Investor and philanthropist
“Personal branding is about managing your name — even if you don’t own a business — in a world of misinformation,
disinformation, and semi-permanent Google records. Going on a date? Chances are that your “blind” date has Googled your name. Going to a job interview? Ditto.” – Tim Ferriss, Author of the 4-Hour Work Week
“Branding demands commitment; commitment to continual re-invention; striking chords with people to stir their emotions; and commitment to imagination. It is easy to be cynical about such things, much harder to be successful.” – Sir Richard Branson, CEO Virgin
“It’s important to build a personal brand because it’s the only thing you’re going to have. Your reputation online, and in the new business world is pretty much the game, so you’ve got to be a good person. You can’t hide anything, and more importantly, you’ve got to be out there at some level.” – Gary Vaynerchuk, Author of Crush it!
“If I lost control of the business I’d lose myself–or at least the ability to be myself. Owning myself is a way to be myself.” – Oprah Winfrey, Television mogul
“Life isn’t about finding yourself. Life is about creating yourself.” – George Bernhard Shaw, Author
“Too many people overvalue what they are not and undervalue what they are.” – Malcolm Forbes, Publisher
“Be Yourself, Everyone Else is Already Taken”. – Oscar Wilde, Author and Playwright
Branding is not merely about differentiating products; it is about striking emotional chords with consumers. It is about cultivating identity, attachment, and trust to inspire customer loyalty. Chinese brands score low on attributes such as ‘sophisticated,’ ‘desirable,’ ‘innovative,’ ‘friendly,’ and ‘trustworthy.’
As a brand marketer, I’m a big believer in ‘branding the customer experience,’ not just selling the service.
Think about what people are doing on Facebook today. They’re keeping up with their friends and family, but they’re also building an image and identity for themselves, which in a sense is their brand. They’re connecting with the audience that they want to connect to. It’s almost a disadvantage if you’re not on it now.
You have to think of your brand as a kind of myth. A myth is a compelling story that is archetypal, if you know the teachings of Carl Jung. It has to have emotional content and all the themes of a great story: mystery, magic, adventure, intrigue, conflicts, contradiction, paradox.
A brand for a company is like a reputation for a person. You earn reputation by trying to do hard things well.
Great companies that build an enduring brand have an emotional relationship with customers that has no barrier. And that emotional relationship is on the most important characteristic, which is trust.
Your premium brand had better be delivering something special, or it’s not going to get the business.
I think our slow, humble beginnings in surf shops, ski shops, bike shops, and motorcycle shops have been extremely important for our success. GoPro is all about celebrating an active lifestyle and sharing that with other people. It’s authentic. It’s not a brand that we went out and bought a bunch of ads for to create.
No one is going to understand your brand better than you.
My greatest strength is common sense. I’m really a standard brand – like Campbell’s tomato soup or Baker’s chocolate.
For a truly effective social campaign, a brand needs to embrace the first principles of marketing, which involves brand definition and consistent storytelling. Simon Mainwaring
You now have to decide what ‘image’ you want for your brand. Image means personality. Products, like people, have personalities, and they can make or break them in the market place. David Ogilvy
If you ever have the good fortune to create a great advertising campaign, you will soon see another agency steal it. This is irritating, but don’t let it worry you; nobody has ever built a brand by imitating somebody else’s advertising.