I write a lot on brands, I work with them and I advise clients on how to understand, clarify and manage them – but ordering a curry was the best branding lesson I’ve had for a while.
I spend a lot of time convincing clients that whether they believe me or not, they have a brand. However small a business, however sceptical an individual, we all have a brand and they really do matter.
I also read a lot about what brands are, the endless definitions we have for them, why they are important and what makes them strong ... or weak. And through my work I have come to the conclusion that a strong brand is the combination of two pretty simple things:
- having a good product or service
- creating a positive customer memory (through their experience of you and your product or service).
And this is all fine. Not particularly technical but based on solid research and many years working in design and communication. But of course, I also experience brands, just like everyone else in daily life, and it is the experiences we have which I think bring the greatest clarity of all to the question, what makes a successful brand? Here is the tale of one experience I had recently.
It was a Saturday night. We had a takeaway. It was a curry from a new, boutique home delivery service. Word of mouth marketing is one of the most powerful forms of marketing there is and they came highly recommended.
We ordered well in advance, as per instructions, as it was cooked to order, the ‘personal touch’. The cold beer was opened at the allotted time and expectations were high. And then we waited, and waited, and waited. To cut a long and tawdry story short, it was the best part of two hours late and arrived in a broken bag, barely warm enough to eat.
We had booked a meal for a specific time – were assured three times it was ‘five minutes away’ and when I asked what state a curry that had been in transit for nearly two hours would be like, I was assured it would be pristine and piping hot. By the time it got to me, it was probably as warm as my beer.
We don't actually care!
And I was charged the full price for a product that was awful and a service that simply screamed ‘we don’t actually care, we just want the order completed and you off the phone’.
A cold, late meal was bad enough, but I think that simply no effort whatsoever on the company’s part to understand or care about how I felt, annoyed me even more.
I think it’s safe to assume we’ve all had bad experiences of customer service. We’ve all got frustrated when we’ve felt overlooked, ignored or undervalued as a customer. In fact, when we have a positive experience of customer service, it often catches us by surprise.
But if they had just shown a little mea culpa, said ‘please accept our apologies and give us the chance to make good by trying us again’, you know what, I think I probably would have. But they didn’t.
So, what makes a strong brand? Having a good product and the ability to create a positive customer memory. Writ large in my memory the morning after was an experience that was overwhelmingly negative, that I have not repeated, but also that I have related, as I have to you, to many friends and colleagues since.
I was planning to write a tutorial on the importance of branding for small businesses, but I think in the end, this experience was as insightful and instructive about what a brand is and why they matter as any tutorial.