Branding started as a tool for creating identity. While marking products to identify the maker is as old as time, our most graphic lesson comes from the Old West. During the late 1800’s in the Western part of the U.S. where cattle were the primary cash crop, there were no fences to mark territory. Ranch owners needed a means to identify which cattle grazing on the open range belonged to a particular ranch. The act of burning a unique symbol into the hide of a cow became a way to resolve differences over property. Branding was not a ritual elected by the cow, but an identifying mark forced upon it.
Customers are not willing to be treated like property, and they do not like having things forced upon them. They must volunteer their allegiance to a particular “ranch.” When people view themselves as “a Harley guy,” or “a Ritz-Carlton traveler,” or a “gotta have my Starbucks” person, you are not just witnessing a case of voluntary identification with a motorcycle, hotel, or coffee, but customers sporting the “brand” of loyal connection to them. What does it take to provoke this “loyalty to the ranch” phenomenon? What would a ranch owner have to have done to make the cattle choose the hot tattoo that read “Circle B” instead of the “Lazy L” designating the ranch on the other side of the river?
What do world-class service providers have to do to get customers to voluntarily identify with them? It takes an emotional connection…not just a sensory one. Just seeing the green Starbucks logo does not make me want to rush in for a venti latte. What draws me back is the warmth of the setting, the friendliness of the staff, their remembering how I like my Cinnamon Dolce, and the ambiance of a coffee house with comfy chairs and WiFi.
Innovative service comes into play when the service provider makes that emotional connection as unique as the Circle B symbol. In a time of widespread ho-hum, so-so service, being remarkable requires something unique—an action that is simply ingenious. It is the waitress bringing you a go cup of coffee fixed just the way you had if for breakfast while telling you “it is our gift to you.” It is the adult beverage store sending you a birthday card after checking your ID. And, it is the hotel changing their boring white bathrobes to something more memorable. Brands that include innovative service win the customer’s repeat business by first winning their heart.