Getting a Brand Talked About

Great service is one thing. Consistently great service is another. Recently, I stayed at The Peninsula Hotel in Chicago. The Peninsula offers guests complimentary access to a music and video library. When I called reception to borrow some CDs, the receptionist informed me that, regrettably, the library wasn’t yet available. He then asked what my favorite music was. I played along and, for a while, relived memories of musical favorites before hanging up.

Fifteen minutes later, there was a knock on the door. A Peninsula employee gracefully offered me a Virgin Megastore shopping bag. “A small present from me to you, Mr. Lindstrom. Enjoy your stay here at the Peninsula,” he said. To my delight and surprise, the bag contained three of the CDs I’d reminisced about with the receptionist: my favorite ABBA, Beatles, and Eminem albums.

I’ve told this story at my symposia, which have attracted 35,000 executives worldwide. I’ve told it in my latest book, which so far has sold a quarter of million copies. I’ve told it on my BBC radio program, which reaches countless listeners. And I’ve related it to you here. Close to 5 million marketing executives have heard me praise Peninsula Hotels wonderful service. Cost to the hotel? $22.50.

This is branding. Branding isn’t a logo. That’s just one of many signals sent by brands to communicate a brand’s totality. It’s the consistently conceived and transmitted core values that compose a brand.

When I visit Web sites, I’m constantly amazed to see how few, if any, demonstrate an understanding of this and of the value inherent in the axiom “under-promise and over-deliver.” If your superlative service manages to offer unexpected surprises, your brand acquires that little difference that can make its fortune in a highly competitive, overcrowded brand world.

The chance to under-promise and over-deliver is everywhere and in everything you do. It’s in every touch point of your site, in your direct mail, in your stores, products, warranties… everything that reflects your brand.

Online, under-promising and over-delivering may mean responding to email faster than you promised. When fulfilling orders, it could mean ensuring they arrive ahead of the promised deadline. It might mean enclosing a present, something the client didn’t ask for. It means delivering better quality, faster, at a better value, with more features. These small but important touches create wonder in clients and promote the vital word-of-mouth phenomenon that builds powerful brands.

At one of my symposia, a delegate told me a story that reflects this philosophy. Having purchased a barbecue grill for his best friend for his return from South Africa, he spent most of the day assembling it. Unfortunately, his friend felt he couldn’t accept the present, saying his friend’s presence was more than enough.

So the man returned the grill to the store. Would they grant a refund, even though it was now unpacked and fully assembled? With no protest, the store accepted the grill and refunded the money. Inspecting the receipt, the man noticed $30 had been added to the refund. “Why?” he asked. The salesperson replied, “You’ve used most of the day collecting and assembling this grill, so you’ve made life for its next owner easier. You should be rewarded for this.”

Though not all brands have realized the power of under-promising and over-delivering, some have. Order from Amazon.com and the package will most likely arrive one or two days before the promised dates. Delegates at my symposia always receive a small present from me in the mail the next day, as a pleasant surprise.

Look at your site through your visitors eyes. Do you over-promise and under-deliver, like millions of other sites, desperately trying to capture yet another customer without considering the consequences? Or will I receive a nice surprise when I visit? Share your story with me, and I’ll share it with the rest of the world in my next column.

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