A few months ago, I was in the grocery store, considering which hot chocolate flavoring to purchase. Usually, I’m a Hersey’s syrup kind of gal, but for some reason, I was in the coffee and tea aisle, with Nestle’s Quik in one hand and Ovaltine in the other, reading the labels for sugar, sodium and fat contents.
A woman in her late 50’s was trying to pass and I murmured “excuse me” and stepped toward the shelf. She saw what I was holding and said, “Oh, buy the Ovaltine.” I smiled at her in return. Encouraged, she said dreamily, “Ovaltine means so much to me. When I was little, I had terrible trouble sleeping because I was ill for a long time. Every night, my mom would make me a hot mug of Ovaltine and read to me until I fell asleep. Ovaltine makes me think of my mom and the way she helped me.” Her face was far-away, lost in nostalgia, thinking of long-ago bedtime stories, a mug of hot chocolate to soothe an ailing child, and most of all, her mother’s beautiful, patient expression of love. For her, that’s what Ovaltine is all about.
Well, of course I bought the Ovaltine.
Later that week, someone mentioned IBM, saying something about “Big Blue” and how that might just be the most internationally-recognized, powerful brand on the planet.
And that’s when it struck me full force, like a bag of quarters in the kisser; while brands have a carefully constructed and communicated message managed by their internal and external partners, for many people, that message has nothing to do with their own perception of the organization.
Because, you see, to me, IBM is not about computers. IBM is about my dad, who worked for that company his entire professional life.
Hearing “IBM” makes my nose instantly remember that Bud-Rollins aroma of WD-40, dry cleaning fluid and newspaper ink. I can really, truly smell it. I can see his felt hat appearing in the alley at the end of his walk home from the train, I can feel the wool of his suit as he gathered me for a hug. IBM is the heavy briefcase filled with tools, middle of the night departures when a machine went down and Christmas parties at the Museum of Science and Industry.
And the really crazy thing? When I called my brother and asked him what he thinks of when someone says “IBM”, he replied “Dad and that IBM smell, you know what I mean?” Yes, Rich, I know exactly what you mean. Our brand of IBM is all about love too.
So what does this all mean to you? It means, to certain individuals, your brand has nothing to do with your carefully constructed message. No matter how much you promote outstanding customer service, unless it really is, 100% of the time, there will be someone out there whose personal experience brands you as having horrible service. Your brand is influenced by your messages, but it is determined by your audience.
That’s why thinking and acting in terms of the brand, for absolutely every single person in your organization, is vitally important – 100% of the time.
Do you prefer Ovaltine or Hersey’s? The twentieth person to let me know gets a lifetime supply of their favorite!*
(Yep – that’s my dad in the photo above, Harold “Bud” Rollins, Senior Customer Engineer with a mad comb-over installing a 2470 terminal)
*Not really. But I will send you one bottle or can!