The importance of upholding a brand “pinky swear”

Planit Agency
May 1, 2014

When most people think of a brand they immediately think of a logo (the Nike swoosh), a color (“Tiffany Blue”), or a slogan (State Farm’s “Like a good neighbor”). But a brand goes well beyond these visual or audial cues. A brand makes a promise to its customers—this brand promise (or pinky swear, if you will) in turn creates brand value. As marketers, we help to articulate and communicate the brand promise. We make sure the promise compels, is credible, is authentic, and—most importantly from a marketer’s point of view—resonates with the audience. We entice people to reach out their pinkies and embrace the brand’s pinky, hopeful that the brand will hold up its end of the promise. Once the pinky swear happens, a brand must then deliver on the commitment it has made. The brand must keep its promise every time. This is how a brand makes friends for life. The brand might look cool on the outside (the marketing), but it’s got to live up to the promise. This rests on the shoulders of all aspects of a brand, whether the brand represents a product or service. There is a phrase out there known as “eat, breathe, live the brand.” And many brands fall short of this because they fail to consider all touch points where their customers might interact with their brand. One of the trickiest touch points for a brand to control is the employees who represent the brand. Many companies put a ton of effort into communicating to their consumers what their brand stands for, but few put in half the effort to do the same with their employees. Any one employee within a company has the potential to represent a company’s brand solely on his or her own. And if you think about it: That’s a scary thing. A company needs to make sure its employees are connected to the brand promise, and this means fully understanding what the brand stands for and what that means to that specific person’s job and behavior on the job. I recently had the opportunity to visit The Ritz-Carlton headquarters in Chevy Chase, MD, for a client meeting and was delighted when I experienced one of the best brand immersions I’ve ever had the pleasure of attending. And while the videos and PowerPoint presentation fully told me about The Ritz-Carlton brand, it was the employees and overall meeting experience that unexpectedly yet fully showed me what this high-end brand truly stands for. The Ritz-Carlton’s brand promise (or as they refer to it, their credo) is as follows: “The Ritz-Carlton Hotel is a place where the genuine care and comfort of our guests is our highest mission. We pledge to provide the finest personal service and facilities for our guests who will always enjoy a warm, relaxed, yet refined ambience. The Ritz-Carlton experience enlivens the senses, instills well-being, and fulfills even the unexpressed wishes and needs of our guests.” Every employee I encountered exemplified this promise because The Ritz-Carlton has cultivated a company culture that seamlessly matches the brand. It is even said that they don’t hire employees—they select staff. Every morning at The Ritz-Carlton headquarters (and at every shift change, every day, at every Ritz-Carlton hotel around the world) each and every employee gathers for The Ritz-Carlton Daily Lineup, a 15-minute review of what’s going on in the company. And this always includes The Ritz-Carlton’s commitment to quality and service by discussing one of 12 Ritz-Carlton service values. Prior to the brand immersion, I was invited to attend a lineup. The amazing thing to me is that this daily lineup was not forced. It was not seen as a waste of time; in fact, it was quite the opposite. The employees embraced this daily ritual, and it provided a sense of energy and purpose to everyone’s day. The Ritz-Carlton believes its brand is only as good as its weakest link, and they have invested in making sure that in a service-dominant industry, their entire staff all around the world is always behaving the brand. Needless to say, I was thoroughly impressed when I said goodbye to The Ritz-Carlton staff that day and walked out of their headquarters with a personal gift accompanied by a handwritten thank you note for attending their meeting. The Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company has a motto that reads, “We are Ladies and Gentlemen serving Ladies and Gentlemen,” and this pinky swear was upheld by all of The Ritz employees I encountered that day. And given the culture they’ve created, I am certain guests throughout the world are experiencing a well-kept brand promise from a very strong brand known as The Ritz-Carlton.