I’m sure every one of us has a happy story of experiencing the joy of under-promise and over-delivery.
Last week, I flew with American Airlines. At least, I tried to fly with American Airlines. At the last minute, the flight was cancelled. Weather problems, they said.
The next day, I returned to the airport for the next available flight to which I’d been assigned. Once again, terrible weather in Chicago was causing problems. The flight was delayed a couple of hours. While waiting at the gate, and feeling somewhat sorry for the citizens of Chicago who were apparently being subjected to the elements, I noticed that passengers at the neighboring gate were boarding. Where do you think these happy passengers were bound? That’s right. Chicago. And their flight was heading for the same Chicago airport as mine too. Strangely, the neighboring departure seemed unaffected by the Chicago weather.
When I finally boarded my flight, some 18 hours after it should have taken off, I was struck by the prevailing conversation among my fellow passengers. It ran on a common theme: “Why do they lie?”
The discussion didn’t focus exclusively on American Airlines, I hasten to add. United was also frequently mentioned. This airline too, in the opinion of passengers, did a great job of creating professional lies. Other holders of this dubious accolade included American Express, Pacific Bell and Citibank. I merely report what I overheard as people vented their shared anger as the plane taxied and took off.
The phrase, “Huston – we have a problem”, should be jumping to the minds of brand-builders. Brands everywhere are encountering serious problems – problems of trust. In the old days, brands were a guarantee of quality and service. These days, consumers readily associate a host of household names with rip-offs, lies and endless, fruitless hours spent negotiating automated phone menus and ending up receiving no satisfaction from so-called ‘service centers’.
Is it true, as it seems, that brands are heading towards their nadir, in this case, a point at which over-promising and under- delivering are the norm? The big question is, how can this continue? Surely the experience is reinforcing, yet again, the crucial tenet for brand survival: under-promise and over-deliver.
I’m sure every one of us has a happy story of experiencing the joy of under-promise and over-delivery. Here’s one of mine.
Some years ago, I checked into the Peninsula Hotel in Chicago. The luxury hotel is well known for its outstanding service and lavish rooms. Among many other services, the Peninsula hotels offer guests complimentary access to a great CD library. I recalled this fact as I entered my room one evening, right after I’d recalled that I hadn’t brought any CDs with me on this trip. I called reception and asked if I might make use of the CD library. A friendly voice informed me that, regrettably, the library wasn’t up and running yet. The hotel was a new member of the group and it would be a couple of months before this popular service was fully installed. Never mind, the concierge on the other end of the line and I agreed. Then, as we were wrapping up our brief conversation, the concierge asked me what music I liked. Mmm, I ruminated for a moment… “ABBA, Eminem, the Beatles,” I replied. Nothing unusual in that, until, 19 minutes later there was a knock at my door. I opened it to find a smiling bellboy who was carrying a Virgin Megastore bag. “Welcome to the Peninsula ,” the bellboy said. “This is a present from me to you.”
And with that, the bellboy was cheerily on his way. I opened the bag to find an ABBA collection CD, Eminem’s latest release, and a classic Beatles CD.
This is not the first time I’ve told this story. I’ve told it to more than 100,000 executives at my presentations; I’ve written about it in my book, BRAND sense; and I’ve shared it with millions of internet users and visitors to MartinLindstrom.com. In fact, some 10 million people have heard this story by now. And the price tag for this great news about the Peninsula brand? $22.50.
Some of our BRAND sense research shows that bad opinions about brands spread at twice the speed of good opinions. And this “word-of-mouth” branding spreads 50 times – yes, you read right, 50 times – faster than traditional advertising. Yet, for some reason, brands simply refuse to get it. They persist in thinking that effective brand building is all about great ads. The fact is that word-of-mouth branding is significantly more powerful.
So what does this mean for brands of tomorrow? Here’s some advice to consider:
1. Build in an “over-deliver” and “under-promise” policy into everything you do. If you’re selling chocolates, and promise that a pack contains 20 pieces, fill the pack with 22 pieces. Don’t say anything about it. Just do it. When I was a little kid, I loved to play with LEGO. Every time I received a new box, it would always contain a couple of extra LEGO bricks. No explanation – it just did. It soon became a hobby for me to collect the extra bricks and I built a sizable collection of the colorful bricks which, as far as I was concerned, LEGO had given to me as a special gift. Later in life, when LEGO became one of my clients, I asked the team why they’d added those extra bricks. The answer was simple. They knew from experience that the very smallest bricks tended to disappear. So, instead of LEGO having to handle thousands of consumer requests to supply those missing little bricks, they included a couple of extras. As the operation manager explained, sure, it was an extra expense, but it was nothing compared to the costs LEGO would have incurred by staffing the call center and making extra shipments and production runs to handle consumer requests.
2. Create a difference that people talk about – and that no-one can imitate. Let your brand’s core values drive the generosity of your brand. Four Seasons, the luxury hotel chain, is well known for its service. And it’s no wonder. The policy is that every complaint is met with complete satisfaction, no questions asked. When the hotel once missed my airport pickup in London, the concierge asked me what had happened. He’d received a call from the driver who reported that he couldn’t find me. I told the concierge that I’d taken a cab instead. The concierge asked me what the fare had been. Five minutes later I received full reimbursement for the cost of the cab. I had not even asked for it.
3. Do things the surprising way. It’s when we least expect that we most remember. If a brand can predict our needs and respond to them independently, the brand is really working. Make sure you understand the customer journey with your brand, from the first touchpoint to the very last. At every stage it’s possible to sneak in extra service and, at the same time, make those touchpoints memorable. When travelling from London to Australia some years ago on Singapore Airlines, I experienced this kind of brand intuition. While waiting for takeoff, a flight attendant presented me with a large envelope which read, “Personal message to Mr Lindstrom.” To be honest, I’d never received a letter on a plane before, so I opened the envelope with trepidation. Inside was a letter from the senior customer manager who wrote, “Dear Mr Lindstrom, We’ve noticed you’ve been away from your home country for a while. So we would like to update you on the latest news from home. Enclosed is a collection of newspapers from home. Enjoy the ride”. Enclosed were 20 newspapers from my home county. The flight was a joy.
It sounds easy, I know, but it isn’t. You need to systemize your brand’s approach to under-promising and over-delivering. Give your staff the mandate to act on their own, to offer that extra service which no-one expects. You might be thinking that this is not brand building. Wrong. It’s the essence of brand building. It’s the foundation needed to make people listen to every message your brand sends out to the world – and to trust every word of it.
By the age of 30, Martin Lindstrom had been an advertising executive at the global giant BBDO, had formed BBDO Interactive Europe and founded BBDO Interactive Asia. Both grew to become the largest Internet solutions companies in their regions. Still in his early thirties, He is one of the world’s most respected branding gurus according to the Chartered Institute of Marketing. He sits on boards around the world and his blue-chip client list includes GlaxoSmithKline, Pepsi, American Express, Mercedes-Benz, Reuters, Visa, Yellow Pages, McDonald’s and Kellogg’s. Lindstrom’s unique vision is supported by global studies and his last four books, written with industry icons, Don Peppers, Martha Rogers, Patricia Seybold and Philip Kotler, are sold worldwide and have been translated into more than 20 languages. His latest highly acclaimed book, BRAND sense, is published by Simon & Schuster New York.
Visit www.MartinLindstrom.com to learn more.