It’s interesting how the universe works. Yesterday I was pondering this post about brand culture and, as if on cue, the universe delivered a very clear illustration of the topic. Thank you universe!

I would like to tell you a short story about what happened, and I’m calling it The Tale of Three Phone Calls. The story illustrates three different insights into brand culture and how I, as a customer, observed the differences.

We define culture as a shared set of beliefs that drive behavior. We define a brand culture as a culture in which the shared beliefs are aligned with the promise of the brand, thus ensuring that the behavior of the organization is aligned behind the effective delivery of that promise. It’s the basis of Internal-External Brand Alignment.

Call Number One – A Premium Brand

My wife is setting up a home office and had turned to me as the resident IT expert to help her find the perfect phone/headset/speakerphone solution. My wife is not very technical, but had some rather clear expectations about how she thought it should all work. Understanding what she wanted, I set out to earn some good husband points by finding the perfect solution.

Based upon my previous good experience with a certain manufacturer of headsets and phones, I decided to start with them. Their products are positioned as premium, and they are certainly priced that way. The website positions the brand as a knowledgeable solution provider, which was exactly what I was looking for. The website promised that professional assistance was a phone call away, and so I dialed.

What followed was a very frustrating experience that included multiple transfers, unengaged team members, and a substantial amount of misinformation. I will spare you the details as you have probably had similar experiences, but the net result was not a good one. After describing it to my wife she had a very good observation. “You would think they would do a much better job based on the premium prices they are charging,” she said.

Impression – Failed to Deliver a Premium Experience

The brand, products, and available support are clearly positioned as premium. The promise I felt I had been given was one of good products supported by solid expertise. But the brand culture of the organization was clearly not in alignment. I give them a D.

Call Number Two – Insurance Company

Call number two took place later in the day when I needed to contact my insurance company to resolve what appeared to be a double billing. Our agent was out, so I was transferred to the customer support center. The first few minutes of the call were very impressive. The representative on the phone was very well trained. She was not only very professional, but quickly found my account and isolated the problem. Along the way she was pleasantly educating me about how I could find similar information on the website if that was more convenient for me in the future.

It was turning out to be quite a good experience, and my favorable impression was building by the minute. Then things took a turn. She was not able to answer my question about the double billing or correct it. She could see it, she just couldn’t do anything about it. She promised to track down my agent and have him call me later in the day. I am still waiting for that call a day later.

Impression – Good Effort, but Missed the Mark

We have been trained by experience to not expect much from insurance companies and so it was actually a refreshing experience to talk with someone highly trained and willing to provide easy assistance. My opinion of the company was on the rise until they “hit the wall,” and were unable to solve the problem. “After all,” my customer brain says, “a double billing can’t be that complicated to fix.” Clearly a committed brand culture exists in the organization, but more work is needed to align the processes, technology, and behaviors to ultimately deliver the brand promise. I give them a B-.

Call Number Three – Web Domain and Hosting

As my day was winding to a close I had one more call to make. I had been putting it off all day because I just knew it was going to be a hassle. The call was to a well know web domain and hosting company. I needed some domains transferred and also had some requests that I was guessing they would not be able to accommodate.

I dialed the phone fully expecting to spend the next 30 minutes on hold listening to bad music covered by excited voices pitching more stuff. The automation system answered and informed me I would have a three minute wait. “Not so bad,” I thought. The system then asked me if I would like to mute the line until the representative answered so that I could continue working. “YES.”

Two minutes later the representative answered and began a very impressive, easy, and pleasant support call. It all seemed so unexpectedly effortless that I kept asking if we had forgotten something. He was able to not only handle my domain transfers but easily solved my other issues with solutions far better than I was even asking for. As he completed the call he actually stated the company’s brand promise and asked if they had successfully delivered that experience. WOW!

Impression – A Pleasant Suprise

This company means business about its brand culture. The brand, and its promise, was clearly at the center of the entire service model, process design, technology solution, and associate training. As a customer, the experience was one of surprise and delight. I give them an A+.

Three companies. Three brand cultures. Three different customer experiences. When organizations have cultures intentionally built around the brand promise the results are obvious. Every organization has a culture, but is it a brand culture?

Let us know your thoughts. What experiences have you had with brand culture? How is a solid brand culture apparent in the companies you love? Do you see a difference between culture and brand culture? I invite you to join the conversation and let us know what you think.

About Kurt Kennedy

Kurt founded Kennedy Communications in 1988 as a media production company. Since then, Kennedy Global has evolved into the leading internal-external brand alignment agency. Kurt and his team create strategic business solutions that align a company’s external customer promise with an engaged internal culture that generates tremendous results at every level of an organization. Kurt and his team have created strategic programs for some of the world’s most recognized brands including Intel, Nike, Office Depot, Starbucks, Albertsons, Adobe, Dell, LensCrafters, Target Optical, Sunglass Hut, Safeway, Unilever and many others. In addition to consulting with clients, Kurt frequently serves as a speaker and facilitator at a variety of business events around the world including strategy sessions with executive leadership teams, interactive workshops and training sessions at corporate summits, and keynote presentations at industry events. Kurt earned his BA in Mass Communications from Walla Walla University. He enjoys traveling in his spare time.