Do you like ice cream?
Most people do.
I have a memory from when I was a kid where my dad gave me my first orange dreamsicle at the State Fair. Man, was that good! Orange-y, sweet and creamy! It is absolutely my favorite ice cream flavor to this day. When I’m able to go to the State Fair, I always get a dreamsicle because it reminds of that time with my dad and I enjoy the hell out of that thing.
How about you? Do you have a favorite ice cream memory?
Friendly’s Ice Cream
Ever hear of Friendly’s Ice Cream? I hadn’t. They’ve been making homemade ice cream since 1935 – over 75 years. So, they had to be doing something right to be in business for so long. Right?
A report I heard on NPR explained that they’re filing for bankruptcy this month.
As I listened to the report, I heard several customer interviews speaking consistently of fond memories as to when they were kids and their parents taking them to Friendly’s for ice cream. They also explained how they take their own kids to Friendly’s to continue that tradition. Some even said they go on their own because of the nostalgic feeling it brings of when they were young.
With so many positive testimonials from such loyal customers, why has the Friendly’s brand eroded to the point of bankruptcy?
Part of the answer came later in the report. One customer explained that, though she had positive memories and comments about the product, in her words, “the location near me seemed sticky and run down.” Another mentioned, “there’s better places to go than Friendly’s.”
And there lies the crux of a brand, folks. The Experience.
It can be as important, or more important, than the product or service you provide.
Friendly’s has other issues which have contributed to their situation as explained in the report, i.e. a business model that is considered “obsolete” by Wall Street analysts as well as the extended recession. Even the CEO of Friendly’s explained, “We have embarked on an aggressive campaign to enhance restaurant operations, improve the guest experience, strengthen our team, and expand the company’s successful retail ice cream business.”
Notice how he weaved “improve the guest experience” in there among the rest of the financial buzz terms Wall Street wants to hear? It was the only thing mentioned that was brand related. As one of the principals of our firm, Bo Bothe, explains so well, let’s hope they do the right thing for their brand and not just the operations.
You can run the best business on the planet, have the best team ever assembled and have the best laid plans of expanding your business – but if customers don’t like the experience they have coming in contact with your company, they’re not going to return or purchase whatever it is that company is selling. In their eyes, you’ve not lived up to your brand’s promise. If you don’t resolve that issue, then your business will struggle to grow. In Friendly’s case – worse.
The Power of Brand Experience
As one of my colleagues, Guy Parker, explains in his blog post, there are simply too many channels for us to tout our experiences to others with a brand, and affect customer tendencies, not to prioritize the audience’s experience with your company.
Why? Because a brand experience that customers value can keep them loyal and consider your brand experience worth having – and worth spending their hard-earned money upon to enjoy or depend upon – despite down times.
What Does it Mean to Experience a Brand?
Walk into an Academy Sports and Outdoor store and then walk into a Niketown store. Think there would be a difference in those experiences in just the environment alone? They’re in a similar product niche, but different individual brands. Which one do you perceive as the better brand just by reading their name? How about calling customer service for Comcast Cable versus calling customer service for an American Express Gold Card? Do you think you’ll have a different experience with one versus the other?
The brand experience cascades from the CEO all the way down to the customer service rep handling our calls or the salesperson at the cash register. Were they friendly without sounding fake? Sincerely empathetic or seemingly repeating a script they were taught to say? Diligent in finding an answer for us? How long did we have to hold?
It’s as Much a Feeling as it Can Be Emotional
Ever heard this quote before? “They may not remember what you said, but they’ll always remember how you made them feel.”
That’s brand experience, too. It can be personal as well as professional. It has more power than we realize and, when we remember our experience, it influences our decision to trust a company/individual or move on to find who we believe we can trust. That can make or break a company. Every person within a company should keep that in mind. They wield the ability to influence the promise of your brand for the better or for the worse. After all, you experience it everywhere you go every day – the grocery store, the gas station, the gym, the movies, the dry cleaner, the shopping mall, the bank, etc.
It’s not just your logo, your tagline, your messaging, what your website looks like, your signage, your uniforms or your sales materials that create your brand. It’s as much you and how your audience remembers what it was like in dealing with you that can determine your success or failure.
And, that’s how you’re involved every day with what I do every day.
Feel like getting some ice cream?