Branding and the Service Conundrum



Branding and the Service Conundrum

Written By Dutch Hempel

“Do good first.  Brand good later.”

I have friends who claim I peg-out their Dork-O-Meters every time I speak about this subject, but the shiny new images and catchy taglines produced (by) for some companies fascinates me.
Whether by choice or necessity companies worldwide are using the cultural  shock waves generated by this recession to win market share or change their images. Surfing on this wave of change are the branding experts, adeptly manipulating the angst of nervous owners and executives.

Lucas Conley, author of OBD-Obsessive Branding Disorder writes:

“Reaching beyond reason, branding throws off business’s true north. Disoriented, obsessed with surface and sentiment over substance, companies apply their ingenuity to the disingenuous, perfecting names and nuances instead of responding to consumer needs.” …
” In the name of the brand, any idea can be defended as valid and any crackpot can assume the status of a guru. And when the snake oil salesmen roll into town shilling branding tonics and salves, anxious executives line up, their minions and dependents standing dutifully at attention. Branding now encompasses supply chains, partnerships, and in an especially unholy pairing, human resources. Corporate branding books dictate everything from language to dress to the font on internal memos. Along the way, the axis has tipped; something has gone awry. Once rooted in the physical world of consumer products, branding has transcended its humble beginnings. Now brands must have a smell, a taste, a sound. Voices, attitudes and “processes” must be branded. What was once made up of products and services is now increasingly built out of nebulous intangibles. What was once a brand is now a Brand”

I have witnessed many examples of what Conley describes and have noticed a simple, direct correlation to the depth of branding theories and services applied to the depth of inept management and their belief of that this newest business philosophy will fix damaged, dysfunctional companies.

Accelerated by recession panic, and opportunity, branding has produced the inevitable gridlock of vocabulary and structure used to represent each brand.
In vogue are the left brain / right brain ( facts / emotions ) taglines loaded with words to sooth us and let us know that the associated company feels our pain and understands what is important to us.
By using, reading and buying their products and services our lives will be better

Watch TV commercials for awhile and you will notice certain words are being used repeatedly and a quick search of the internet for some of these produced this example of what I call “Message Gridlock”:

Pay Less / Live Better
Live Better / Live Bundled
Invest Well / Live Well
Invest Well / Live Better
Eat Better / Feel Better
Drink Well / Live Well
Build Well / Be Well
Eat Well / Live Well
Do Well / Be Well
Live Well / Be Well
Age Well / Be Well
Be Well / Live Well
Be Smart / Be Well
Live Green / Live Smart
Drive Well / Sleep Carefully

These are associated with dairy products, construction, exercise, vitamins, investing, diets and cancer treatments to name a few.
Creation of most taglines often costs companies thousands of dollars, involves lengthy interviews with employees and in-depth forensic investigations into a company’s “culture”. Is it worth the expense and effort?
I’ll let you be the judge.

Service is a verb, not a noun.

I want to bring all this back to the Service Conundrum part of the title of this article and I want to use my favorite and probably most visible example:

Walmart’s new  “Pay Less. Live Better” tagline which replaced  Always Low Prices.  Always.
Walmart’s aggressive charge to increase it’s market share is focused and impressive. I know many people who claimed they never have nor ever will shop at Walmart. In my part of the world Target is Walmart’s main competitor and Many friends have told me they are “Target people”.
I’m not one of those people, I shop both.
Watch out “Target people“, Wal-Mart is out to get you.

The yellow, bouncing,  price cutting, caped, ball commercials are gone replaced by a stylized sun and attractive, happy, middleclass, families Paying Less so they can Live Better. Their print ads have been designed with fewer items per page with lots of space between each item that mimics the design principles Target has used for years in their print ads.
What Wal-Mart doesn’t mention via it’s tagline or TV and print ads is service and  believe me it hasn’t changed.

My last visit to Walmart was to get one item in the garden center. It sent me searching for an employee to ask a question about the availability of a refill for a product I was using. I walked every isle, over to the area’s check out area, which was deserted and covered with paperwork and products, outside where I asked someone watering plants who answered my query about the product: “Isn’t ( put name here ) in there?”
I walk back into the store where I met the person who greeted me as I entered the garden center and asked if he could help me. He said that he thought ( put name here ) who could help me “was on lunch break but should be back soon”.
I found what I needed at another store. I might have paid more but they didn’t waste my most precious commodity, time.

Here’s the point of the story:

Wal-Mart attracts customers with low prices on products.
A&E and Construction Services companies can’t because what they sell you, what distinguishes them from their competitors is service

Service is performed not promised.

Do you think you have the most innovative design? You don’t because it will soon be copied or eclipsed and flashed around the world in days, hours or minutes!

Do you think you have a higher level of craftsmanship and manage better than anyone else, you better look around because you don’t.

When service is what you sell, all the branding, marketing and advertising you can afford will not protect you from the inevitable decline and assured failure that follows poor service.
Poor service will destroy your “brand”, chase away your customers, most valuable employees, devalue your company and condemn you to a single strategy for success…the lowest price.

Henry Hempel Associates / HHS ©
Sales & Marketing Solutions For Your Business /


  1. Very insightful,timely, and poignant. Purchase all the consultants and buzzwords you want, but it’s still putting lipstick on a pig if you haven’t taken care of the ultimate measure: delivering as promised. Hopefully the silver lining of this economic shakedown will be the elimination of those “competitors” who undercut quality with below-market pricing, and the market correction will leave standing those that place honest, quality service above all else.

  2. You left out the most annoying phrase I hear on tv all the time lately….. (so hackneyed)

    “There’s never been a better time to ________” (Insert lame sales message here)

    Branding for larger companies is dictated from the top… whereas the little guy or gal at the bottom is usually the person carrying the message to the masses in person. They’re the ones truly entrusted with delivering as promised, as applianceguy says.

    Great topic! With everyone racing to adopt some form of social media and ‘decide who they’re going to be’ online, it’s great to be reminded that you are only as good as the guy who just left the client’s house… with the company logo on the back of his t-shirt.


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