Finding the Best Behaviors of Brand Personalities

Photo by Patricia Martin

A recent swing through Michigan landed me at the fabled Zingerman’s Deli. Its owners are passionate about delivering a heartfelt customer experience that elevates a Pastrami sandwich into something more transcendent. How do they do it? Well, they offer training classes. And one of their founders, Ari Weinzweig, wrote a book that shares his wisdom on building a great service culture. During this visit, I tried to see the place through fresh eyes. I was determined to unearth what makes the Zingerman’s brand come to life through its people.

Here’s what I saw:

1. Engagement: The long line to order was daunting. I nearly turned away. But a young woman caught my eye and greeted me like a person at a party: “Hey, how are you? I’m Jane. (She shakes my hand.) Are you here to pick up sandwiches, or do you want to sit down for lunch?”

Jane’s engagement method:

Smiling eyes
Handed over a menu
Knowledge share (see below)

2. Sharing knowledge: The transfer of knowledge builds trust. Jane offered samples and encouraged me to try her personal favorites. She warned me away from a pasta salad sample saying, “It’s a little too bland for me, but you might like it.” Okay, so she doesn’t think everything is terrific. I can trust that.

3. Making simple magic: One of the best ways to create a magical experience is to anticipate unmet desire. Behold: Once inside the store, which is cramped and loud, I noticed a little boy with his nose pressed to the glass of the cheese case. Observing the boy’s wonderment, a butcher reached inside pointing, “Which one looks good to try? I’ll give you a bite.”

Whacking off a generous slice he handed it to the boy’s mother saying, “There’s enough for both of you to share.” Face it. The cheese case always looks so forbidden in most delis. Like museum cases. Helping a customer break into the treasure chest, completely unsolicited, makes the experience magical.

By engaging both mother and child, he creates a memory. Surprise and delight is often cited as the sole reason for retail to exist anymore. But HOW we surprise and delight in a culture that has seen it all can be a little more elusive.

I emerged from Zingerman’s with a ton of notes scribbled in my Moleskine. I’m gathering insights on rich brand environments for a new study. The aim is to discover the best brand behaviors in a digital culture—both live and online.

Zingerman’s remains a powerful customer experience because the brand has been conceived as a persona, rather than a sandwich joint. That makes it easier for the brand personality to be lived out by its people through sincere gestures of compassionate service. Not every brand can claim that pedigree, so I am eager to find ways that brands can genuinely infuse their service ethos with personality.

Got any examples of rich brand environments you’ve experienced lately?

Share them in the comments and I’ll see to it you get a free copy of our findings.