A brand is more than a strategy

I had an incredible experience with a dress purchase recently at Nordstrom, and it reminded me how a good brand looks and feels. Though I’ve talked in previous Branding OHIO columns about what makes a good brand, my experience at one of the most well-known customer service-focused organizations epitomized everything I’ve tried to convey.

First, I’d like to share why I was buying a dress. Because they were the sanctioned attire for school and church for many years when I was growing up, I wore dresses most of the time. In fact, I didn’t acquire my first pair of jeans until I was midway through high school. I can’t imagine how many dresses I’ve purchased over the years, but none of my past dress purchase experiences came close to the one I had at Nordstrom two weeks ago.

I always like to buy new dresses for spring and the visit to Nordstrom was my first spring dress shopping excursion. I was greeted warmly as I entered the dress department. The salesperson’s smile made me smile. I picked up a couple of dresses and just as I was selecting a third one, the same person walked up to me and said, “I see what color someone likes.” I looked down to see that they were all some shade of tangerine. (Smile #2) “Would you like me to start a fitting room for you?” I smiled a third time. Not only had she noticed my color preference but also that it was the right time to take the dresses off my hands. I picked up another dress and before I got that, “Where do I go now?” look on my face, the salesperson pointed towards the fitting rooms. I smiled again (#4). Immediately I saw one of my dresses hanging outside as a calling card (#5).  My husband sat patiently in what appeared to be a comfortable sitting area between two banks of fitting rooms (#6). The dress I chose to purchase was not the correct size and the salesperson quickly found one at another store  (#7) and gave me an estimated time of when I would receive it. I made the purchase and left the store, thinking that after I received an email confirming the shipment, my experience with Nordstrom would be complete. In fact, up to this point, I would have not felt the need to write because it was relatively similar to other shopping trips. Aside from the (7) smiles, something else happened that really made the difference.

A few days later, I saw the dress box leaning against my door when I arrived home from work. I smiled (#8) and discovered later that I had also received an email from the salesperson (#9). Her note simply said, “Hi Renea! I saw that you received your dress today. I just wanted to make sure that the dress arrived in good condition and that the fit was good. If you have any questions or concerns, please feel free to contact me. Have a great day.” Ladonna, Salesperson, Dresses, Nordstrom. I smiled again (#10) and responded, “Thank you so much! The dress is beautiful. I am very happy with it!” (#11) She answered back, “Great! I’m happy to hear that. Enjoy!” (#12)

Nordstrom dress tag

I’ve read and heard Robert Spector talk about “The Nordstrom Way,” and know that many organizations have studied the philosophy and tried to duplicate it, but in my experience, only a few come close. Some that come quickly to mind are Amazon, Disney, and Zappos, as organizations focused on empowering their employees to provide over the top customer service.

I’ve been talking about the branding strategy that UCM launched last year and hinted about some of the new initiatives underway such as the redesign of the front door. All of these branding projects are designed to demonstrate an authentic OHIO experience. What I felt at Nordstrom is that for this organization, branding is more than a strategy. At Nordstrom, customer service practically equals the brand.

In thinking about how I’d like to challenge myself and my team with what it means to live the brand that is OHIO, I believe that “it’s you” encapsulates what OHIO is striving to achieve. As customer service defines Nordstrom, the nation’s best student-centered, transformative learning community is becoming OHIO. Our challenge and our opportunity is to collectively live that vision every day. Smiles should be included!



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