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When I decided to take my family on an off-the-grid trip to Alaska this summer, the giddy excitement was tempered with a bit of anxiety. My Anchorage-based cousin invited my wife and I and our two kids to experience two cabins in different areas of the Alaskan backcountry. We eagerly accepted the invitation, but we were also aware that more than a few things could go wrong.
Getting to the cabins was going to be an adventure in itself as we’d planned to boat into the general area and had to bushwhack our way to the cabins since no one had visited in about a year.
If anything went wrong, civilization was 3 hours away.
I was fairly confident my family would be safe, but I still grilled my cousin on a few crucial and sometimes unpredictable variables — like the sometimes less-than-forgiving Alaskan weather. My cousin’s advice? “The key to having fun in Alaska is being comfortable. The key to being comfortable is staying dry,” he said.
That piece of advice focused my attention on ensuring my family was properly outfitted. Being unprepared when it comes to clothing and gear is probably the biggest risk you can take when hiking the backcountry (except of course not paying attention to the signs of grizzlies in the immediate area).
And that’s where L.L. Bean entered the equation.
Stocking Up for the Last Frontier: Buying the brand
Now, I know I can get a pair of North Face hiking pants, moisture-wicking T-shirts and a Marmot jacket from dozens of places, but I went to L.L. Bean. Why? Because of the brand.
The Bean brand is not about selling products. It’s about great customer experiences — from the store floor, to online, to deep in the Chugach National Forest. Not only is the essence of L.L. Bean delivering great experiences — but guaranteeing them, in a sense. Their brand promise is 100% satisfaction guaranteed. Any time, any reason, if you’re not happy with something you get from them, return it. No questions asked.
By extension, on a trip such as ours to Alaska, where so much is riding on the gear and clothing, that promise meant everything.
Taking my cousin’s advice, I ordered away – waterproof under garments, moisture-wicking middle layers, heat-retaining fleece layers, Camelbacks for hydration, wind/water-proof outer layers and waterproof hiking boots for the kids. And because L.L. Bean guarantees 100% satisfaction, I knew we’d be comfortable – which means no matter what weather Alaska threw at us, we’d have the time of our lives.
Brand Promise: A contract with your customers
So what, exactly, is branding and why should you care? For starters, as I’ve written about in this blog many times before, your brand is much more than your logo. It’s more than your positioning. It is inclusive of your visual identity and messaging—but these elements alone don’t make a brand.
Most simply, a brand is all about the promise you make to prospects and customers about what they can and should expect when dealing with your company. And that is something you have to care about nowadays.
L.L Bean “gets” the power of branding. They understand their brand is all about the consistent experience customers have from top to bottom, inside and out, online and in the middle of nowhere. It goes beyond the quality products they offer. They make sure the entire shopping experience — every interaction with the brand — is 100% awesome.
Your brand needs to be consistently represented and delivered — everywhere. Online. In-store. Mobile. Sales pitches. Digital and print ads. Signage. Attitude of your customer service reps. Even down to how customers are greeted when they call or enter your business. Your brand permeates everything you do, everywhere.
My recent experiences with L.L. Bean? They nailed it.
Online, the website makes it super simple to find what you want and make your purchase with an experience that felt just like browsing the bricks-and-mortar store. And they backed it all up with a best-in-class mobile experience, so when I wanted to check and adjust my order, I could do so from my phone while at my son’s baseball game.
My order arrived two days ahead of schedule (fantastic!), but one of the items didn’t fit so I went to the retail outlet.
The in-store experience was equally remarkable. Spacious display areas and knowledgeable, friendly team members made me feel comfortable asking the most basic questions.
This was also where the time, thought and training necessary to ensure consistency of brand is most evident. They didn’t have the right size in-store so they ordered it up for us right there and asked if we wanted it delivered to the store or to our home address on file. Every step of the way, it couldn’t have been easier which gave me incredible peace of mind.
So, what are the lessons that any business leader – no matter which industry they serve – should learn from L.L. Bean and make a conscious decision to follow?
Here are my three takeaways:
- Understand and define the core promise you make to your customers.
- Create processes, systems and a company culture that enables delivery of that promise.
- Deliver that promise consistently regardless of time, place, location or medium.
And, as for my family’s vacation?
Geared up and ready to go, my family and I set off on one of the most amazing adventures ever. Rafting, hiking, kayaking, bushwhacking, landing a plane on a glacier, slogging through swamps, watching the sunrise over Denali and waiting for it to set at midnight along the banks of the Susitna River. Every day we knew we would have a great time. And, no matter what the weather threw at us, we’d be ready because L.L. Bean guaranteed it.
L.L. Bean earned my trust with their guarantee. They earned my loyalty by delivering on that guarantee. And they have my unwavering thanks for making sure my family and I had the right gear at the right time our entire trip. Maybe I could have saved a few bucks shopping elsewhere, but it wouldn’t have come with the peace of mind.
Now that’s the power of a brand.