There's a cute little coffee-house in The East Village in Manhattan that I recently visited on one of my work trips. I frequently find myself looking for interesting places to write or get some work done, and this is the kind of place that when you walk in, it makes you want to sit and stay for awhile.
They serve fair-trade coffee, artisan sandwiches, and gelato. There's a case with fresh-baked pastries, and it smelled like, well, gourmet coffee. Behind the counter are a few baristas dressed in their hipster-casual uniforms, and from the decor, to the menu, to the signs in the windows, everything about it says "authentic, indie, gourmet espresso house."
That is until one of the women behind the counter started talking to a customer.
"What's the difference between gelato and ice cream?" a young lady asked her.
"I don't know, I used to work at Dairy Queen, and it tastes like ice cream to me." She replied.
Whoa, wait a minute. Did that just really happen? Imagine walking into an Apple store, and a customer asking "what's the difference between this MacBook Pro and the stuff made by Dell?"
"I don't know, they all have buttons, a power supply, and a keyboard." replies the soon-to-be former Apple Store Employee.
Of course, this isn't really about gelato. Except, that if you've invested a ton of energy, time, and resources in positioning your little storefront as an authentic "indie, gourmet espresso cafe," it might be nice if the woman behind the counter doesn't start her explanation of gelato with the words "Dairy Queen."
Your brand is only as good as it's lowest common denominator.
Companies spend a lot of money putting up a front of marketing. As small business owners, you do the same thing. You spend money, time, energy and resources on things like a logo, your website, a storefront and print ads. All of these things are meant to help you tell a carefully crafted story about what you stand for, and why a customer should choose your business.
And then the phone rings or the email comes in, or someone walks into your location. Ask yourself a question-- will the experience they have on the inside, match with everything you've done on the outside?
If your brand is about high-touch, boutique-level service, think about whether that's the experience your customer has if you take four days to return an email. Or, if your brand is about fun, high-energy, and a bubbly personalities, are you reinforcing that experience if the person answering the phone is having a bad morning?
Inside versus outside marketing.
That's the difference between inside marketing and outside marketing. Outside marketing is things like advertising, logo, website, print and online advertising, and word of mouth referrals. It's all the things you do to attract attention to your business.
Inside marketing is the way you answer the phone, the way you reply to emails, your follow up time, the way people are greeted in your office or store, and even the way your staff is dressed.
If your outside marketing is the story you tell, your inside marketing is where you make the story real. It's how you live up to the promises made by your outside marketing and it's the result of every experience your client has with you and your business.
A lesson for us all.
As I finished typing this, the "lowest common denominator" barista (yes, I'm really calling her that), took a seat at a table with a guest who apparently works at a nearby shop. In earshot of at least a half-dozen guests, while drinking a mug of her own hot chocolate, she keeps talking about how much she can't wait to "lock the doors, and get out of here."
There's a lesson here. Actually, there are two. First, maybe don't hire people who don't "get it," or if you do, help them get it before they have to talk to any customers. Which leads to the second--maybe spend a little time thinking about your inside marketing, because if you don't nail that, none of your outside marketing will matter anyway.