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The Impeccable service helps separate Ritz-Carlton. Ritz-Carlton does a lot of things right to earn the high prices they are able to charge–the best locations, beautiful rooms, nice beds and great meals. But in reality, every luxury hotel has to deliver against these or they’ll be quickly out of business. Recognizing that any great brand has to be better, different or cheaper to win, Ritz-Carlton focuses their attention on impeccable service standards to separate themselves from other Hotels. What Ritz-Carlton has done so well is operationalize it so that culture and brand are one.

How Ritz-Carlton meets the unexpressed needs of their consumersI was lucky enough to be able to attend the Ritz-Carlton Training session, and as a Brand Leader, the thing that struck me was the idea of meeting the “unexpressed” needs of guests. As highly paid Marketers, even with mounds of research, we still struggle to figure out what our consumers want, yet Ritz-Carlton has created a culture where bartenders, bellhops and front desk clerks instinctively meet these “unexpressed needs”. Employees carry around note pads and record the expressed and unexpressed needs of every guest and then they use their instincts to try to surprise and delight these guests.

Employees are fully empowered to create unique, memorable and personal experiences for our guests. Unique means doing something that helps to separate Ritz-Carlton from other hotels, memorable forces the staff to do something that truly stands out. And personal is defined as people doing things for other people. Is that not what marketers should be doing? So what is getting in your way?

Ritz-Carlton bakes service values right into their culture

The Ritz-Carlton phrase they use with their staff is “Keep your radar on and antenna up” so that everyone can look for the unexpressed needs of their guests. These could be small wins that delight consumers in a big way, showing the hotel is thinking of ways to treat them as unique and special. But like any hotel, things do go wrong. When a problem does arise they quickly brainstorm and use everyone’s input. The staff is encouraged to surprise and delight guests so they can turn a problem into a potential wow moment. How Ritz-Carlton meets unexpressed needs

A great story that makes its way around the Ritz-Carlton world. A guest who had just left the hotel called to say that their son had left his stuffed giraffe in the room. The boy could not stop crying. The only thing these distraught parents could think of to tell their son, is that the giraffe was staying on the vacation a little longer. So the staff, found the giraffe and overnighted it to the boy. Most luxury hotels would have done that. But that was not enough for Ritz-Carlton. Knowing what the Mom had told their son about staying on a bit longer, the staff also included a photo album of the giraffe enjoying his extra stay, including sitting by the pool, getting a massage in the spa with cucumbers on his eyes, and laying out on the beach. Imagine how the parents felt and the signal it sends to them about the Ritz-Carlton staff. Imagine how many friends they may share that story with.

To inspire each other, everyone at Ritz-Carlton goes through a daily line up where they share wow stories, both local stories and stories from other hotels around the world. This line up keeps everyone in line, but it also keeps people fully engaged. Harvard did a study on Employee Engagement, stating that the average company had 29% of their employees who were fully engaged and they labelled this group as the ‘Super Stars’. Using the same criteria, Ritz Carlton has 92% of their staff considered fully engaged. No wonder they are able to win so many service awards and no wonder they can create such an experience for their consumers. They have fully created a culture that now defines the brand.

So What Can Brand Leaders Learn from Ritz-Carlton?

  1. How can Brand Leaders meet the unexpressed needs of guests? As Henry Ford said: “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.” Are you too worried about the short-term results that you are not even seeing or hearing the unexpressed needs of consumers? Are you so analytical that you need to see the data first and never reach for your instincts?
  2. How do you get your antenna up, so that you are always watching, listening and thinking? How many times a week do you talk with consumers, walk into a store or monitor the brand’s social media feed? Do you ever sit with customer service or read through consumer complaints? Can you set aside time to do a quick brainstorm on consumer observations once a week.
  3. How can Brand Leaders push themselves to wow the consumer? The Ritz-Carlton staff is constantly trying to wow their guests, with surprise and delight that goes beyond the brand promise. Are you pushing yourself to surprise or wow your consumer? Do you have a high standard for the work that exceeds that of your consumer?

How to communicate to the corporate culture behind your brand

With most brands I meet up with, I ask “What is the Big Idea behind your brand?” I rarely get a great answer. When I ask a Leadership Team, I normally get a variety answers. When I ask the most far-reaching sales reps, the scientists in the lab or their retailer partners, the answers get worse. How Ritz-Carlton meets unexpressed needsThat is not healthy. Everyone who touches that brand should be able to explain what it stands for in 7 seconds, 60 seconds, 30 minutes or at every consumer touch-point. They should always be delivering the same message. There are too many Brands where what gets said to the consumer is different from what gets said inside the corporate walls. The Big Idea must organize the culture to ensure everyone who is tasked to meet the needs of both consumers and customers, whether they are in HR, product development, finance, operations and experience delivery teams, must all know their role in delivering the Big Idea.

Too many brands believe brand messaging is something that Advertising does. The more focus we put on delivering an amazing consumer experience, the more we need to make sure the external and internal brand story are aligned. It should be the Big Idea that drives that story. Every communication to employees, whether in a town-hall speech, simple memo or celebration should touch upon the brand values that flow from the Big Idea, highlighting examples when employees have delivered on a certain brand value.

The Big Idea should drive everything and everyone

Brand Management was originally built on a hub-and-spoke system, with the Brand Manager expected to sit right in the middle of the organization, helping drive everything and everyone around the Brand. However, it should actually be the brand’s Big Idea that sits at the center, with everyone connected to the brand expected to understand and deliver the idea.How Ritz-Carlton meets unexpressed needs

Aligning the brand with the culture is essential to the long-term success of the brand. The best brands look to the overall culture as an asset that helps create a powerful consumer experience. The expected behaviors of the operations team behind the consumer experience should flow out of the brand values, that flow from the Big Idea. These values act as guideposts to ensure that the behavior of everyone in the organization is set to deliver the brand’s promise.

Can you do something this week that meets the unexpressed needs of your customer?


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Beloved Brands: Who are we?

At Beloved Brands, we promise that we will make your brand stronger and your brand leaders smarter. We can help you come up with your brand’s Brand Positioning, Big Idea and Brand Concept. We also can help create Brand Plans that everyone in your organization can follow and helps to focus your Marketing Execution. We provide a new way to look at Brand Management, that uses a provocative approach to align your brand to the sound fundamentals of brand management.

We will make your team of Brand Leaders smarter so they can produce exceptional work that drives stronger brand results. We offer brand training on every subject in marketing, related to strategic thinking, analytics, brand planning, positioning, creative briefs, customer marketing and marketing execution.

To contact us, email us at or call us at 416-885-3911. You can also find us on Twitter @belovedbrands.


Beloved Brands Graham Robertson

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Graham Robertson

Graham spent 20 years in Brand Management leading some of the world’s most beloved brands at Johnson and Johnson, General Mills and Coke, rising up to VP Marketing. In his career, he has won numerous Advertising, Innovation and Leadership awards. Graham played a major role in helping J&J win Marketing Magazine’s prestigious “Marketer of the Year” award. Graham brings a reputation for challenging brand leaders to think differently and to be more strategically focused. Graham founded Beloved Brands in 2010, to help brands find growth and make brand leaders smarter. He leads workshops to help define your Brand Positioning, build your brand’s Big Idea, and write strategic Brand Plans that motivate and focus everyone that works on the brand. Our Beloved Brands training programs will help your team, produce exceptionally smart work work that drives stronger brand growth and profits. We cover everything a brand leader needs to know including strategic thinking, planning, positioning, execution and analytics. Our robust client roster has included the NFL Players Association, Reebok, the NBA, Acura, Shell, Miller Lite, 3M, Jack Link’s and Pfizer. His weekly brand stories have generated over 5 million views.


Aisling Roche · October 26, 2012 at 5:39 am

Graham great stuff yet again, may I have your permission to share this with a group in the hospitality industry in Ireland, with whom I am doing a branding workshop? Aisling

    beloved brands · October 26, 2012 at 6:32 am

    Aisling, yes feel free to share. Best of luck with your session.

ashleykonsonAshley Konson · October 26, 2012 at 9:57 am

An excellent post that once again demonstrates how effectively brand marketers can leverage the 5th P (their people) in their Marketing Mix.

Pam Morisse · October 26, 2012 at 10:39 am

Reading this story, I think that a lot of this “engagement” has to do with Empowering employees. I believe I read an article on and they focused on employee empowerment, as well, by not pushing a binder on standard protocol, rather allowing case-by-case decisions from their employees when responding to customer feedback and dissatisfaction.

As we are running from meeting to meeting filling out those spreadsheets, instead of being that cookie-cutter corporate drone that most companies expect, reward and promote – empowerment and the freedom to act it out is a gorgeous thing and theoretically will extend employee shelf-life. I have a good friend who works for Ritz-Carlton Miami Beach, I’m going to send this link to him. Wonder what he has to say about my theory on empowerment?

    beloved brands · October 26, 2012 at 10:58 am

    Pam, I agree. One way of empowering people is that every employee can spend up to $2,000 on an issue, without seeking approval. It’s certainly not abused, but it does give people the chance to really make an impact with guests. The other cultural aspect is the brainstorming. There are these quick gatherings.

    And btw, I worked at a fortune 500 company, and no one ever rewarded drones. Those that stood out and did exactly the challenges of this article are those that excelled. Push yourself within the environment you are in. You might be surprised at what you can accomplish.

Jim Matorin · October 26, 2012 at 11:59 pm

Using Ritz Carlton as an example is a good choice Graham re:exceeding customer service. They are a hospitality leader, but I wish more companies would benchmark their MO and think like a hospitality company. I always like to suggest to people to benchmark Nordstroms, but unfortunately few people realize that going the extra distance pays off in the long run – builds loyalty, repeat business, your best customer is your current customer.

    beloved brands · October 27, 2012 at 4:04 pm

    Thanks Jim. When cpg brand leaders only watch consumers from behind one way glass once a year, they never really know them. Time to get out and experience the real world. Get in the stores. Talk with consumers. Host a dinner. Get out of the office.

J. Arvind · October 28, 2012 at 7:12 pm

Great stuff! One observation I have is that in most organisations, the marketing guys are busy making endless presentations to the bosses to promote themselves; somewhere along the way the customer is forgotten! Ritz-Carton is an truly an unbelievable brand success story of how the it has amalgamated its people into a major force that recognises the customer as the only real person who should be impressed with a sincere attitude .

    Pam Morisse · October 29, 2012 at 9:34 am

    “The marketing guys are busy making endless presentations to the bosses to promote themselves”… I agree! And this is what I meant by the cookie-cutter corporate drone statement in my comment. At least in my experiences, the free-thinker type isn’t the one who makes it up the ranks, he/she gets laid off during re-orgs by threatened higher ups. But, I hope to have more positive experiences and be more optimistic going forward! The consumer does get forgotten in the quest for young Mktg professionals to become Br Mgrs before reaching the age of 30! (one of my previous co-workers goals).

Jim Matorin · October 29, 2012 at 1:03 pm

Another way of putting it Graham is to Avoid Rarified Air:

Murray · March 23, 2013 at 10:41 am

Great post Graham. Branding is the entire experience your customer has with your business – at every touch point – at the store level, interaction with employees, the ad in your local newspaper, visits to your website, blog or Facebook page – of which Ritz Carlton excels.

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