Words Are Never Enough

While sitting at the Hyatt in Belgrade last month, I had an epiphany. My kuma Katarina, who I was meeting for coffee, walks in. We hug, say hello and she says: “You look good.” That afternoon I had my glasses on (which I never wear out of my home) and so I said “Are you sure? I don’t like going out with my glasses… do they look ok?” She says to me, “I already told you. You look good.”

Europeans say what they mean. In contrast, Americans are so full of (what have now become meaningless) pleasantries, from “I’m sorry” for absolutely everything to my favorite. “How are you?” (The latter of which when someone actually answers… Like shit. My wife and I just fought and my daughter just slammed the door in my face….Is a shock.)

It was a small exchange, but it made me realize how little value I place in words.

For my dear friend Kaća she couldn’t have been clearer. I, on the other hand, assumed it was some of the words you mindlessly exchange right before you sit down. Further with me coming from Cuban and Dominican households, saying things once is never enough. Insisting, persisting, repeating yourself is a way of showing that you care. (i.e. C’mon, eat some more. What? You didn’t like the food. No really, let me serve you. Shut up and give me your plate.)

While I realized something important about myself, there is an important lesson here for brands, for companies and people—words are only words. And as I illustrated above, their impact is almost entirely contingent on who is hearing them. When everyone takes in information differently, how then do you communicate effectively? The answer is in every other possible way.

Branding is not an exercise of words and messaging. It’s about designing a consistent, values-driven experience across everything you do. Having met with Larry Light yesterday afternoon, a brand-building icon and legendary marketing leader, this belief was galvanized. As a C-level consultant, he is helping a major hospitality group use their brand promise to drive changes in everything from the guest experience, operations, technology, and even employee benefits.

I don’t believe in words, because it’s what you do that matters.

If you say you’re not hungry but you’re still eyeing the plate… If you say you’re committed, but you act disengaged… If you say that you care about customers, but you squeeze them to improve your margins…

I don’t believe in words, because it’s what you do that matters. Next time you think about your brand, consider that your logo and message can only do so much. It’s your actions driven by values that builds the trust that not only enhances your bottom line but creates priceless relationships.

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