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(c) 2015 Trina Lambert

(c) 2015 Trina Lambert

Excuse me while I skip ahead to educational lessons I learned not while studying humanities, but while pursuing something totally different: an MBA. Sometimes my inner MBA rises up and pushes all that humanities knowledge to the side—though I’d like to think the analytical skills I honed in classes such as English literature led to my not only being able to analyze plots, characters, and themes, but also to do so with balance sheets, customer service philosophies, and branding decisions. Maybe that’s just why some people in the business community would rather not hear what I have to say.

So one of the big buzz words these days is branding. Branding this, branding that, branding yourself, branding your corporation, branding your non-profit, whatever. Really, it’s simply what Shakespeare brought up in Hamletto thine own self be true. And when you apply that to a business, branding is about making sure that the goodwill about your organization remains consistent with your mission and how you want those values communicated in the commercial world.

With large organizations, we, the customers, supposedly know what to expect if the company has created its brand well and protects it well. Whether I go to a Wendy’s by my home or thousands of miles away, there is this consistent feel to what it means to eat at a Wendy’s. Though menu variety and pricing fluctuates in minor ways from state-to-state, Wendy’s is still Wendy’s. If I want something else, then I go to the local Mom & Pop restaurant that does what it does—in a consistent or inconsistent manner—but knowing that that restaurant has its own way of doing things. If there’s no formula, as the consumer I take the risk that my experience will turn out better or worse than my expectations. Branded organizations such as Wendy’s are essentially making a promise that Wendy’s is what it is—nothing more or nothing less—but that I can mostly rely on a standard expectation of what going to a Wendy’s means. If that is not true, then Wendy’s brand begins to slip in the consumers’ minds.

Which is why I am flabbergasted to discover that the stand-alone Verizon store by my house is not what’s called a direct store, but an indirect store, similar to those found inside Target or Wal-Mart, according the Verizon representative.

Back story: what began as a simple online chat to discover how to access the discounts on Verizon accessories we were supposed to receive on our most recent purchase, led to my discovery that our Verizon store was in fact not a Verizon store. Now mind you, this did not come out until the representative finally figured out why she could not access my receipt, despite my giving her the invoice number and the time stamp. This is an hour of my life that I will never get back, but what I discovered about the business practice employed also makes no sense.

OK—so we can get the discounts applied through this local store. Small problem will get resolved—although I have to think it shouldn’t take me an hour to discover just why the branded representative could not resolve my problem herself. Plus, I think she should have been given some systemic way—through the receipt number or something—that indicated to her that I had in fact made the purchase at one of these so-called indirect stores.

However, the big issue comes down to trust. If I am not walking into an obvious indirect store, such as those in discount stores, why would I not think that a store that has the Verizon name on its walls is anything but a real—I mean direct—Verizon store? Frankly I don’t even know if our purchase price and the associated services are any different from what we could get in a direct store, but I do know I feel duped. We wanted to upgrade this Verizon phone through a direct store as we had done for every phone we have gotten since 2007—including the three phones we upgraded this year.

It’s not up to the customer to realize that the store he or she is visiting is a different sort of store—this information should be obvious. My experience with the brand told me a store meant one thing but apparently Verizon is using its brand for more than one kind of a store. That makes no sense to me—either as a customer or as a person who studied business. By making this issue confusing to the average customer, Verizon is muddying what its brand means and is at risk for introducing doubts about what else it might be muddying. I, for one, feel as if every time I go in such a store that I receive a different story about what costs are and what services come with what. By obfuscating what a store is or isn’t, Verizon is also leaving me to question the trustworthiness of these other practices.

I can’t say if Verizon is being true to me, but I have to say that it may not be being true to its own self—by introducing doubt into what is really included in its brand. But here’s what this one particular customer wants—that direct stores have a standardized look that is distinctly different from indirect stores. Maybe Verizon thinks the look is different enough, but if it is, it’s not so different that I knew that this local store is not the same kind of store as the ones I’ve patronized in the past.

The humanities taught me to question and analyze concepts presented to me as truths, while what I learned in business school taught me the hows and whys behind business concepts. In either case, what I gained was a deeper ability to dig beneath the surface to understand when something made sense—and when it didn’t.

To thine own brand be true—that’s just good sense—business or otherwise.


My family is used to my saying “I’m an operations person and . . . .” This is when they immediately roll their eyes and stop listening. They’ve heard that phrase so many times and I haven’t even worked as an operations person. Nonetheless, it’s the operations person in me that I most developed as I worked through my MBA program.

Sometimes that operations person just drives me crazy because she makes me think everything can be changed or improved. Well, in the end, I can only do so much to change organizations from the outside. Organizations, like people, have to want to change—or have to be forced to change.

We live in tough economic times. Many businesses have cut their staff size to a level I believe is below productive. Reduced employee expenses might make Wall Street happy for awhile, but in the end, revenues will suffer when employees can’t get their work done or aren’t able to focus long enough to do things right. That’s what’s wrong with a strict bottom line attitude. Just because a company looks good—for now—on paper doesn’t mean it isn’t suffering from an illness that will affect the bottom line in the long run. It’s kind of like looking at my mom’s blood tests and thinking she is well. As her doctor said, “She looks good on paper, but . . . .”

The irony is that one group of Americans is sitting around, unable to contribute to the economy, due to lack of jobs while many of those who have jobs are so overwhelmed that they aren’t productive either.

At least, I’d like to think some of this is why organizations and their people keep dropping the ball on what I need done. It’s sort of a circular process which keeps us all dropping the ball. We can’t seem to receive it when expected from the person handing off the ball and then we’re not ready to hand off the ball when the next person is expecting it.

Unfortunately, I have so many details to manage between the needs of my family and my mother that I need to know people within corporations are going to do what they say they will do. I barely have time to contact these people once, let alone several times.

What’s a person to do? I can’t change these corporations easily. Frankly, if only one or two of the problems occurred, I could take the time really to explain the problems and try to resolve the difficulties with the organizations. But my attention is so divided between so many of these institutions that I tend to send in only the most basic explanation of my difficulties to the proper authorities and, these days, often one contact or letter doesn’t seem to be enough. I don’t feel it’s fair to publicly “out” a business on a blog without having more discussions with the organization first.

Basically, though, I don’t want to pass more of my day dealing with these frustrations than spending time with my loved ones and dedicating time to my personal and professional pursuits.

(c) 2009 Christiana Lambert

I can only control my response and that’s becoming harder and harder to do with all the missteps that keep happening. Last week I finally had that “eureka” moment: I have to operationalize my responses to these tasks. I have to create steps for how I follow-up with firms. The more I let the phone calls and papers sit on my desk, the more I allow them to rob me of even more of my well-being and time.

I have used a paper tickler file with great success for paying bills and returning items and completing other tasks that have a physical presence and a time deadline. Now I will be adding an electronic reminder system to my calendar where I make an arbitrary deadline for responses from others. If I don’t hear from them, I call to check on the status. I do not wait to call them, as I often do now, until I feel a sense of impending doom, or until I receive a piece of mail that reminds me to take immediate action. I regain what little control I have as an outsider by not letting others’ inactions weigh on every minute of my days. I compartmentalize what I do have control over: my actions.

Too bad someone else’s bottom line has to take away from my ability to spend time improving my own bottom line. Making spreadsheets for others and operationalizing my responses to inaction seems, on the surface, to be a poor use of my MBA knowledge.

However, the peace of mind those actions bring to me may be priceless.

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