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Transformers, Bread Sticks, & a Story to Noodle On

Updated: Apr 19, 2023


It's a lot like a Transformer, in that, there's more than meets the eye.

It's just one of those ideas that needs context. I mean, are we going to the chiropractor to straighten our spine or are we getting all of our proverbial ducks in a row?

To understand what alignment means in the context of business and branding, let's visit 16 year old Linsey at 🥗 Olive Garden in Waldorf, MD.

The year is 1999. Across from me is a friend that I've had since middle school. We are excited to be adulting so hard. I drove us there and I am treating us to lunch.

I was one of those kids that was always working at something. My first job was working for my Uncle at 13. I got my license the first day I was eligible. I got straight A's my senior year of high school.

So, I'm hot stuff at 16 - picking up my friend in my car and taking her to lunch with money I've earned.

We have Alfredo and ravioli. We laugh and fill our bellies. The dining hall is full of other people laughing and smiling and filling their bellies.

This moment is full of hope and freedom and possibility. In two years we'll graduate and go to college. This lunch is just a taste of the world that awaits.

When the check comes, I proudly take out my debit card and give it to our waiter.

We're all smiles and pride.

When he comes back, he tells me my card was declined.

I die inside.

He gives us a minute to process.

This is not the time of smartphones. The first Blackberry was just released ... so we're on the verge of having the internet at our finger tips, but we aren't there yet.

I can't see my bank account or transfer money. My friend doesn't have any money. I cannot phone a friend (or parent) to get bailed out because money doesn't move that fast for normal people yet.

I cannot pay for lunch.

As my face reaches a new level of red and my mortification crescendos, the manager comes over.

Has he called the police? Will he escort us to the kitchen where we will work until our lunch is paid off? Lucky for us, that's not what happens at all.

He tells us that lunch is on them today.

"At Olive Garden, you're family. Thanks for coming to see us today. We'll take care of the check."

I'm not going to lie, I might have cried a little in gratitude and relief.

So what's all this have to do with Branding?

In that moment, Olive Garden's brand values took the stage and saved us all from an awful situation.

At 🥗 Olive Garden, you're family.

It shined through in their team culture, the customer experience they delivered, and their marketing. There was alignment all the way from TV commercial to the table I sat at that day.

The manager had to ask himself, "how should I handle this worst-case scenario at Olive Garden?" The brand spoke: treat them like family. Be generous and forgive this mistake.

So when my family celebrated, I brought them to that particular Olive Garden. Over the years, we've spent thousands of dollars there. They lost $40 that day ... or did they?

Brand values create the consistency of experience that we crave. It gives your company sticking power in the minds of your favorite customers. Delivering on those values creates trust.

So what's important to you?


A few years ago, I brought my family of 5 to a different Italian spot. It was locally owned and closer to our house.

It took us a few minutes to get everyone's meals picked out. We had to ask the waiter for extra time ... twice.

After that, he just didn't come back. We waited 45 minutes. Eventually we just got up and left. They didn't want us there anyway, right?

We've all had these moments... disappointing interactions that frustrate us or drive us away. Our daily lives are full of them. It's boring to complain about, because my experience with this second restaurant reminds you of your experience with this bank or that dentist or ...

All this to say: I was a client to lose. They lost me.


What if we took a hint from the big brands and created that richness for our small companies?

What if we looked more intentionally at creating moments that make us likable and signal trust?

What if we didn't practice messaging karaoke—singing the same song everyone else sings, mimicking the same words in the same voice—but instead created a brand that was real and true?

What's the cost if we don't?


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