Entropy is one of the most powerful forces in the universe. It is the tendency for systems to move from states of order to states of disorder.  Line up all of the toys on a child’s shelf, and soon they will end up scattered all over the floor.  Clean up your to-do list, and by the end of the week you will need to re-organize yourself.  It’s easy to see why entropy is so powerful when you consider that the ordered state is only one of millions of possibilities for the system; disorder is much more probable than order.

Entropy can dilute your customer experience, if you do not have a strong brand essence that acts as a glue to hold together all of the elements of the experience.  The reason for this is simple – there are thousands of different ways a particular customer interaction can happen, but only a few of these possibilities will reinforce your brand story and add to the sense of Brand Harmony that your customers perceive.

Consider a very simple example.  You own a athletic shoe store, and you believe that you can differentiate your store by asking a customer to describe his personal exercise habits, and the aches and pains he gets from exercise, in order to find the perfect pair of shoes to fit his needs.  Your website and in-store signage describe this brand promise, and you, personally, deliver this promise when you wait on customers.  Now, think about what happens when another employee serves a customer. The “right” ways to interact with a customer make up only an infinitesimal portion of the possible ways to interact with a customer.  So, if this employee doesn’t have a strong sense of your brand promise, and doesn’t feel the essence of the brand in her bones, it is highly likely that she will not support the brand when she interacts with customer.  The result:  It is more likely that a customer interaction will dilute your brand promise than it is likely that it will support your brand promise.  Brand entropy is more likely than brand reinforcement.

If you want a strong brand, you need to be one of the (few) companies who define their brand essence with great richness and detail, and ensure that everyone who works in the company understands the promise, with equal richness and detail.  This takes a lot of effort, but, then again, entropy is one of the most powerful forces in the universe.


  • Dan Gunter
    Jun 08, 2009 - 20:14 pm

    Excellent points you’re making here Steve. As I began reading the first few sentences, one of those dreaded “Okay, but…” thoughts crossed my mind. But you appear to have seen it coming and addressed it. What I’m referring to is the fact that some people would stop with your initial words and make the grave error of trying to create customer “encounters” by trying use too many specific, forumulaic customer responses.

    I’ve heard the description of a great business as being comprised of the “four F’s:”

    * Fast
    * Focused
    * Flexible
    * Friendly

    What you so well describe is being “focused,” particularly where a particular “way” of doing things is concerned (i.e., helping find just the right pair of shoes for each customer.) But you must also be flexible enough to realize that some customers will have different needs and personalities, meaning you have to be “flexible” enough to treat them as the unique customer they are.

    All too often, in the name of being “fast” and “focused,” customer service people get indoctrinated into ways that *seem* to be most efficient, completely killing and chances of being “flexible” and “friendly” to the customers.

  • leonghw
    Jun 09, 2009 - 08:24 am

    “..who define their brand essence with great richness and detail..”
    i agree.
    the fastest way to dilute a brand is to promise to be everything to everybody.

    strong brands have their unique messages.
    some are known for the low prices, others stand for luxury, still some are based on superb customer service.

    also like you said, the brand’s promise must be clearly defined. fast means focused efficiency yet flexible and friendly. fast doesn’t mean shoddy work. just pushing products out there. it has to be clearly defined.

    brands with strong promise that’s clearly defined are easier for the customers to understand and employees to follow. remarkable brands always have these qualities.


  • Eliot
    Jun 09, 2009 - 20:15 pm

    But Steve, How is brand different from mission statement in this example? or are they one in the same?

  • Steve Yastrow
    Jun 11, 2009 - 02:39 am

    Dan and Leonghw get at a key challenge: Have a strong brand essence, but be flexible enough to adapt it to an individual customer’s needs and situation. This is very much like jazz; if you know the underlying chords, melody and form of the song, you can improvise over the tune and it’s in harmony. Scripting is the “fart in church” (excuse me for that metaphor) of customer service, just as it would be in improvised jazz.

    Eliot’s question is a good one. Answer: It could be a mission statement, but I tend to avoid the term because the mission statement process has, for many companies, become watered down, formulaic and generic. “Exceed expectations,” “Treat our customers and employees with respect,”serve our markets,” etc., are the fodder of many mission statements that could have been created from those word magnet sets you play with on your refrigerator. Oh, and I didn’t mention the next steps after you write your mission statement: You frame it in your lobby, give your employees wallet cards imprinted with it, and then … you forget about it! So, a good mission statement can be based on a good brand essence, but a mission statement that is not based on a clear, compelling, differentiating brand essence is not worth having.

  • Andrea Keating
    Jul 19, 2009 - 16:09 pm

    Mr. Yastrow,

    Just finished reading Brand Harmony! Brand Harmony was informative, interesting, and well-written. I think you make strong points on how to make a successful (and lasting) brand…certainly a perspective I agree with. This book will without a doubt be a key resource as I go into my Masters in Commerce at UVA this Fall!



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