How to generate that elusive emotional connection between your brand and your customers: Sainsbury’s shows the way


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This post is NOT for novices. If you are novice then I suggest you not read any further as you will not get it and it will occur to you as ‘nonsense’ and a ‘waste of time’. The exception is if you are a novice with an open mind – you see that makes you not a novice, but a master! I know that it sounds ‘nonsense’ and ‘paradoxical’ – you are warned.

Failure is built into the existing dominant mindset

My blessing and my curse is that I am a constant outsider. That is simply what goes with being born into one culture (and all that goes with it) and then growing up in a completely different one. What has this got to do with business, with customers, customer relationships, CRM and customer loyalty? Kind of everything.

I have been involved in the whole Customer dance since 1998 and the one consistent is an intuitive sense that the whole enterprise is founded on a context that ensures that the people and the companies that are doing all of this Customer stuff (to build customer loyalty and reap the benefits) will fail to cultivate that much desired customer loyalty. How best to convey that? Let me start with two quotes that kind of point towards what I am striving to make visible to you:

“We will win and you will lose. You cannot do anything about it, because your failure is an internal disease. Your companies are based on Tailor’s principles. Worse, your heads are Taylorized, too. You firmly believe that sound management means executives on one side and workers on the other, on one side men who think, and on the other side men who can only work. For you, management is the art of smoothly transferring the executives’ ideas to the workers’ hands” Konosuke Matsushita in 1989 (Founder of Panasonic)

“Before producing the products, we produce men” Toyota’s motto

If you still don’t get it then let me share with you what Gary Hamel (management guru) has to say. In his latest book (What Matters Now) Gary points out that the single biggest reason most companies don’t adapt and innovate is that their leaders fail to write off their own depreciating personal intellectual capital. What he is say takes us back to the first quote by Konosuke Matsushita and should also shed light on the second quote (above).

This is what it takes to cultivate loyalty – do you have what it takes?

It is quite possible that you think you get what I am pointing at. That is the disease in which the whole Customer movement is mired and has been mired in since inception. You get it intellectually – at best you understand it and this is what one of the wisest thinkers / philosophers on the human condition has to say on that:

“In life, understanding is the booby prize.” Werner Erhard

You see the whole issue is that understanding through the mind is simply not enough! So let’s move on to a zen story that gets to the heart of the matter that I am concerned with today. I invite you to notice how you are impacted (or not) by it:

“A saintly woman was walking along the edge of the cliff. Several hundred feet below her, she saw a dead mother lion, surrounded by crying cubs. Without hesitation, she leaped off the cliff so that they would have something to eat.”

Do you get it? COMPASSION/LOVE is the context which gives rise to the kind of being and doing that co-creates the emotional bond between you and your fellow human beings. Your customers are human beings – not wallets, even though you think and talk in terms of wallets and wallet share.

If you are novice, an intellectual, a ‘rational’ and quite possibly a Top then it is likely that I have pressed your buttons and that little voice inside your head is coming up with ‘nonsense’, ‘rubbish’, ‘liberal’, ‘no place for this stuff in business’……. So let me share an interesting story with you about one of the UK’s biggest retailers.

The Sainsbury’s tiger bread story: why did this story touch our hearts and put the Sainsbury brand in the limelight?

3 year old Lily wrote to Sainsbury:

And here is the Sainsbury response:

Which brings me back to the central question: why has Sainsbury’s reply to Lily and the positive response to the Facebook campaign (to change the name of tiger bread to giraffe bread) made such an impact on us? Reading this article I am struck by the following comments made by various people:

“Steven Dodds, co-founder of {united}, called the tale “genius”, adding “it screams of spontaneous generosity and humanity.”

Dodds said: “Consumers want to be able to put their trust in brands and this random act of kindness, which has made a strong impression on people, embodies the importance of that brands connect with customers. With people wanting to build relationships with less obviously managed brands, Sainsbury’s hits the mark in showing its human side.”

Mark Dye, MD of White Label Media, commented: “The humour and warmth shown by a big brand like Sainsbury’s conveys it as a warm down to earth, friendly and approachable brand staffed by real people rather than the complex and often frustrating IVR systems most consumers are faced with nowadays.”

Max Thompson from Plug and Play explained that Sainsbury’s decision to rename the bread has reinforced that it cares about its customers and that it considers their opinions enough to cause a rebrand of a product. “The impact it has had on the Sainsbury’s brand is that it has reinforced that it cares about it’s customers and that it considers their opinions enough to cause a rebrand of a product. An activity which would normally be exclusively an executive decision,””

Summing it up

The access to that emotional bond that touches our humanity and lifts the human spirit is LOVE borne out of COMPASSION. There simply is no agreement for these words, these concepts, and so it is no surprise that Steven Dodds of United (above) replaces them with “spontaneous generosity and humanity”. Just ask yourself what provides access to “spontaneous generosity and humanity”. I assert that it is:

  • an enlightened individual (and organisation) which takes us back to Toyota’s motto“Before producing the products, we produce men”;
  • an enlightened organisation is simply an organisation where the people in it and the culture in which these people live is one that is in touch with the best of humanity – compassion, kindness, love.

Finally: a warning and an invitation

The trap is for you to read this, agree with it and understand it intellectually – nodding your head. Why? Because purely intellectual understanding is a dead end. All that is is because of action. Action is that which gives rise to the way that things are and the way that things are not. So I leave you with some of the wisest words uttered for our age – the intellectual age:

“In life, understanding is the booby prize.” Werner Erhard

Open you heart – all action that has ever made a difference in the world has come from the heart. Jonathon Haidt refers to the ‘Heart’ as the ‘Elephant’ and the ‘Mind’ as the ‘Rider’. The ‘Rider’ often thinks he is in charge the reality (as neuroscience amply demonstrates) is very different – it is the ‘Elephant’ (the limbic brain, the Heart) that determine pretty much everything that does and does not happen. So once again, open your heart if you want to cultivate the customer loyalty that you are looking for. And if you are not prepared to do that then recognise that you are on a fools errand: how many more $ millions are you going to spend to stay exactly where you are?

I thank you for your listening and invite you to enter into a conversation with me. I suspect that I have pressed at least one of your buttons! Surely you must have something to say – surely you want to tell me that I have got it all wrong. I look forward to hearing what you have to say.

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Maz Iqbal
Experienced management consultant and customer strategist who has been grappling with 'customer-centric business' since early 1999.


  1. Hi Maz, nice article.

    I thought this was a great bit of PR, turning a story about one nice Sainsbury’s employee into a story about a company led by nice people. We blogged about it a couple of weeks ago, albeit from a more sceptical perspective!

    Full article here:

  2. Hello Tom
    As they used to say in England some time ago (when we had those kind of manners) I am pleased to make your acquaintance. And I thank you for taking the time to share your thoughts. I have read your article and found it interesting.

    I am not in a position to say whether it is or is not a PR stunt – it certainly could be. My interest is the impact this has had on us – customers, bloggers, media, readers. PR stunt or no PR stunt, it has raised the profile and ‘lovability’ of the Sainsbury brand.

    Isn’t it also interesing that few of us want this episode to come out as being a PR stunt. That would just reinforce our cynical, pessimistic, view of companies and the business world. We want to believe in goodness. At some deep level we want to believe that we live in a good world, peopled by good people. And we want to believe that the organisations are human too.

    Once again, I thank you for your contribution to this conversation. And opening my mind to the possibility that it could all be a PR stunt.

    All the best friend.



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