A Passionate Love, for a Brand

by Anne Borremans, Sr. UX/UI Designer

Publix is the best grocery store in the country, if not the world.

I have two coworkers, Abby and Leigh, who agree with me. I know this because the other day in the office someone mentioned Publix, and the three of us proceeded to passionately talk about its wonders for a very long time.

So what is it that makes a brand so great? What drives a customer to be so satisfied with a brand that they will only see the good in it? They will promote and defend it. The happy customer will essentially become part of that brand’s team. They take sides, and in the case of a Publix fan, Albertsons is lame. Whole Foods is deficient. Not even Wegmans can compare.

It’s the product and the experience — the overall service design merged with the brand design. And Publix nailed it. Here’s why.

The color palette consists of white and green. It’s simple, clean, pleasant — a perfect reflection of the experience I’d want to have when shopping for groceries.

Everyone at Publix is so nice. They are happy to be working there, and it shows. If it’s raining outside, they let you pull your car up and will load your grocery bags — they will even do this if it is not raining. Publix employs more full-time staff than other grocery stores and also promotes from within. Employees are well trained. Instead of directing you to a particular aisle to help you locate what you’re looking for, they’ll actually walk with you and make sure you find it. Publix has been ranked as one of FORTUNE magazine’s “100 Best Companies to Work for” from 1998 to 2015. That’s 18 consecutive years!

They have OCD-style. Spotless floors. Organized and aligned offerings.

They embrace originality, which I highly value myself. They understand that the brand continues to deliver on its promises even if the facade changes. Actually, this is part of what defines the Publix brand and promises — the high value they place on adding a bit of spice to life; it’s the opposite of a boring, homogeneous, fully-predictable life. This design aesthetic goes hand-in-hand with Publix’s value of diversity.

The company creates an inclusive workplace by employing workers with disabilities. CEO Ed Crenshaw says, “Publix realizes the need to be able to serve a diverse customer base and have people working for us that resemble that base.” They’ve been recognized numerous times through awards from The Able Trust, including the 2013 Large Employer of the Year Award and the 2011 Corporate Champion Award.

The prices are very reasonable, and sometimes they even have BOGO deals (Buy One, Get One free). The Publix BOGO offers are unusual — they are great deals AND challenge consumers to put the Publix store brand’s quality and taste to the test against national competitor brands.

It’s better than most competitor products on the market. As mentioned above, Publix introduced their unique BOGO campaign in 2007 to prove to consumers that their Publix brand trumps national brands in pricing (often 20 to 30 percent cheaper), quality and taste.

Who doesn’t love grazing while shopping? Publix stores often offer free samples of products, which gives consumers a chance to try new items and sample recipes made with in-store items. Many grocery stores do this as well; however, Publix pays attention to the details. Samples are offered by smiling employees, placed neatly and appealingly on serving surfaces, and often selected based what is new or trending in the food industry. Compare this experience with the typical Whole Foods sampling experience, which is usually offering oranges or chips and salsa — things most shoppers already know what to expect in taste and quality — at unattended self-serve stations. It’s snacking, basically, and not the unexpected, mysterious discovery experience that true sampling offers.

I love Publix sub sandwiches. Everything is fresh and delicious. Need a birthday cake? Publix will hook it up! Bonus delight: Kids get a free cookie at the bakery! And while we’d like kids to get just as excited about a free orange or banana (Whole Foods), that just doesn’t seem to be happening.

Like this one, which aligns with the Publix brand by being a proud sponsor of youth soccer, upholding their commitment to be “involved as responsible citizens in our communities.”

Small things like the slightly-lower-than-usual checkout counters make shopping a…pleasure.

Okay, so you might be wondering if the three of us Publix lovers here at Motivate are just weird (we are) or nostalgic for a store that we grew up going to (we are, as the three of us are all from Florida, the state with by far the most Publix locations in the U.S. — 760 of them!). Now you might be wondering if all Floridians are weird (unconfirmed). But, if those are simply the reasons we think Publix is so great, then why does it consistently rank as the best supermarket in the country — in terms of customer satisfaction — with an 83 out of 100 on the National Quality Research Center’s annual index. Additionally, take a look at their long list of Awards and Achievements. There really is something undeniably different and special about this brand that elevates it to the top of its industry.

So what makes Publix so successful? Why do they have such loyal customers — a lasting true fan base? What gives a brand this prestige?

The first step is to define a clear mission statement (established by good people with good values). Here’s Publix’s mission, taken from their corporate site:

To be the premier quality food retailer in the world. To that end, we commit to be:

Passionately focused on customer value,

Intolerant of waste,

Dedicated to the dignity, value and employment security of our associates,

Devoted to the highest standards of stewardship for our stockholders, and

Involved as responsible citizens in our communities.

They go on to guarantee: “We will never knowingly disappoint you. If for any reason your purchase does not give you complete satisfaction, the full purchase price will be cheerfully refunded immediately upon request.”

The second step is to live up to these brand promises — the established values and commitments.

At Motivate Design, we always start a brand identity project by discussing and defining the mission statements, core values and brand personality. It’s apparent that Publix has thought through all of this and proactively lives up to the standards they’ve established — for the past 85 years they’ve been in business.

To be exceptional, a company must consistently deliver on their promises and understand that their brand is defined by every interaction a person has with that brand. At Motivate Design, we help our clients create meaningful and exceptional brand experiences for their customers. This is how we define experience (UX) design. We look at each and every project from this holistic point of view, and — for me — that’s what sets us apart from other agencies.

We’re in it to help companies develop and deliver on brand promises for 85 years and many more!

I love working with companies like Publix because they just get it. They understand the value in the small stuff, while still keeping the big picture in mind.

And with that, let’s all aspire to be more like Publix.

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Originally published at medium.com on June 17, 2015.