In over twenty years working with and facilitating leaders and teams engaged in visioning and strategic planning, I have found that there are three key impediments to the alignment to brand intention. They appear at the highest levels of leadership and can be found throughout a company. In one form or another, they impede alignment and performance.

Agreement on brand intention

The first obstacle occurs when a company’s leaders, because of their experiences, do not agree about the brand intention that will best serve the customer. It’s not that there are too many chefs in the kitchen. It’s that each chef wants to cook his or her favorite dish.

While this can often be the case for a new group trying to evaluate and make a decision about what path to customer satisfaction to pursue, it can also affect an experienced group. Often, even with a group of seasoned and experienced leaders, I can be surprised at the level of disconnect and misalignment when it comes to clearly defining what they believe is in the best interest of the customer and the company.

Leaders want to do what they believe is competent and right. That doesn’t mean they will always be in alignment.

Typically, the opposite is true. Because each member of a leadership team has his or her own set of experiences, they have different interpretations of what works and what doesn’t. After all, if history is a good indication of what will happen and a predictor of future success, it is natural for people to pursue opportunities based on what was successful before. As a result, it’s not unusual for each member of the team to try to convince the others that his or her desired direction is the best one.

Personal Preference

The second obstacle to alignment is personal preference. As individuals, we all have a natural preference toward one of the three customer motivations and, therefore, will likely favor one brand intention over another. Underlying this is the desire to treat others in the way that we want, and expect, to be treated.

For example, one partner in the business has a preference for receiving attention. As a result, he advocates for the brand intention of customization, which aligns to preference. He believes the best way to build the business is to build relationships with customers and offer customized products that the customer is willing to pay more for. Based on his preference, he believes that the best course is to pursue a steady pace of growth while targeting higher margins.

Another member of the team prefers competency and advocates a strategic direction toward low price. Rather than taking a personal approach to the customer, she believes the shopper can be better attracted through discounted pricing. So, she advocates for building the business by gaining market share. She believes it is better to lead customers than be led by them. Because it is more in alignment with her preference for competency and control, she tries to persuade the other team members to pursue the brand intention of low price. She advocates a vision for the company that is anchored in and aligned to quickly building sales volume, taking market share, and operating as efficiently and effectively as possible to maintain lower margins of profitability and win by competing through price.

The purpose of this example is not to advocate for one or the other. It is to provide insight into how easily our preferences are communicated and how easily we allow our preferences, and ultimately our emotions, to guide our thinking and influence our decision-making.

Scenarios like this one are fairly common.

Depending on a team’s or leader’s chosen methodology, a group may engage in a competitive analysis, an assessment of market trends and variables, an opportunity and threat analysis, or a number of other processes that allow for the collection and analysis of information to incorporate and guide the strategic planning and decision-making process.

Finding the right approach is important. Making certain that everyone involved is aligned to the process is as well.

A team can easily find itself in a conversation or debate headed toward an outcome that reflects less of what may be in the shared best interest of the business and more of a contest over whose personal preference comes out on top.

Insecure Egos

The third obstacle is insecure egos. Every so often members of a team, or the leader, will advocate a direction or make a decision that does not align with what is in the best interest of the business. They want things their way or they may set out to prove that they are the smartest person in the room, regardless of the consequences to the business. They will sometimes set out to prove they can win the argument. It may be the result of a long-standing struggle or conflict with another member or an ongoing debate among multiple members. It can also be the result of partners disagreeing or a long-standing conflict between them.

In such instances, other team members can easily disengage, become disinterested, or decide they don’t want to participate in the argument and eventually acquiesce. Often, this results in members pursuing their own personal preferences by heading in the direction that delivers the best individual gain and shows little or no concern for alignment.

When leaders or members of a team act out of insecurity, they often abandon the pursuit of alignment and what is in the best interest of the customer. This can create challenges that are difficult to overcome and may cause misalignments that take a long time to recover from and result in time-consuming issues, unnecessary conflict, and dissatisfied customers.

Ultimately, a company’s success depends on the ability of its leaders to come into alignment and engage the remaining members in the process.

As a company grows and expands, its ability to align will be a key influence on its success.

To do this effectively, leadership must create a clear vision and strategies that create alignment at the organization and group level. These must then be clearly conveyed and further manifested in the roles, expectations, and goals of every member of the business. Studies show that all too often employees are disengaged and do not feel connected enough to the organization and its vision, strategies, and goals. These are symptoms of misalignment.


Edgar Papke is the co-author of Innovation By Design and author of True Alignment and The Elephant In The Boardroom. He helps leaders and their organizations align to create greater levels of innovation, performance, and fulfillment. He can be reached by email:


We all want to feel that whomever we are buying from is treating us well. When we pay for a product or service, we expect to be treated with dignity and respect and to receive what the provider promised.

Customers want to feel that they are cared for. Caring, attention and competency are the three motivators of customers.

Caring for customers begins with:

  • how well the provider markets what it is selling, and
  • how transparent and honest the company is in the message provided in its advertising.

Caring conveys that you’ll be truthful with me.

We have become accustomed to accepting less than we bargained for. We know that the advertising is not always accurate. Advertising often tests the boundaries of truth and reality. Still, we expect that the makers and deliverers of the products or services we want will inevitably do the right thing and deliver on their promise.

Caring for customers is shown in many ways

The expectation of being treated in a caring way often extends beyond the immediate locus of the customer to the communities, the environment, and other relationships. While truth in advertising is one example, social responsibility, fair trade, and societal benefit are examples of how caring is experienced in broader ways. Along with a customer’s singular experience, the failure to create a shared value is interpreted by customers as a lack of caring about them and their world. Often, this is measured by how truthful the product or service provider is; how what they do is measured in terms of what is ethical and “right.”

Why does caring motivate customers?

The motivation behind caring is the customer’s desire to feel affection and acceptance.

In addition to the sense of caring conveyed by honesty and openness, the customer can experience physical and emotional well-being, as well as a fulfillment of the ongoing desire for self-actualization, through products or services.

Thus, when we buy a product or service that delivers caring, we also care for ourselves. This means pursuing and becoming who we want to be physically and emotionally and learning what makes us happy about who we are. These desires show up in our appearance, our physical health, our energy, and so on.

We want to be cared for, care for ourselves, and care for others.

Whole Foods, the world’s largest retailer of natural and organic foods, has done a remarkable job of focusing on the customer motivation of caring. The idea of good food for good people and a good earth underlines the caring quality of the company and how it achieves this goal.

This experience is a key to the customer’s motivation. The emotional value is so great that the customer is willing to pay more for it. In paying more for caring, the consumers underlying expectation is to be treated in alignment to that intention.

Whole Foods Caring For Customers

Another aspect of the Whole Foods approach focuses on its authenticity and honesty in customer relations. There is a powerful element embedded in the idea that Whole Foods is in competition with the big grocery food chains that do not care enough about their customers.

Caring is also evident in the products or services customers engage in as part of their lifelong journey of self-actualization. The result is self-discovery and self-acceptance.

Often, such products or services offer philosophical approaches to life, ideas for living, and processes that customers use to reach their goals. As a result, the provider can often enjoy high-profit margins. People are willing to pay to care for themselves. What separates market leaders from their competitors is the ability to deliver through their product or service a uniqueness that differentiates them from the rest. To accomplish this means answering the question, “Why is the customer spending money with us rather than our competitors?”

The three customer motivations help us understand the sources of a customer’s emotional desire to buy and offer insight into what separates the winners from their competitors.


Edgar Papke is the co-author of Innovation By Design and author of True Alignment and The Elephant In The Boardroom. He helps leaders and their organizations align to create greater levels of innovation, performance, and fulfillment. He can be reached by email:


In addition to attention, one of the three motivators that we all share as customers is an expectation of brand competency. We expect providers of products or services to be competent both in creating and delivering whatever it is we’re buying.

Beginning with the design and engineering that goes into a product and continuing with how it is delivered, we expect a level of reliability and quality that reflects the provider’s competency. From the person making the sale to the delivery person handing us the product to the person on the phone (or online) helping fix a problem, we expect competency.

If we purchase using an automated or technology-based process, such as a website or telephone-based system, we expect that system to be designed in a customer-oriented and competent manner, allowing us to be successful.

Business competency affects customers perceptions of their own competency

A customer’s trust in the provider’s competency and the quality of a product or service is a direct reflection of the customer’s competency in making the decision to buy a particular product or service.

When customers make a good decision, they feel competent and conclude that they made the right choice. When customers feel they made a bad choice or decision, they feel incompetent. They then experience the anxiety that accompanies the embarrassment of making the wrong choice. The customer may even feel stupid, which is not a good outcome for anyone.

For the customer, status relates to competence.

The example of BMW

BMW is considered one of the most competent engineering companies in the world. BMW does not sell a car. It sells the “ultimate driving machine.”

The intention is to communicate that a BMW, through advanced engineering and design and the quality embedded in its manufacture, goes far beyond the expectations of other cars. It is much better than the average car.

To the customer, this easily translates to, “I am not your average guy.”

First, being able to afford a BMW demonstrates the owners’ competence. Second, ownership shows they are smart enough to know and drive a great car. Third, they are able to drive such a high-performing machine properly because they are competent drivers.

Drivers of BMWs often argue emotionally in support of BMW’s quality and craftsmanship and, thus indirectly, in support of their own competency.

When the expected competency is not provided, customers are naturally disappointed and resent the provider for letting them down.

We question whether we were incompetent in making the buying decision. We make comparisons about the quality, appearance, and associated pricing because we want to get the best value for our dollar. Making the best value for our dollar makes us feel competent and in control. If we are fooled or make a bad decision, we no longer feel competent. That is why we strive for predictable outcomes.

Every product or service must reach a bar that represents the level of competency that the customer expects. It is a source of trust between the business and its customers. Brand competency shows up in quality, know-how, expertise, reliability, sound advice, customer service, and durability.

All businesses must pay attention to competency as a motivator and always strive to meet that expectation. In order for them to feel competent, customers need to feel secure and trust in your competency. It is often at the center of why they are choosing to spend their money with you.


Edgar Papke is the co-author of Innovation By Design and author of True Alignment and The Elephant In The Boardroom. He helps leaders and their organizations align to create greater levels of innovation, performance, and fulfillment. He can be reached by email:


One of the three motivators that we all share as customers is attention.  

Attention fulfills our need to feel important and supports our desire to know that we count. The opposite is to feel ignored, which customers interpret as they don’t matter and are not valued. This is a powerful force and, as with most emotional responses, is immediate.

Think about the last time you called for customer service and went through several telephone prompts before you got a person on the phone. Like me, you probably tried to outsmart the recording by saying “customer rep,” “agent,” “customer service,” or by pressing “0,” “9,” or “1,” only to find yourself back at the main menu.

It doesn’t take much for this to make us anxious, upset, or angry. It’s hard for even the greatest of brands and businesses to recover from ignoring the customer.

Mutual Respect and Attention

In our relationships to one another, the first indicator of mutual respect is whether one person shows an interest in the other.

I define mutual respect as people treating one another in the manner in which they want to be treated. This is not possible unless each person is willing to pay attention and listen to the other.

The focus on attention is the key to the brand strength of Lands’ End and defines its customer service. Until the latter part of 2012, when it first incorporated a voice prompt system, customer calls were answered at any time of the day or night within two rings. Twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, you found yourself talking to real person, not an automated system of multiple menus.

The speed with which the company connected by telephone, and now online chat, is vital to how its customers interpret the value of its products. This focus on customer attention is Lands’ End’s passion and shows up in every facet of the organization. Many businesses can sell you a quality shirt. It is how Lands’ End does it that makes the difference. By paying attention and thereby making the customer feel important, Lands’ End separates itself from its competition.

Many powerful and successful brands now motivate customers by paying attention to them.

Think about Facebook, YouTube, and the host of providers of social media. Being “social” is engaging in giving and receiving attention from one another. In light of our current demographics, this is a powerful force. Whether a business is large or small, demographics should not be overlooked when defining brand strategy.

Demographics support the significance of attention

As we move through the second decade of the twenty-first century, the baby boomer generation is the largest group in our economy and workforce. In the United States, there are 76 to 80 million people in this generation.

The second largest group is the Echo or Millennium generation, also known as Generation Y or the New Millennials—the children of the baby boomers. Born between the early 1980s and the early 2000s, this group is 72 to 75 million (U.S.) strong. Its members grew up with the new technology and have come to rely on it, spending endless amounts of time using it.

Depending on the study, sociologists claim that 35 to 45 percent of the formative years of New Millennials were spent alone in front of computer screens, televisions, and video games. As a result, they crave attention. As they moved through adolescence and entered adulthood as consumers, this need became a major influence—one well worth business leaders’ attention (no pun intended).

The generation immediately before them, Generation X, includes approximately 49 to 51 million (U.S.) people born between the mid 1960s and early 1980s. This is a much smaller group, often referred to as the ignored generation. When it comes to technology and need for attention, this group shares many of the characteristics of the GenYers.

In addition to explaining why social media has become such a global force and phenomenal marketing tool, the demographic data demonstrates how powerful attention is to businesses. There’s a significant benefit to understanding its part in the emotional attractiveness of a product or service. And how it can be leveraged through a company’s product or service and brand intention.

Attention is a key to building successful customer relationships. 

Customer attention is the cornerstone and foundation for many great brands and the intention of their products or services.

The importance of attention is not limited to large businesses. Like Disney, Harley-Davidson, and Lands’ End, even the smallest business can leverage attention as a key value and source of motivation.


Edgar Papke is the co-author of Innovation By Design and author of True Alignment and The Elephant In The Boardroom. He helps leaders and their organizations align to create greater levels of innovation, performance, and fulfillment. He can be reached by email:


What separates market leaders from their competitors? What makes your product or service different from the rest?

Although a number of factors are important, the one that matters most is the answer to:

“Why is the customer spending money with us rather than with our competitors?”

At the center of every great market strategy is the ability to clearly communicate and then consistently deliver what the customer is paying for regardless of the product or service, regardless of market complexity or size. This is what motivates the customer.

It is the difference between those companies that become market leaders and those that struggle to get and sustain customer attention. Whether competing in a small local market or on the global stage, such clarity and relentless pursuit of customers results in successful brand identities. They are the household names and trusted brands of the most sought after products or services.

Often, they assume legendary status.

Brand Clarity is the Key

Brand clarity and what it represents to customers are key to any business’s success. However, this is where companies often fall short and is the core reason why customers are not attracted to a particular product or service.

A lack of clarity also has an impact on employees, who are expected to successfully meet customer needs. It can also cause confusion and misalignment within organizations. This can create unnecessary and unproductive conflicts that inevitably erect barriers to performance. This results in:

  • imprecisely defined and interdependent strategies and goals,
  • anger pointing for performance failures, and
  • a lack of commitment and accountability.

It’s hard to create success when we’re not clear and aligned on what we’re selling to the customer.

To appreciate the extraordinary power of brand intention, we must understand more about why and how we buy what is being offered.

The what and the how are factored into the customer’s perception of the intention of the provider, yet neither would be necessary without first understanding why people buy.

In today’s ongoing battle to provide more and more to the customer and to increase value, products and services have grown enormously complex. Have you ever asked yourself “What am I really buying?” You probably have and can relate to the confusion.

In the blur of rapid improvements and accelerated changes, customers can quickly be confused by the number of options. Often, customers define success as the ability to select and buy more easily—to readily identify what they are looking for, to experience fewer complications, and actually get what they’re paying for.

Customer Motivation

To understand how a customer determines the true value of a product or service is to understand why we are motivated to buy a product or
service in the first place. The answer is simple—and powerful:

We buy products or services to fulfill our human wants and needs; that is, to make ourselves feel good.

This most basic of human motivations lies at the core of consumerism, including business-to-business transactions.

Beginning in the late the 1950s, Will Schutz, a research psychologist, presented a very powerful and simple explanation of human behavior and interaction known as FIRO (Fundamental Interpersonal Relations Orientation) theory. In 1952, Schutz was asked by the U.S. Navy to determine how teams of men could better work together to make better decisions. The intent was to improve team performance, particularly under pressure. Schutz theorized that all of our behavior and interaction is motivated by three fundamental desires to feel

  1. important;
  2. competent;
  3. accepted.

A powerful framework for understanding customer motivation

What Schutz probably didn’t see was that the profound understanding of human behavior he developed would provide a powerful framework for understanding:

  • why customers buy what they do in the way they do,
  • what they are seeking for themselves and their individual sense of fulfillment, and
  • how products or services are offered.

Schutz’s FIRO theory can also be used to better understand the what, why, and how of branding, marketing, selling, and product or service
delivery. It allows us to interpret why customers react to products or services with a range of responses from euphoria and joy to disappointment, anger and despair. It’s all about whether customers feel fulfilled by what they purchased.

As customers, the three sources of human motivation are consistent with how we react in other situations. It’s easy to underestimate the value of a customer’s experience and the power of our desires. When our needs are met, we typically feel good. When they are not met, we quickly become disappointed and angry.

meeting customer needs

As marketers, we should try never to overlook the human component of what makes the customer experience so powerful. We should try to always consider what motivates us as customers and respond to the three motivations that we all share. In no order of importance, customers want: attention, competency, and caring.



Edgar Papke is the co-author of Innovation By Design and author of True Alignment and The Elephant In The Boardroom. He helps leaders and their organizations align to create greater levels of innovation, performance, and fulfillment. He can be reached by email:


We all engage in business. Every day, we take part in business. It may not be obvious, yet from the moment we wake, we are consumers — by turning on a light; running water; dressing; eating breakfast; gassing up the car; stopping for coffee; and, of course, texting and emailing. Throughout the day, you engage in activities that contribute to the creation and delivery of a product or service.

The more a product or service fulfills a need, the more we are attracted to it. The greater our attraction is, the stronger the offering. The stronger the offering, the more powerful the brand. The more powerful the brand, the
more value the product or service has.

Why are you in business? 

I often ask audiences, “Why are you in business? What is it you’re trying to do?” The most frequent and confident response is, “To make money!”

That’s not a wrong answer. There’s a great deal of truth in it. After all, one of the measures of business success is profit. Profit is part of the endgame; the scorecard. Making money is the measuring stick of capitalism.

In my view, the purpose of a business, regardless of the product or service and whether it’s a for-profit or not-for-profit enterprise, is to win the customer. That’s what business is all about.

I then ask, “What do you offer the customer that allows you to be successful and make money?” Answers include:

  • “Superior customer service!”
  • “Added value!”
  • “A product our customer can depend on!”
  • “We give them quality!”
  • “I offer them something they can’t get anywhere else!”
  • “We provide expertise!”
  • “A wide selection of options and choices!”
  • “We give our customers peace of mind!”
  • “To bring value to people’s lives!”
  • “We provide solutions!”
  • “Helping our customers reach their goals!”

It’s interesting when members of the same team give different answers. If there’s going to be misalignment among members of a group and a conflict over who is right and who is wrong, this is where it starts.

Winning the customer

Winning the customer is the result of delivering a product or service in a way that motivates the customer to buy it.

They choose to spend their money on your offering rather than on someone else’s—your competitor. Competition is a key driver and motivator of business. The foundation of our capitalist system is our shared desire to compete. The winners reap the benefits, so it is natural that we compete to win.

When a customer pays enough for your product or service to make a profit, you can invest that profit to increase your ability to win and build your business to win even more.

Winning isn’t our only motivation; several others contribute to our propensity to participate, including the social benefit we create and deliver.

A powerful aspect of an organization’s alignment resides in what is being created and delivered. Behind every product or service there is a purpose—a reason why the product or service has value. Finally, there is how the product is created and delivered to the customer.

These three are the centerpiece for what it takes to win in business, and together they provide the foundation for how the four elements of the Business Code, the customer, brand intention, culture and leadership, come together. In my book, True Alignment, we’ll explore how these forces influence the cultures of our teams and organizations, engage us in our leadership preferences, and result in the consistent thinking and behavior business demands.


Edgar Papke is the co-author of Innovation By Design and author of True Alignment and The Elephant In The Boardroom. He helps leaders and their organizations align to create greater levels of innovation, performance, and fulfillment. He can be reached by email: