Put your staff first and your customers second

A couple of months ago we decided to spoil ourselves rotten. We won a free holiday at the luxury Castlemartyr Hotel & Golf Resort in Cork.

The kids were excited – it was their first taste of 5 star luxury and they eagerly spent the week on the iPad Googling Castlemartyr in anticipation of our visit.

 Wonderful photography of the Castlemartyr Resort creates brand expectation...

Wonderful photography of the Castlemartyr Resort creates brand expectation...

The Hotel does everything right... It sets out its stall on the interweb – shows amazing photographs of ‘the 17th century manor house that sits adjacent to the ruins of an 800 year old castle’ has a Facebook account etc etc After all luxury hotels these days are not about selling a room they’re about creating an experience....right?

After the weekend, I got a call from Paul saying: “So Jon – how was your weekend, tell me about your Castlemartyr experience?”

(Please note he did not ask me what I thought of their logo design but rather what I felt about my experience)

This is the moment of truth for most brands – will your customer enthusiastically promote you or will they tell people the experience was only so-so? Any marketing investment that does not leave a customer delighted is purely a waste of money.

In a nutshell my reply to Paul was that Castlemartyr is definitely by international standards not a 5 star hotel. It’s as if it was thrown up on a farm in the frothy days of Celtic Tiger and the finer touches were left unfinished. Either because the developers ran out of money or the new owners thought people just wouldn’t notice.

Although the food is excellent in the Bell Tower Restaurant (compliments to the chef) and Bill Clinton & Bruce Springsteen may have stayed there…Castlemartyr stumbles because their staff are simply not clear about the vision of the hotel or the experience that they are trying to create for their guests. Strong brands always stick to what they say and perform on what they promise.

What we experienced at Castlemartyr is not unique to them. Companies pour money into advertising & promoting themselves but fail to use their brand as a tool to align and guide everything that the organisation does.

"A brand is a living entity - and it is enriched or undermined cumulatively over time, the product of a thousand small gestures" - Michael Eisner, CEO Disney

In Stephen Covey’s book the 8th Habit, he reveals some insightful research on 23000 staff polled across a number of sectors & industries…

The results are startling…

  • Only 37% had a clear understanding of what their organisation was trying to achieve
  • Only 1 in 5 were enthusiastic about their team an organisational goals
  • Only 1 in 5 had clear line of sight between their personal tasks and their team’s goals
  • Only 15% felt that their organisation fully enabled them to execute their key goals
  • Only 20% fully trust the organisation they work for 

"Your premium brand had better be delivering something special, or it's not going to get the business." - Warren Buffett

It’s not management that creates value…it’s the people on the ground dealing with your customers every day. It’s not about the hotel room but more about the way you are welcomed at the restaurant or the spa….small gestures like eye contact, being friendly & helpful and having a genuine desire not just to do a job but to make your stay memorable.

In the luxury resort space – where people are paying a premium, hoteliers need to understand how having a higher purpose for their brand helps the bottom line.

Too many organisations use slogans to try and motivate staff in a tactical top down way instead of being clear about the values and mapping out a Big vision that excites, empowers and inspires people to do their best and go the extra mile.

By putting employees first and customers second – management can start to empower people to ‘live the brand’ in a way that drives profits & growth. To achieve this the company needs to be clear about it’s own values and become more intentional about the way it embeds this into its culture, communications and physical spaces …so as to reflect and reinforce the ethos of the Brand.


You can’t build a strong & memorable brand in the marketplace if you can’t build a strong and memorable brand in the workplace.

As an example, luxury Asian hotel chain Banyan Tree Resort Group is on the cutting edge of experiential, boutique luxury hotels in the world. The philosophy behind the brand is simple..become the “Sanctuary of the Senses” – offer rest & relaxation to help guests rejuvenate body, mind and soul. This is real 5 star.


Ho Kwong Ping is the chairman and employs 10 000 staff in 28 countries. Through this single minded ethos he attracts high paying guests to his luxury resorts to experience ultimate service & bliss.

He does not talk about managing a hotel or marketing. Instead his 100% focus in on clarity around the Banyan Brand and ensuring that it’s values and philosophy touch every guest through people. Ho is a firm believer that the thoughtfulness of his people creates the value of his Brand. He makes his brand meaningful by putting his people first, offering comprehensive benefits, continuous training focusing on teaching the importance of sincerity and delivering service with the warmth and spirit of Asian hospitality.  

Guests can feel the hospitality everywhere - nursing the soul, taking care of the spirit….enjoying the privacy & romance

Every day Ho weaves the values of Banyon into the fabric of the culture so that it manifests externally through creating ‘memorable guest experiences’ and is quoted as saying: “People will start wanting us more if we build a strong brand.”

So back to Ireland we have a situation where most Marketing Managers are not strong enough to earn a seat at the Boardroom table and most company owners don’t understand the connection between brand, culture and organisational change.

There are some promising green shoots and it was encouraging last week to read about Great Places to Work here ....ranking the top companies to work for in Ireland.

The story was not widely published online but it was good to see companies using their brands to not only attract customers but talented staff too. On their Youtube channel you can hear CEO John Ryan as he talks about “How to Create a Great Place to Work”

As we head to Nando’s again for lunch today – it is also worth noting that this plucky South African brand recently made it into the Top 10 joining the likes of EMC, E Bay and Microsoft.


This is an amazing achievement for a Brand that has only been in Ireland for 5 years and has almost no advertising presence.  Once again confirming that strong brands are not built by advertising but by people inside the business.

You can read more about how Nando's puts the ‘peri-peri’ into their people – and how working there is less of a job and more of a vocation https://onjobbio.com/company/13148/profile/0

 Terrific example of how Virgin Mobile embeds its values into the workplace. This giant internal wall mural was designed & illustrated by our Associate Creative Director Justin Plunkett.

Terrific example of how Virgin Mobile embeds its values into the workplace. This giant internal wall mural was designed & illustrated by our Associate Creative Director Justin Plunkett.

There are great opportunities for innovative companies in Ireland to embrace human centred design & start marketing their vision & values to staff in an imaginative & inspiring way. 

We’d love to hear your thoughts on Brand is Culture and Culture is Brand.