You’re a grocery store owner, and you have four customers in the checkout line.

That’s the good news.

The bad news is that they won’t go away.


The first customer walks in with a purpose and heads straight for the pasta aisle. She just got off work and she’s got a flight to catch early the next morning, so she doesn’t have time to cook anything fancy. She paid a bill earlier in the day, so she also doesn’t want anything too expensive either. Plus, she doesn’t want to waste any time in the grocery store thinking about her dinner. She grabs a box of spaghetti and jar of red sauce off the shelf and heads straight to the checkout line.

This first customer is a thinker. When she looks at the box of spaghetti, she sees a product that costs money and takes time to make. She weighs her options, considers the available information about the product and her circumstances, and makes a rational decision based on that information. She considers the costs and the benefits.

Her decision is based on thought.


The second customer has been in the store for a while. He grabs a cart, and wanders around the aisles, puts a box of cookies in his cart and then puts it back on the shelf. He feels a few avocados, but none are ripe enough, so he moves on. His workday was stressful and it’s got him feeling down. He didn’t get enough sleep last night and lunch just made him sleepier. After a while, he decides to make pasta because that’s what his mother used to make him after school.

This customer feels. When he looks at the pasta, he thinks of home and better days. He’s coming face to face with the box of spaghetti after a day that made him upset. He’s hoping the meal will make him feel better. Maybe he doesn’t necessarily need more carbs, but he wants to feel comfortable, so he goes with the pasta.

His decision is based on emotional connection.


The next customer walks in with confident strides, grabs a hand basket, and goes to the pasta aisle, too. She looks around and reads the nutrition facts and ingredients on the back of the different pasta brands. She’s wearing running sweats, and her hair is tied up in a ponytail. It’s Friday. She just got done with a run, and she’s got a race tomorrow morning. She needs some energy. The night before races, she always loads up on carbs. She puts some spaghetti in her basket and heads to the checkout aisle.

This customer is a doer. When she looks at the pasta, she sees carbohydrates. She sees fuel. Her body is a well-tuned machine, and all it needs is some energy for the next day.

Her decision is based on action.


The fourth customer comes in and strolls to the pasta aisle, looking around but not really tempted by anything else. It’s Friday, after all, and Friday means Italian food with the family. Her grandparents immigrated to the United States from Italy, and it’s important to him to make his mother’s pasta recipe once a week. He’s got all the other ingredients at home, so he just grabs a jar of tomato sauce and a box of spaghetti.

When this customer sees the pasta, he sees history. He sees legacy. For him, pasta isn’t just a quick meal or carbs or even a comfort food. It’s a part of his heritage. He recognizes that he is a person in a particular place at a particular time in history.

His decision was based on context.

The Four Cornerstones

Strong brands must engage all four customers at once. Of course, there are not just four types of customers. But each customer is made up of these four cornerstones.

These four customers are in all of us, all the time. At certain times, we may be more thoughtful or emotional. Or we may be more action-oriented. Or we may have a greater sense of our time and history. But wherever we are, we are made up of all four cornerstones. Our perceptions and our decisions are rooted in our four cornerstones.

Weak brands appeal to only one, or two, or three of these cornerstones. They may attempt to appeal only to a person’s intellect. But people are not machines, and they will look for more. Likewise, a brand that appeals only to emotion cannot survive.

Successful and resilient brands engage all four cornerstones at once, all the time.

Strong Brands Appeal To Reason.

Perhaps the first question a customer asks is “What is it?” The answer to this must be clear. In other words, the message is clear. The first customer had a problem. She had time constraints and limited finances. The pasta provided the solution. Convoluted marketing or contradictory messaging simply reflects an organization’s internal confusion. In the world of thought, clarity is king. A clear brand makes its case clearly and concisely.

What is your brand?

Strong Brands Provide An Opportunity For Emotional Connection.

If the first customer asks what it is, the second customer was asking, “Who is it?” People do not engage based solely on cost-benefit calculations. We are not computers. The brand must have a personality. There must be a story behind the brand. Stories are about connection. No matter where or when a movie is set, whether it’s an adventure saga on Mars or a romantic comedy during the French Revolution, the audience looks to connect with the characters.

Who is your brand?

Strong Brands Make Practical Sense.

Reason and emotion are not enough. The customer also wants to know how to incorporate the product into her life. How does your product help me accomplish my goals – whether they are physical, or financial, or any other kind of goal? How does your product fit into my daily life? Does it even make practical sense?

How is your brand?

Strong Brands Place Themselves In A Larger Context.

Every kid wants to know ‘why?’. Likewise, adults suddenly reflect on the passage of time at weddings and funerals. So does every customer. Customers are human beings. They want to know not just what, who, and how, but also why. This is the most often overlooked of the four cornerstones. A brand may appeal to reason and emotion and may simply work, but it can still fail if it does not make sense in the larger context of a person’s life. Context is key to a long-lasting brand.

Why is your brand?

Beyond One Dimension

So often we read about the ‘customer,’ a disembodied being who supposedly buys products and services. Has anybody ever met this customer? This one-dimensional customer comes from the world of analytics, and is a useful concept up to a point. However, this imaginary customer belongs on quarterly reports and slideshows.

We are four-dimensional humans with four basic cornerstones that make us who we are, how we see the world, and how we behave. The strongest brands recognize the humanity of their customers and speak directly to that humanity.