This past week I travelled to Asia. My first stop was in Singapore to help launch Euro RSCG’s retail and shopper marketing capability called Shop@Euro. Then I made my way to India to discuss how best to use data to gain a sustainable advantage in the new global economy. My speech in India was titled – A New Imperative for the New Economy.

I flew on four different airlines during this trip. United Airlines from Chicago to Singapore. Singapore Airlines from Singapore to New Delhi. Kingfisher Airlines (a local entrant) from New Delhi to Mumbai and Lufthansa Airlines from Mumbai to Chicago (with a stop in Frankfurt).

The service on all four of the airlines was absolutely terrific. What interested me was how each airline delivered great service — albeit in very different ways.

After pondering the differences, I’ve come to a simple distinction in service styles: Functional service versus Emotional service.

United and Lufthansa delivered service that was primarily focused on ensuring a high degree of physical comfort. On the other hand, service on Kingfisher and Singapore was centered on how I felt during the flight – going beyond physical comfort to ensure a sense of emotional calm.

Why did I experience this distinction? After considering a number of different hypotheses, I arrived at one answer: The significant difference in service is due to the unique cultural perspectives of these brands.

Western brands tend to deliver on the ethos prevalent in their context. It’s all about efficiency. Their service experience is structured to ensure that their passengers are productive. From their detailed menu to the bottled water they offer, everything enables the traveler to have control of how he or she plans to fulfill their own needs.

Eastern airlines, however, focus more on striving to deliver a relaxing experience that attempts to create a calm and quiet environment. Everything from the tone and volume of in-flight announcements to the language used by the staff. It is different than their Western counterparts and consistent with their cultural backgrounds.

My experience enjoying these completely different approaches to great service has encouraged me to evolve my understanding and appreciation of brands within a behavioral context. It also raised an interesting question:

As we continue to live in a world that’s getting more and more homogeneous, do these culturally-driven distinctions in service set new and conflicting expectations?

If so, how can brands evolve and deliver?

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