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Should You Send Your (Sacred) Cows to Pasture?

An earlier version of this article was originally published in BoardRoom Magazine in 2014.

Author Marc Goben, in his book Brandjam, makes a case for emotional branding suggesting that brands today must shift from communications and commodities to emotion and inspiration.

If we want to touch people on an emotional level we must find ways to reach people individually to fulfill their emotional needs. Happy club members will continue to patronize where they feel welcome, comfortable, understood, and important.

You may have also heard the old adage, “unsatisfied customers vote with their feet as they stomp out of the business.” Brands do not diminish simply because they are old.

Brands wane if they are:

  • undercapitalized, thereby unable to maintain standards;

  • if tastes of the customer changes; or

  • if they are under threat of increased competition.

Competition for clubs is everywhere: other golf courses or clubs, local restaurants, gyms, or nearby home communities – all of which offer similar amenities. However, one of the largest competitors is our members’ busy lifestyles, providing them with so many choices and so little time.

Because of this, many clubs are striving for the ultimate competitive advantage: delivering an exceptional service experience. This is achieved by understanding what the members find valuable (individually) and delivering beyond their expectations with each and every "moment of truth."

The brand promise is conveyed by everything a club does or the member observes – known as "moments of truth." These moments include but are not limited to the physical plant, signage, uniforms, cleanliness, marketing, menus, merchandise products, logo, lighting, music, food, beverage, events, etc.

The club’s brand is either reinforced or undermined by these "moments of truth."

There are many ways to deliver exceptional service, but allowing “sacred cows” to continue in a new club environment and consistently undermine the brand message is one sure way to stunt the club’s evolution.

Merriam Webster offers this definition of sacred cows: “someone or something that is often unreasonably immune from criticism or opposition.” In short, sacred cows are barriers that everyone knows about but no one wants to talk about or do anything about.

For example, a significant number of clubs still do not allow smart phones usage anywhere in the club, and yet the Internet was invented in 1989.

The Internet, and near-constant access to it, is commonplace today--at least it certainly is for a 30-year old, who has never been without immediate access to technology, answers, and information.

Members use their phone/tablet as an extension of their life: reading the WSJ, email, checking stock performance or game scores, texting with children and sharing photos of grandchildren, just to name a few.

Sacred cows, whether they are people, rules and regulations, or processes that have outlived their usefulness, are very often the proverbial weak link in the chain of progress.

As many clubs look to the future, many fail to consider these weak links, much less revisit internal processes and potential roadblocks to revitalizing a club’s brand image.

Brand image cannot be revitalized without internal changes along with the external influences.

If the sacred cows force the club to do what they’ve always done, then the club will continue to achieve results that they’ve always achieved regardless of what external changes have been made or money invested in appearance.

As you embark on your next chapter, examine if the sacred cow "moments of truth" at your club are consistently positive, negative or neutral. Understand how these ‘moments’ are actually affecting your current and potential members.

Are they making your job harder or easier? What rules, behaviors, processes, and attitudes are in the way of achieving your strategic goals?

Answering these questions honestly will help you determine the next course of action. Once a sacred cow is no longer productive, effective, useful or positive, it is time to put them out to pasture.


Whitney Reid Pennell, president of the RCS Hospitality Group (formerly Reid Consulting Services) is a celebrated management consultant, educator and speaker. RCS, the creators of the Food and Beverage Boot Camp™, specialize in operations consulting, strategic planning, food and beverage management, and training programs. For more information, phone (623) 322-0773; or visit the RCS website at

#sacredcow #brand #branding #brandimage #momentsoftruth #BoardRoomMagazine #leadershipteam #clubmanagement #deliveringexperiences

Whitney Reid Pennell
 Founder & President

Whitney Reid Pennell is the founder and president of the award-winning RCS Hospitality Group (formerly Reid Consulting Services). She is a published author and widely praised seminar leader, with over 20 years of club operations management and consulting experience. 

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