The simple things go noticed

Evoking the reputation of the classics: The actions and appearance of your employees say as much about yourself as you do

The classics: We buy them, collect them, love them. They are trusted. They make us feel good. We will spend a premium to associate ourselves with what they represent: quality, timelessness and unparalleled value.

Classic brands such as Mercedes-Benz, Eames, adidas, Ritz-Carlton and Rolex earn our loyalty and our trust by embedding those qualities into their products and services. They consistently go above and beyond delivering quality.

Starbucks turned 45 not long ago. Does that, along with the amazing, consistent experience that Starbucks provides, put that brand in the aforementioned group? Can a cup of coffee be classic? I think so. Howard Schultz, Starbucks chief executive, said: “We aren't in the coffee business, serving people. We're in the people business, serving coffee.” Isn't that the business we are all in: serving people? If so, why not do it classically?

If you want your company to be a classic, you have to do more than behave as if you belong in that special group. Not every company can gain entree. Just because you say that you are a classic doesn't mean you are one. Marketing and advertising are important, but delivering the experience is what really matters. You have to live the values to earn the title and live those values every day to keep it.

Your image is incredibly important in this sense. Much of the world has become business-casual: Do you stand apart from that? Does a client gain a sense of quality and trust from a professional who comes with a Windsor knot or a strand of pearls to a client meeting rather than khakis? I bet it is noticed and valued.

The same is true of your office space and your entire surroundings. Your employees say as much—or more—about you as your own image and actions. If you hire less than the best people to support you, it doesn't give customers or prospective customers much assurance about your judgment in handling their needs. Relationships are paramount is every business. You need a team that understands how to build and maintain relationships. Hire smart, thoughtful, buttoned-up professionals, and success will be a lot easier to achieve.

A strong leader cares. It is the core of what they are supposed to do. A good leader not only cares deeply about his or her clients, but also their employees and overall culture—from strategic and tactical standpoints. Everyone around you cares about the experience had.

Ritz-Carlton is known around the world as the platinum standard of service. It doesn't mess around when it comes to outdoing competitors on this point. Ritz-Carlton is in business to provide guests with a luxury experience that sticks with them. Staying at one of its properties isn't just a little bit better than staying at another hotel, it is exponentially better. And for every guest it serves, Ritz-Carlton imposes its promise onto every subsequent hotel experience that guest will ever have. Every stay, at any hotel, will get compared with the standard that Ritz-Carlton sets. So take pride in caring, in setting a standard above the rest. It isn't a sign of weakness. It is the foundation of your strength. Only firms that can dial in to this mindset will ever earn the reputation of a classic.

If you ask a good designer why they did something, they will always have a reason. That reason will also be backed up by sound knowledge about their audience and how they respond to things. Likewise, if a client or a prospective client asks you why you do something, you should always have a reason. That reason should also be backed up by sound knowledge of the markets and how they behave, and of what your client is hoping to achieve through investing in them.

Without exceptional industry knowledge, and the ability to execute on it, you are just a nice guy who will never build lasting trust and enduring relationships. Classics are about distilling things down to the truth, to the essence of what is important. Every detail has a purpose and was thoughtfully considered. They are as opulent or streamlined as they need to be, based on their audience. A 1950s Bentley is far different than an Eames chair from the same era, but they both evoke an innate recognition of quality, care and timeless design.

And believe me, you want to evoke that recognition in the people around you.