This entry was originally posted on June 22, 2006 at the old Brandstory blog (link available for a limited time).
Several weeks ago (May 22, to be exact), BrandWeek published a very interesting article called Broken Promises that discussed the gulf between what customers want and what companies deliver. I thought a few excerpt were worth reprinting here:
“The average level of consumer expectation across 35 major brand categories rose by 4.5% from last year. Over the same period, the survey shows, the average ability of brands to keep up with those hopes decreased 9.2%. Put another way, while brands certainly try to meet the expectations of their loyal customers, those expectations are nonetheless growing two times faster that the brands’ ability to keep up with them.”
The article goes on to say that part of the problem is caused by brand stewards who have promised to “delight” their customers continually. Well, it worked. Customers now expect to be wowed at every turn. The problem is, most brands aren’t up to the task. Also from the article:
“Another dynamic is that consumers themselves are more demanding, perhaps unrealistically. Take the bottled water category, one of the most commodified and yet also one of the fiercest fought. The brands have different names and different bottles, but the product is largely indistinguishable. Most customers would likely agree with this logic were it put to them directly. Yet, their expectations for bottled water rose 8% in 2006, mainly because they felt the brands ought to be increasingly ‘refreshing’.”
Imagine the Dasani or Aquafina brand steward responsible for meeting these expectations. What do you do? Triple filter? Reverse osmosis? Vitamins? Flavors? It’s all been done. Now what? How do you make water 8% more refreshing this year. Then do it again next year. And the year after that. At some point, water will be 100% refreshing (if it isn’t already) and then what?
Setting expectations is a critical part of your brand story. It’s easy to make promises (100% money back guarantee, 99.9% uptime, deep cleans in cold water, etc.). It’s harder to accurately set expectations. Again, from the article:
“If there is one take away from the survey, it’s this: expectations need to be as carefully controlled as the promises. It’s all very well to assure your consumers they’ll feel sexy, cool and rich if they use your brand. But delivering on those feelings might mean toning down the guarantees.”
So what happens when your brand story doesn’t match expectations? When the genius at the Apple genius bar isn’t, what happens to Apple‘s brand story? When the service at Nordstrom isn’t over-the-top, what happens to Nordstrom’s brand story? When NetFlix slows down deliver to its heavy users, what happens to their brand story?
The short answer: when the experience doesn’t match the story, the experience becomes the story. And the brand story you spent so much time and effort to create? Well, that just goes away.