The Obama lesson – is disappointment the greatest brand sin?

President Obama imageEverybody’s expectations were so high, and no matter how good a fist he made of it he had it all to do – to live up to the brand promise. The parallels with Blair in the UK are all to0 apparent. I was one of those full of expectation in 1997 and bitterly disappointed with the outcome. It leads to far greater resentment than one would experience when a lackluster leader is elected. Few felt disappointment with Major: indeed many were pleasantly surprised.

As Tom Peters memorably said – “Formula for success: under promise and over deliver”. That still holds true today, and especially for brands. I carried out a survey a while asking for people’s definition of ‘a brand’. It was fascinating and varied with some wild an wacky answers, and also some very insightful explanations. However, one term that kept coming up was ‘promise’, some respondents stating, ‘A brand is a promise’.  While I think that might be a little simplistic, in essence it is true. Our reason for choosing a brand is what it promises to deliver – explicitly or implicitly. While we may be able to tolerate or even forgive shortcomings that do not form part of the brand promise, disappointment with falling short of those promises can soon turn to resentment.  We feel at best let down, at worst misled.

I remember back in the 80’s when I ran a business with a small fleet of cars, I decided to choose Volkwagens and Audis. I had been brought up on the promise of  engineering excellence, attention to detail and, above all, reliability. The promise had been explicit: I had been caught up in the seminal advertising of Bill Bernbach in the 1960’s, and through the 70’s and 80’s the promise of reliability built upon that heritage.

Maybe I was unlucky, but reliable they certainly were not. Not that we had any major problems, but dozens of minor irritations – electrical glitches, windows that would not close, alarms that started by themselves, leaks and fuel problems.  Now, remember this was the 1980’s, not a golden era for motor manufacturing, and these problems were no worse than I had experienced with other marques. What was unforgivable was the disappointment. I took it personally – it was like losing money to a card-sharp: you kick yourself for being such a fool to be taking in in the first place. Not only do you now feel let down, but also foolish.

That disappointment clouded my view of the brand and my expectations even today nearly two decades later.

So, before you start making those expansive promises for your brand, do a big reality check. Take on other people’s views. Remember, when you promise just a little less and over-deliver not only have you saved a customer from disappointment, you have delighted them in their choice.

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