Expectation & Experience

Now that you’re clear about what brand is, we’ll move onto how brand works. So far we’ve addressed the fact that brand is all about perception, but where does that perception come from?


We believe that perception is built on two key building blocks: expectation and experience.

The initial decision that a person makes to engage with a brand – to buy a product, choose a restaurant, apply to a university, decide to work for an organization, whatever – is based on that person’s perception, on what they believe to be true.

Once that decision is made, though, reality kicks in. They might think that a product is going to solve all of their problems, or that a restaurant is going to be great, or that the school they’ve applied to is the perfect place for them, or the new position they’re seeking is their dream job, but ultimately, it’s their experience that dictates how they feel about their decision and whether or not they stick with it and/or make the same decision again.

What that means is that in order to build your brand effectively, you have to set the right expectations and then be able to deliver an experience that’s consistent with those expectations.

It turns out that this is surprisingly easy to get wrong. Successful organizations generally know how to effectively deliver a product or service, but often will undersell their capabilities, either because they simply haven’t focused on what their external message should be, or because they lack the confidence needed to really tout their abilities. This leaves consumers with no reason to choose the organization, or their products or services.

On the other hand, sometimes organizations try to promote their abilities using empty platitudes – “top notch quality service,” “industry-leading products,” “outstanding customer service,” or the like. Their natural instinct is to focus on what’s important to the organization, how they pride themselves on their products or services.

Look, it’s important to know what you bring to the table, what’s great about what you have to offer to the people you serve. But it’s equally important to understand that nobody cares about you. People only care about the way something makes them feel, about how they want to be perceived, and about what they want to achieve. You only matter to them in that context – that’s the reality.

So if you want to build a brand, it’s important to set expectations consistent with an idealized version of your organization, products, or services, then build a culture that lives up to those expectations.

And to do that, you have to be able to figure out what actually matters – both to you, and to your audience. That, as it turns out, is the hard part: Finding what matters.


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