Think about the last time you came across a new or unfamiliar brand. Likely the flash of an unrecognizable logo, a billboard, a banner ad, or a storefront. You start to wonder whether or not the brand offers something for you: Is the logo intriguing? Does the ad make you laugh? Does the product look exciting or useful?

In an instant, you form beliefs about the brand, its products and the experience you can expect—whether digital or physical. After subsequent encounters, you begin to refine those assumptions into more informed and concrete expectations.

These expectations are put to the test when you decide to interact with the brand by checking out its store or website. And from there, the brand’s job is to deliver experiences that meet those expectations, regardless of whether the brand interacts with people directly or through other businesses.

This intersection of expectations and experiences gets at the heart of how a brand influences decision-making.

A brand sets powerful expectations for people, and whether or not its experience lives up to those expectations will ultimately determine its success.Click To Tweet

Based on the expectations a brand creates, one of three things can happen:

1| Brands that create expectations they can’t meet will fail. Remember last year’s infamous case of Juicero, the home juicer that shut down operations after customers discovered that its juice packs could be squeezed by hand—rendering the $399 machine obsolete? The brand created expectations around the complexity and proprietary nature of its products that proved false, and as a result people rejected its offer.

2| Brands that meet expectations generate sales. Customers who buy into the company’s vision, are inspired by the experience, and appreciate the product make their satisfaction known with their wallets. Patagonia is a textbook example of a brand that has led with purpose and created a cult-like following for its quality goods and commitment to sustainability. Its experience lives up to expectations.

3| The select few brands that are extraordinarily successful are those that both exceed and evolve customer expectations over time. Consider the growth of Amazon from online book store to everything it is today—online superstore, content creator, data warehouse, AI designer, and more. By capitalizing on emerging technologies and behaviors, Amazon consistently and incrementally changes consumer expectations around what an online store can provide. And crucially, Amazon’s experience—its products and services—have so far lived up to those evolving expectations.

The gap between people’s expectations of a brand and the reality they experience can make or break a business. Therefore, the brand’s job is to both shape expectations that matter and create meaningful experiences that connect. And the brand builder is ultimately responsible for the success of both—because when designed thoughtfully and delivered cohesively, these combined forces build satisfaction, strengthen reputations, drive purchases and foster loyalty.

This is the first article in a two-part series. In Part 2, we’ll explore the implications of this thinking for brand builders.

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