Perceived reality as a consumer

Recently, an unusual e-mail came into my inbox from craft beer brand Jubel. Littered with broken links, exposed code and images of two very concerned looking individuals, the title read “Our brand manager Rosie is on holiday and we have no idea how to use this e-mail system”. The e-mail was clearly a crafted exaggeration of the covering marketeer’s ability to produce a successful piece of communication, but nevertheless it brought up the interesting topic of expectation vs reality…

We’ve all seen the side-by-side comparisons of advertised Big Macs vs their squished counterparts received at the drive-thru, or tourist traps through the lens of Instagram vs the wider shot, full of people crowding around.

With these examples, most people know to take the marketing of the burger or the location with a pinch of salt. However, if you have no prior knowledge of a product or service, you take those expectations set by marketing as truth. Then, if this does not match up to the reality, the dissonance can cause a negative reaction. This negative reaction isn’t necessarily caused by a bad experience, but rather an under-performance on what is promised.

This phenomenon occurs due to the power of human perception. An individual’s perception can alter reality for that person and by tapping into this we can affect consumer satisfaction. An example of which was demonstrated in Houston International Airport. The airport would constantly receive customer complaints about long wait times at the luggage carousel. They tried to fix the issue by hiring more staff to speed up the process, but the complaints continued to come in thick and fast.

After reviewing the travellers full experience, they found that 85% of their time in the airport was spent waiting for luggage. So, despite speeding up the delivery of luggage, the proportion of wait time compared to the whole experience remained the same. Customers were not basing their satisfaction on the actual length of time but rather the perceived experience of waiting. The solution? Reroute arriving passengers to have a longer walk to baggage claim. Passengers did not receive their luggage quicker, but they did perceive the wait time as being less and complaints dropped.

Failing to meet consumer expectations and therefore creating negative perceptions can result in multiple harmful outcomes for a brand. Firstly, an unhappy customer can have a direct impact on sales performance, as they will not want to make repeat purchases and may request a refund.

Secondly, unhappy customers could impact your brand image by sharing their experience with others. Customer reviews are a powerful influence in today’s market, and an influx of negative reviews could stop prospective customers from even considering your brand.

Finally, if enough customers are subject to a poor experience, the negative story could be picked up by the media, impacting the overall perception and trust related to your brand.

By setting unrealistic expectations through communications and not delivering on these promises, a brand can quickly loose the trust of a large base of consumers, which will have consequences for the bottom line.

Brands need to be honest in their marketing, making sure the expectations they are setting are achievable and can manifest into reality for the consumer, resulting in positive perceptions. This applies to all touchpoints of a customer journey, whether it be a TV ad, onsite images or even response times on a contact page. This will ensure customers aren’t dissatisfied with the experience they have with your brand.

There are even some cases, such as the e-mail example mentioned at the start, in which lowering expectations can benefit your brand. Jubel knew this content may not have lived up to the expectations set by previous e-mails, so called themselves out and set consumer expectations low. This led to a positive perception of the e-mail, which did in fact achieve the basic requirement of providing a link to buy beer.

This is of course an extreme example in which the brand overtly calls out their own marketing, but it can also be done in more subtle ways, like setting delivery times as longer than reality so that consumers believe they receive their product ‘early’. By adding a buffer, you influence the customers perception of the experience into being a positive one.

The key takeaway here? Customer satisfaction is not only determined by product or service performance, but also how the customers perceived reality measures up to expectations.

Written by:

Kelsey Preston Insight Executive


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