You don’t define your brand: Your customers do

Yes, I know you’ve heard this before. Because it’s true. But that doesn’t mean that you despair that there’s nothing you can do about it. There’s plenty you can do.

Your brand is your enduring reputation, created by:

How your company behaves …

Relative to how people expect it to behave …

Over the course of years.

You influence all three of these! But, at the end of the day, it’s the customer who interprets what you do and judges what your brand means.

Company behavior: This is what people see on the outside, but it’s a lot more than you think. It starts with your products and services, of course, and how you do your sales pitch. It’s how people answer the phones and email and website contacts. It’s how problems get resolved.

But that’s really only scratching the surface. Your customers are hearing stories about how you treat your employees. They’re seeing the articles that talk about issues in your industry and turnovers and accolades. Your website and social media are giving customers impressions about who you are, how you think, what your priorities are, and the kind of products you’re most expert in.

Yes, quite a bit of this is unreliable. Society is messy, and errors in communication and judgment happen all the time. But the more you balance that with strong and consistent messaging, the more influence you have over what people think.

Expectations: This is the tricky one, because of the many factors outside your control. People expect each industry to have its own norms and common behaviors. When you stray outside that, they can be surprised either positively or negatively.

Positive: “Wow, these guys really are better than all the rest. I’ll look to them first.”

Negative: “I don’t have to put up with this — there are plenty of other companies that are no doubt better.”

As you see, this can become a powerful decision-making force for future decisions to do business with you.

When I walk into a big box store, I have entirely different expectations than going to my dentist. I expect the former will focus on efficiency and breadth of selection, while the latter will relate to me as an individual, with a long-term relationship of trust and service.

Some companies can succeed precisely because they break those industry expectations. My local hardware store delivers amazing service with a selection that’s still surprisingly large. And a national eyewear chain can deliver stunning selection and low price by giving customers extremely efficient service. That’s great for people who can’t afford the more personalized model.

Over time: It’s tough to deliver a consistent customer experience over time — especially when a single mistake can be so memorable for a particular person.

You deliver this enduring experience through powerful behind-the-scenes processes, in-depth employee training, consistent messaging, and insightful feedback mechanisms. This is all driven by the power of your company’s vision and mission, giving you guidance for making your leadership decisions.

There are going to be times when your systems fail you, or a powerful external force breaks your well-tuned engine. Think about the 1982 Tylenol poisoning scare, or Hurricane Katrina, or the 2008 financial crisis, or the recent grounding of the Boeing 737 Max airplanes.

For these, each company has to go back to its core principles. Customers watch closely because this provides one of the rare glimpses into the heart and soul of a business. It’s a key point where people are re-evaluating their buying behavior — even changing patterns that will last the rest of their lives.

So putting extraordinary effort into these huge events is exactly the right thing to do. There’s even a chance that you’ll discover something new about the driving purpose of your business, giving you the opportunity to embrace or reject the opportunity for change.

The point is to do it intentionally, not just wait for customers to redefine your brand for you while you’re lost in confusion.

Ultimately, they decide what your brand means.

Carl Dierschow is a Small Fish Business Coach based in Fort Collins, specializing in companies committed to improving society and the world. His website is www.smallfish.us.

Yes, I know you’ve heard this before. Because it’s true. But that doesn’t mean that you despair that there’s nothing you can do about it. There’s plenty you can do.

Your brand is your enduring reputation, created by:

How your company behaves …

Relative to how people expect it to behave …

Over the course of years.

You influence all three of these! But, at the end of the day, it’s the customer who interprets what you do and judges what your brand means.

Company behavior: This is what people see on the outside, but it’s a lot more than you think. It starts with your products and services, of course, and how you do your sales pitch. It’s how people answer the phones and email and website contacts. It’s how problems get resolved.

But that’s really only scratching the surface. Your customers are hearing stories about how you treat your employees. They’re seeing the articles that talk about issues in your industry and turnovers and accolades. Your website and social media are giving customers impressions about who you are, how you think, what your priorities are, and the kind of products you’re most expert in.

Yes, quite a bit of this is unreliable. Society is messy, and errors in communication and judgment happen all the time. But the more you balance that with strong and consistent messaging, the more influence you have over what people think.

Expectations: