Branding: Why you do have to sweat the small stuff

“If you want to know what your brand stands for just ask someone what they think…” has to be one of the most useless pieces of advice I’ve ever heard given to an organisation (right up there with “if you’re not delighting your customers you’re wasting your time”).

It is true that there is an element of reality to perception – after all, the way I feel – my perception – is legitimate. But why I feel that way and the things that shape how I come to feel that way are not simple.

So often perception is spoken about as if it occurs separately from the thing the perception is about, in this case an organisation. Nothing could be further from the truth. And here in lies the tangled relationship between perception and experience – specifically for this article, customer experience.

What creates a perception?

Perception doesn’t happen in a vacuum. An experience of something, somewhere, somehow happens and results in perception. A happening can be deliberate on part of the organisation. It may be the ripple effect of a different happening. A happening outside of the direct control of the business that bounces back.

If you want to have any hope at all of impacting the last two, you have to start with and think hard about the first – the deliberate stuff the organisation does.

That stuff can be big and important or seemingly insignificant. But here’s the rub: quite often it’s the seemingly insignificant that makes the impression and creates the perception.

Sure, the big stuff is tough. But because it’s big it’s always going to get plenty of attention in the thinking and decision-making process. Should we outsource our logistics? Should we partner with ‘X’ on this new product? Should we offshore our call centre? Should we move locations? Should we have online sales (yes, that is still a question)? And on and on.

Big stuff is also by nature too big for the customer to really see. It’s part of the fabric of the organisation. The customer’s experience happens around the edges and that’s where the detail lives. I’m not saying ignore the big stuff. I am saying that you also need to sweat the small stuff.

I was on a panel last week talking about customer experience for a global corporate and I made the following point: we live local. That’s not a throw away line. We live local. Local is great, it’s intimate, detailed, messy. A note here – some people have much more expansive locals than others but in general local is defined by what I come into contact with, connect with and care about.

So, as my life experience is shaped by my local, my experience with an organisation is also local and shaped by what that looks and feels like. If you want to shape my perception you’ve got to hit those points. And the further into the experience chain they are, the closer they get to my local, the more likely they are to shape my perception. They don’t call it “the last mile” for nothing.

It’s no good spending tens of thousands of dollars building a website and even more money on SEO and other promotional efforts to ensure I find it, if when after I buy something the package arrives in a crumpled post bag without a thank you card. How many times would you go back to a store if your purchases were shoved into a crumpled bag without so much a thanks or see you again?

What’s the point in getting people to sign up for a helpful newsletter that takes hours to put together in hope it will build goodwill and community. And then blasting that same group of people with offers, until frustrated by all the spam they didn’t want they unsubscribe. Only to find out they are still getting emails?

Brands and the perceptions people have are built on the details. One detail at a time. So it’s a tough gig. There are hundreds if not thousands of little things that need to connect up. And even end-to-end deliberate design of the customer experience is no guarantee that the “what do they stand for” question will get the response you want. But it’s a much better place to start than the alternative.

See you next week when I’ll be taking a look at how to get rid of cravings and build a healthy brand.

Michel is an Independent Brand Thinker and Adviser dedicated to helping organisations make promises they can keep and keep the promises they make – with a strong, resilient organisation as the result. You can find Michel at or you can follow her on Twitter @michelhogan


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