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The Pancake Disillusion

Posted in Branding, Guest Bloggers, Marketing, Social Networking

- James Mahoney, Razor’s Edge Communications

It was a sunny day, and Richard Milhous Nixon was inspecting the troops.  He came within spitting distance of the photographer pen, where I was babysitting some press people.

“Holy cowpat!” I thought.  “The President is wearing make-up!” Sure enough, Nixon had more pancake on his face than Aunt Jemima has syrup.

Since then, I’ve been in close proximity to several celebrities, and even talked to a couple.  My experience probably mirrors that of everyone else who’s come in contact, or tried to communicate, with a public figure.  Sometimes there’s a delightful reinforcement, or even an upgrade, of the character we ascribe to the person.

But there’s the occasional pancake disillusion; a non- or gruff response, an unacknowledged missive, an off-brand moment.  Some disillusions can be minor; others are the death knell.  It doesn’t even have to be a personal experience.  Simply hearing a first-hand (or seemingly so) anecdote about what the “real” person is like is enough to color perception, for good or bad.

I think the same thing applies to companies.  And it cuts both ways.

There’s a lot of talk today about “authentic” brands, brand promises, etc.  What it all boils down to, as it always has, is that as much as possible, what people experience should at least match the expectations you’ve set, and preferably, exceed them.  The interesting thing is that for some, the bar for exceeding expectations is pretty high; for others, it’s near zero.

Take Zappos, for example.  They probably can’t do anything that would exceed their customers’ expectations because they’ve done a great job of creating and maintaining a satisfying experience.

Alternatively, any cable, satellite TV, telephone company or Department of Motor Vehicles likely has ample room for triggering unexpected customer delight (or, more accurately, relief).

Today, when anyone can post their own “National Enquirer”-like commentary—and does—the discovery of figurative pancake make-up can spread rapidly.  While it’s unlikely that a single ranter can tarnish an otherwise genuine image, each one has a much wider audience now.  So it’s more important than ever that the reality of a company or brand matches the promise.

Despite a common perception to the contrary, the internet/web world is still in its infancy, though it’s a precocious one.  At some point, we’ll reach a level of equilibrium where the average person understands that not all opinions carry equal weight.  Until then, companies, like celebrities, need to make sure that their reality matches their chosen image at every touchpoint, and defend against the pancake disillusion of the disgruntled, the misinformed, and the trolls.