2 Exp vs Rel

Close the Expectation vs. Reality Gap

by Jenny on August 12, 2022 Comments Off on Close the Expectation vs. Reality Gap

A popular meme has been around for a while where side-by-side images show the vision or intent of something compared to how it actually turns out. Well, my family had our own “Expectations vs Reality” moment a few days ago.

There was a cookie decorating kit I bought as a fun family activity. It had all the ingredients, materials, an instruction guide, and even links for a video to follow along with. The activity was definitely fun, but the “reality” side of things did not match my expectations. Cookie decorating is hard, which is why for important occasions we outsource that job. But still, we picked a relatively simple design thinking it was doable. Apparently, for us, it was not.

To be clear, it wasn’t anybody’s fault per se. The boxed set came with everything it promised, and there was a step-by-step overview of the process. However, it felt like a few key tips would have been helpful. Like, how to cut the piping bag for the frosting. Or the benefit of squeezing a bit out on the side before each stroke on the cookie. Granted, we’re no baking experts. So, the chances of replicating the design images were already low. But still, a few key pointers seemed to be skipped over.

We ultimately had a great time, and everyone loved it. We’ll definitely be cookie decorating again. But stepping back to look at the finished product, we had the ingredients for our very own “Expectations vs Reality” meme.

Exp vs Rel

This experience had me thinking about other times my expectations of a product or experience didn’t match the reality. It can be disappointing when that happens. And while sometimes it wouldn’t affect my willingness to purchase from a brand again, like decorating cookies, it’s still worth knowing for a brand looking to continually grow and improve. That got me wondering what a brand can do to close the expectation versus reality gap. Here are a few thoughts that came to mind:

Establish their expectations.

In order to meet and exceed customer expectations, we have to start by clearly defining them. This seems fairly obvious, but it’s worth noting because it doesn’t always happen. At least not to the extent or level of detail needed.

Dedicate a customer feedback survey to focus on establishing what your audience wants and needs from your brand. This is the foundation of their expectations because they’re looking to you to satisfy a want or need. But go beyond the surface-level factors. Seek to understand how satisfying that want or need will impact their bigger-picture. This matters because the brand-customer relationship doesn’t exist in a vacuum. There are other variables and surrounding environments that shape a person’s expectations, and that’s where reality exists. Your brand is one piece that makes up the whole, and one small pain point can have a larger impact that it seems from the outside looking in.

Gather brand perception insights.

This is another standard piece of the customer expectation puzzle, and another that often goes overlooked. Understanding what people think about your brand and benchmarking how you stack up against competitors is vital to understanding their expectations. If it turns out that perceptions aren’t matching reality, then some internal assessments are warranted.

When gathering perception insights, it’s important to get more specific than traditional price, product, and placement attributes. Base some of the perception categories on your ideal brand identity, but also list others that might uncover shifting preferences or growth opportunities. Include level-of-importance ratings to identify areas of emphasis and challenge your assumptions of what customers prioritize. And make gathering brand perception insights a regular practice because, as we’ve seen over the past few years, market and consumer trends are changing rapidly.

Conduct pulse surveys.

These are short-and-sweet feedback opportunities that are limited in scope and happen periodically throughout the year. Rather than capturing everything under the sun in an annual or bi-annual survey, create a schedule attached to customer behaviors. Send out surveys on certain topics based on where they’re at along their customer journey to make sure the questions you ask are timely and relevant. This approach allows you to monitor how expectations shift and how your brand is performing over time.

An added benefit of pulse surveys is you’ll have an engaged audience who is regularly receiving timely, relevant, and easy-to-complete feedback opportunities. If a trend or opportunity pops up that you’d like to explore, they’ll be ready and willing to quickly provide their input.

Back to my cookie decorating example, the few missing tips and tricks aren’t a future-purchase deal breaker. But they would have been helpful for a first timer. And who knows how many new customers will have the same experience we did. I never received a “how was it?” type of survey. So, that cookie decorating company may be missing opportunities to strengthen their product and experience. A few ideas that come to mind are including “reality” pictures from other families to help manage our expectations – and to not feel too bad about the state of our designs. Or, including encouraging quotes about trying our best or how the fun is in the process, not the result. These are things I would have shared with the company had they reached out with an opportunity to do so.

The goal of any brand should be to exceed expectations and make the reality even better than envisioned. Doing so won’t happen by chance, it will happen through strategic action and a conscious effort to hear from those who matter most – the customers.


Jenny Dinnen is President of Sales and Marketing at MacKenzie Corporation. Driven to maximize customer's value and exceed expectations, Jenny carries a can-do attitude wherever she goes. She maintains open communication channels with both her clients and her staff to ensure all goals and objectives are being met in an expeditious manner. Jenny is a big-picture thinker who leads MacKenzie in developing strategies for growth while maintaining a focus on the core services that have made the company a success. Basically, when something needs to get done, go see Jenny. Before joining MacKenzie, Jenny worked at HD Supply as a Marketing Manager and Household Auto Finance in their marketing department. Jenny received her undergrad degree in Marketing from the University of Colorado (Boulder) and her MBA from the University of Redlands.

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