Many marketers incorrectly believe that consumer satisfaction is almost solely a function of product performance. The reality is while whatever you’re selling must offer value, the perception of consumer satisfaction is a bit more complicated.

 

Consumers are actually quite forgiving. People put up with all sorts of products and services that they aren’t truly happy with. The one thing consumers ask, though, is that you simply do what you say. If you say you’re the “quicker picker upper”, then you’d better soak up spills quickly. If you tell people you offer “the antidote to civilization”, then you’d better offer a totally unplugged and relaxing experience. If you say you deliver the “ultimate driving experience”, then you’d better provide an exhilarating ride. You get the point.

 

Consumer satisfaction is really less about actual performance, and much more about brands delivering against their promises. Consumers absolutely hate to feel that they’ve been “had”, or taken advantage of. It’s a negative experience that takes a toll on self esteem. It’s an act that, for many, inspires them to lash back out in karmic retribution. And of course we all know that social media is a potent platform for consumers to exact revenge!

 

What does it mean that satisfaction is less about product performance? For example, when people go to certain fast food restaurants, they know they aren’t going to get gourmet quality food. They’re actually quite fine with mediocre because that’s the expectation that has been established for that experience. The QSR isn’t pretending to be something it is not. Everyone understands that its generally fast, cheap, and mediocre. Those who accept those terms, buy. Those who don’t, dine elsewhere.

 

The expectations are completely different at, say, a Ritz Carlton. While the service might far surpass what you typically receive most places, if it trails your expectations of the Ritz, then you are apt to feel displeased.

Consumer satisfaction is a function of the relative juxtaposition of actual product interaction with preexisting expectations. It’s not just the experience. It’s an internal comparison of the experience against our expectations of that experience. Any time expectations are less than the reality, then consumers are unhappy.

 

So, marketers have to do two key things to maintain a strong brand: manage the performance of their product/service AND manage consumer expectations of their product/service experience.

 

This reality puts pressure on marketers to deliver faithfully against their marketing messages. Of course, marketers generate those aspirational messages based on what they believe their consumers need to hear to inspire their patronage. When, for whatever reason their performance falls short,  these days you can expect a quick and public response.

 

But here’s the good news. First, companies are, of course, in complete control of their marketing! In the zeal to sell, take care not to over promise.  In fact, strategically err on the side of over delivering. Second, remember that consumers also express themselves about brands that delight them! Delivering more than your consumers bargain for is the quickest way to create raving fans who encourage others to also buy.

 

As is the case in so many aspects of consumer marketing, look to parallels in human psychology to guide your efforts. As with human relationships, be thoughtful about the promises you make and diligent in managing expectations so as to keep consumers coming back. Although easier said than done, it’s a discipline that’s required to maintain a strong brand and happy consumers!

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Tags: brand, brandstrategy, consumerbehavior, satisfaction

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