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A Branding Lesson from the Tarmac

By Steve McKeeMonday, April 2, 2012

During a recent client engagement the conversation turned to the meaning of branding, and we talked quite a bit about brand as expectation.  While there are many ways to characterize a brand, an expectation is as good as any—a point which was brought home to me after the meeting as I waited to board my plane, gazing through the plate glass window at the activity on the tarmac.

As I saw a contraption roll past my gate similar to the one in the photo at right,  I thought about how glad I was that I would be boarding a real plane. After all, who among us hasn’t had just a bit of trepidation when we learn we’re flying on something…well, so small?

But I couldn’t help but chuckle as I reflected on a flight I took on a corporate jet a few months ago—a jet like the one pictured here. Knowing I would avoid the typical airport hassles I was glad to have been invited along, but when I laid eyes on the plane I was even more delighted.  “Look how big it is,” I thought to myself.

You know the punch line. The first jet is actually bigger (thus presumably safer) than the second. Yet my perceptions of the dangers I would be facing in boarding each plane were different--and entirely situational.

I expect a commercial jet to be big. I expect a private jet to be small. Should that expectation be unfulfilled in either direction, it will lead to trepidation on one hand or delight on the other. The fact that it’s irrational makes it no less true.  Or less common.

Expectations are why we’ll part with three bucks for one cup of coffee (or scoop of ice cream) and only seventy-five cents for another.  They're why we’ll pay ten thousand dollars more for a vehicle that’s all-but-identical to its sister brand other than the badge on the hood.  And they're why while we might avoid the Golden Arches at home we'll welcome the sight of them in an unfamiliar place.

What expectations do customers have of your brand? How well are you fulfilling them?  It really doesn't matter what they are as much as that they are, and that you consistently meet or exceed them. If you don't, you may find people are hesitant to fly with you.
By Steve McKeeMonday, April 2, 2012

Steve McKee is president of McKee Wallwork + Company, and author of When Growth Stalls and Power Branding. A marketing strategist for nearly three decades, Steve has been published or quoted in many top news outlets and industry publications, and writes a monthly marketing column for Businessweek.com.

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