Your Brand Is Not as Great as You Think It Is (And What to Do About That)

Here’s a statistic that I wouldn’t believe had I not measured it myself: 100% of my friends are excellent drivers.

I’m serious. You can ask them. Better yet, ask your friends for their assessments of their own driving skills. You’ll probably record a similar number.

I can find you a bunch of statistics like this.

In one survey of university faculty, over 90% rated themselves “above average” in terms of teaching ability. That’s right – 90% of these professors placed themselves in the top 50%.

In another study, 70% of high-school students rated themselves above the median in terms of leadership. On “ability to get along with others,” this number rose to 85%.

And in a recent OKCupid survey, women rated 80% of men as “below average” in terms of physical appearance.

our blessed homeland
Illusory superiority at the national level, as conceived by Tom Gauld.

The point is this: Our perceptions of ourselves are often off, and usually tilted toward the positive. This concept is called “illusory superiority.” It’s also been called “The Lake Wobegon Effect,” after the fictional town in Garrison Keillor’s writings where “all the children are above average.”

Illusory superiority applies to organizations as well as individuals. At the Prophet blog, David Aaker recently shared some numbers in this regard. In a study of 3,000 consumers and 300 healthcare executives regarding the overall patient experience, Aaker notes:

“Providers overestimate their current ability to satisfy patients by more than 20 percentage points.  For example, only 40% of consumers feel they are receiving a quality experience, but over 60% of providers believe that they’re delivering a quality experience.”

In my 17 years of consulting, I’ve seen this enough to confidently say that illusory superiority afflicts most businesses. So what to do?  I offer 3 areas of focus to help ensure that your internal brand perceptions match those of the market:

Be a Listening Organization.

Once, on a trip to New Orleans, I stayed at an Esplanade Avenue hotel where the hot water supply was not sufficient to complete a shower and a shave. After the second morning of this, I contacted management. Their reply? “Engineering checked it out, and you do have hot water.”

This was not a listening organization. That’s not unusual. Many organizations aren’t.

Think of your marketing and your business as a system. As Amory Lovins said, “Systems without feedback are stupid, by definition.” How are you currently closing feedback loops with your consumers? And how can you get even better?

There are dozens of ways to listen, depending on the specifics of your business. Here are just a few of many possible examples:

  • Syndicated data.
  • Ethnography.
  • Social-media monitoring.
  • Summary reports from your customer-service department.
  • Regular surveys.

The point is to constantly gather feedback, to always dig deeper, and to prioritize it. The review of consumer feedback and brand perceptions should be a standing item for your executive team meetings.

Remember that feedback from your consumers is a gift. Accept it accordingly. And on that note…

Be an Empathic Organization.

Gathering feedback is one thing.  Absorbing it is another thing entirely.

I was once in a boardroom where the results of an annual employee survey were revealed. For the first time ever, the numbers were sharply down vs. the prior year. One vice-president’s reaction: “These ingrates don’t know how good they have it!”

What that VP should have remembered – what we all should remember – is that it’s not our view that matters. It’s theirs. Your brand is not what you believe it is; it’s what the market believes it is.

If you deeply understand how your consumers live their lives, you’re much better equipped to serve them. In the words of Ben Doepke, a Cincinnati-based expert in empathic innovation: “It’s humans who determine the worth of our business.”

Doepke suggests asking a series of questions to place yourself in a more empathic mindset:

  • What am I feeling? Your own feelings will color any interaction, including with consumers.
  • What is s/he feeling? Consumers experience a range of emotions when they interact with your brand or category. Understand these mind-states.
  • What’s behind these feelings? Go beyond the surface to deeply understand where your consumers are coming from.
  • What am I missing? We are always missing something. Keep digging.

Be a Striving Organization.

It’s a self-satisfied organization that says, “We’re the best!”  And a self-satisfied organization, like a self-satisfied person, is one that is unlikely to improve.

Listening and empathy both depend on the right attitude. The CEO of one of my clients summed up that attitude this way: “At the end of each day, we have to be able to honestly say we did our best possible job for our customers. And tomorrow, we have to be better.”

You’d want to hire an employee with that kind of attitude. (Right?) So set the tone from the top of the organization. You’ll improve at what you prioritize. And if you’re not prioritizing the continuous improvement of your experience delivery, it’s time to hit the reset button.

About Matthew Fenton: Matthew helps challenger brands to focus, grow and win.  Since founding his consultancy, Three Deuce Branding, in 1997, he’s helped hundreds of brands to achieve “brand clarity.”  His consulting services and speaking engagements help brands to focus on what matters through positioning, strategy and ideation.  Contact Matthew here.  He calls Chicago home.

Copyright 2016 – Matthew Fenton. All Rights Reserved. You may reprint this article with the original, unedited text intact, including the About Matthew Fenton section.

A version of this post appeared at BizJournals.com.

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