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You'll sink or swim based on ‘brand memory’ math

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By Andrew Ballard
Growth Strategies
Published: Thursday, August 30, 2012, 12:01 a.m.
  • Andrew Ballard

    Andrew Ballard

Your “brand memory” is the result of two conditions: 1. Your brand promise, which is what you communicate to attract new customers; and 2. Your brand experience, which is how customers experience your brand (product or service). A brand memory is determined by whether you met, missed or exceeded the customer’s expectation that was set by your brand promise.
Our brains sort experiences into one of three categories: neutral, positive or negative. More on that later.
In my mind, managing customer experience is the most important function of any business. We all know that our happiest customers remain loyal and refer others. However, many do not understand the math, and how one customer’s experience can have a viral impact … positive or negative.
My wife Sandra and I moved to a new neighborhood four years ago. We checked out several restaurants in the surrounding area. A new Italian restaurant opened up nearby and we were eager to give them a try. Unfortunately, we had a one-star experience at that four-star restaurant. We did not return.
Recently we drove to our favorite restaurant for an early dinner, only to encounter a long line of patrons waiting for a table. Every other restaurant we tried evening was jam packed. Running out of options, we agreed to give that Italian restaurant one more try. To our surprise, we had a delightful experience.
Here’s my point. With just one disappointing visit, we not only did not return for four years, we told several others about our subpar experience.
Here’s the brand memory math. We average going to our favorite restaurant twice a month; that adds up to nearly 100 visits over a four-year period; but the math gets exponential. With of all the people we warned about this Italian restaurant — and all the people they told — the numbers could easy exceed 1,000 lost customer visits.
I suppose that Italian restaurant may have just had a bad night four years ago, or maybe they are now under new management; as a customer I don’t know, and frankly I don’t care.
The brutal reality is this: If you meet a customer’s expectation their memory is merely neutral. A neutral memory does not engender customer loyalty nor advocacy. A neutral brand memory has no viral effect, positive or negative.
On average a delighted customer (with expectations exceeded) will share their experience with three people. A customer with a negative brand memory will share their discontent with seven. Negative experiences spread much faster than do positive experiences.
If you want to create a positive memory, the experience you deliver must far exceed your customers’ expectations. That’s what it takes to generate a positive viral effect. Yet you need to know how your customers categorize their experience with your brand.
To get reliable data on how your customers’ experience your brand, you’ll need to collect real-time customer feedback. I suggest working with an independent firm to protect respondent anonymity and assure the feedback is candid. After evaluating the feedback, prioritize corrective actions that will have the greatest impact on improving your customers’ experience.
If you create a “positive brand memory” your business will go swimmingly. If you create a neutral memory, you’ll just be treading water and eventually you’ll get tired. By creating negative brand memory, your business will likely sink.
By the way, that Italian restaurant was nearly empty. You do the math.
Andrew Ballard is the president of Marketing Solutions, a local agency specializing in growth strategies. For more information, call 425-337-1100 or go to
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