Today's brand kingsDo you know the one about Jerry and Jeff walking into a coffee shop?

“I love advertising because I love lying.” Jerry Seinfeld tells the room as he accepts a Clio award for his work with American Express.  He goes on to describe how people are happy in the time between seeing an ad and experiencing the disappointment of the product.  He continues “I think spending your life trying to dupe innocent people out of hard-won earnings to buy useless, low-quality, misrepresented items and services is an excellent use of your energy.”

Everyone in the business of selling anything directly or indirectly should be required to watch Jerry Seinfeld’s poignant and razor sharp  take down of the advertising industry.

It’s funny, but also sad, because for many services and products it’s painfully true.  Far too often the product sold does not live up to the advertising and marketing that sold it, and sometimes the customer experience surrounding a great product breaks a company’s brand promise.  Either way, the results is the same.

You might be thinking to yourself “Well that may be true for other companies, but not ours”.  Think again.

A Bain & Company study revealed that 80% of companies surveyed believe they provide a superior brand proposition.  Only 8% of customers agree. Ouch.

Delivery gap of expectations

Advertising agencies gets a bad rap, after all, agencies or marketing divisions are usually not responsible for the customer’s end experience, and they can only work with what they have.  Even as little as 10 years ago companies could often advertise themselves into a spike in sales, but now those days have evaporated.  If your product or service is subpar, advertising (with help from social media) will only accelerate it’s failure, but the opposite is just as true, advertising a great product (along with help from happy customers on social media) will accelerate it’s success.

According to Jeff Bezos “The balance of power is shifting toward consumers and away from companies. The right way to respond to this if you are a company is to put the vast majority of your energy, attention, and dollars into building a great product or service and put a smaller amount into shouting about it, marketing it. If I build a great product or service, my customers will tell each other. In the old world, you devoted 30% of your time to building a great service and 70% of your time to shouting about it. In the new world, that inverts. Your brand is formed primarily, not by what your company says about itself, but what the company does..”  Bezos put his money where his mouth is and diverted Amazon’s hefty advertising budget to improving Amazon’s customer experience with services like Amazon Prime and super saver shipping.

If your company is looking to advertising to fix a bad experience or if you are looking for a great product idea as a savior you might be barking up a dead tree.  Instead commit to understanding the gaps and opportunities that exist in your current customer experience.  Listen to your customers, observe them in the wild, and seek first to understand the issues and problems that have them interested in your company’s offerings in the first place.  Sometimes the biggest problem is the sales funnel, other times it is the actual experience with your product or service.  Sometimes your product is great, but your competitor is better at communicating with customers in the sales funnel.  Sometimes it is the customer service post sale.  Sometimes just shopping your company like a typical customer is an eye opener.  Of course quantitative research has a valuable role,but this type of qualitative narrative based approach can give your company critical insights into the real world where your company meets the customer.

Take these stories and tell them internally, tell them loudly and to anyone that will listen.  And now that you know the gaps in your brand story, it’s time to start filling them in by creating the experience your customers would only dream of.  To do that, you need Buyer Legends.

If not, maybe you can hire Jerry Seinfeld, and if you are ready to listen there is no doubt he will tell it like it is.