A Satisfying Promise | Force 5
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A Satisfying Promise

Marketers are promise –makers.  They use their promises to set expectations high enough to move consumers to action: to buy their stuff, read their books, to come to their show, etc.  PT Barnum made big promises.  He promised, “The Greatest Show on Earth” - the ultimate claim - not a better show anywhere on the planet.  I imagine his customers had pretty high expectations when they bought a ticket.  I am quite sure that his promise drew a lot of patrons.   Trouble is, when the customer actually attended the show, any experience they had that was less than “the greatest” (whatever that meant to them) was probably disappointing.

I believe in the theory that customer’s expectations greatly impact the satisfaction they get from their experience.   In a formula, it might look like this:

Customer Experience – Customer Expectation = Customer Satisfaction

So, in this case, let’s say on a scale of 1-10, the “Greatest show on Earth” would actually set an expectation to the consumer that the show is going to be a “10.”  Now, if I go to Barnum’s show and I experience “9.”  My satisfaction score is a negative one (9 – 10 = -1) and I’m likely to be disappointed.    I might  feel cheated or misled and ask for my money back.  I might not return to the show again, or even worse, tell my friends they will be disappointed. This is a curious facet of human nature:   it is possible to experience a great, “9-quality" show yet feel disappointed because we were promised something better.

Conversely, had I come to the show expecting a “7” and gotten that very same “9” show, I might have been thrilled.  I would have a +2 satisfaction score.  I might tell all my friends to come.  I might even come back for tomorrow night’s show, myself.

Marketers find themselves in a conundrum.   After all, if the marketer doesn’t promise enough, no one will come to his show, right?  I mean, who would drive hundreds of miles to see, “The Most Lame Show on Earth?”  This dynamic poses an interesting marketing question:  “How much should a marketer promise about a customer experience?” I’ll be sharing some of my thoughts on this in my next post.  In the meantime, I’d love to hear yours.


Interesting. I tend to agree that there's a balance between realistic expectation & over promising. My father, a veterinarian, used to say, "Always present the worst possible scenario along with the most realistic one because in the event that the worst scenario happens you are at least accurate & if the very best happens then you're a miracle worker." It's hard to over deliver when you have set expectations too high.

I was always taught to "under-promise" and "over-deliver" during my days in inside sales. I'm a "people pleaser" so any time I get the chance to over- deliver upon my customer's expectations, I'm happy. Not just for my accomplishments, but for the customer's reward in finding themselves fulfilled as well. A win-win situation mean more to me than any financial reward.

Thanks for the great comments, J and Dalene. Great customer experiences add up to satisfied customers. And that can mean repeat business, recommendations, and referrals. All good stuff. So ... what promise level is optimal? I'll share thoughts next week. Thanks for reading.