Is it about Creating Expectations OR Managing Expectations?

Most advertising theorists would espouse the mantra, that success of brands & their campaigns are based on creating needs or plugging need gaps by building aspirational end points. Classical approach does base all its benchmarks on the most clutter cutting & memorable communication that sells big dreams. Of course that works, but a peek into WHEN IT WORKS will help us maximize those moments. Like:

a. When a deprived average Joe finds the brand, ‘nectar’ (especially if the void is social & visible) – e.g: Fair & Handsome


b. When his wallet is not stretched, he is willing to indulge in whatever has the sticky factor (also involves low value, low-medium involvement products) ~ e.g: Fastrack Bags


c. When services are being offered, the movement from awareness to consideration is based on ‘what to expect’ (aura & experience can tilt the preference) ~ e.g: Walt Disney

d. When marketing sensorial products that create their tease or evoke a fervour, by suspending reality (evoking the senses needs a bit of drama & sometimes surreal worlds) ~ e.g: Mexico’s Bicentenario De La Independencia (Mexico’s celebration of 200 years of independence from the Spanish)


Undoubtedly creating expectations is creative & enjoyable in every way. Like the courtship in a romance. Like the first ever para gliding experience. Like the anticipated waiting for cookies as they are being baked, with their smell wafting and creating a desire for the taste.


That’s the sound of the glass ‘symbolically cracking in your head’, just as you realise that what you feel, is not what you get. Once the product or brand is sold, the biggest task is really managing those expectations. And sometimes exceeding them.


In this century, it’s still easier to build the aura. Keeping the aura alive is where the maximum creativity is required to retain lasting appeal. It is true for any category/brand relationship, from a TV program/channel (remember Star Plus with ‘Kyunki Saas bhi kabhi Bahu thi’), to a loved very consumer friendly brand (think about the flippant comment made by Steve Jobs on the new iPhone4 speakers) or then the turnaround post a natural disaster by country brand managers. (Haiti vs. Chile earthquakes and the story of builders adhering to rigorous codes)

In reality, managing expectations is critical to managing a long term shelf presence. It is often easy to see packed gondalas in a hypermarket during a brand launch. But within a few months if the overwhelming presence dwindles and the brand moves down below eye level, then the gap between expectations created and delivered is very apparent.

I think the most exiting gift brands receive on managing expectations is, CONSUMER ADVOCACY.

How can brands manage it?

A few pointers stated above that thrive on creating ‘what to expect’, also need fueling on ‘how to keep the faith’. Walt Disney still needs to keep their act refreshing, exciting & be adaptive day after day. Today it has to continue to make Disneyworld the ultimate destination for the ‘child in you’, while parallely maintaining expectations as an entertainment company in the technology age. Disney PIXAR does that in every new film they launch. Even that is incomplete without establishing a personal relationship with its fans on the new digital medium. Disney, through its many brands & sub-brands has successfully managed transition over many decades.

Managing expectations is needed at many levels. Here’s sharing a few:

1. Post purchase rationalization: Indigo Airlines on-time promise & actual take off timings


2. Reputation (also, Crisis) Management: Cadbury clearly rose up to the occasion when their lead brand Cadbury Dairy Milk was detected with worms. A thorough and sincere use of public relations, with the commitment of their MD & a change in product packaging helped it overcome any negative publicity. It was clearly an action oriented approach that brought children & adults back into the Dairy Milk fold.

3. Relationship Management: Maruti’s comforting hand with a service station, wherever you go


4. Non-simulated encounters: I haven’t seen a real example here but I believe it’s a very important part of the overall brand expectation management. This is about the interactions with brands which are not defined in the communication purview. For e.g: The shared vision of the Kingfisher CEO with the staff inside the airline, is not very palpable at the airport premises. The graciousness of the hostesses once you board, can be a beautiful language spoken by the staff even if you are flying a competitive airline. Just a smile or a nod to a passenger who is in queue to collect the boarding pass with another airline, is enough to see the brand culture flowing through. Maybe a good enough trigger to switch to Kingfisher the next time. WHY? Simply because he/she sees a consistency in delivery of expectations as a courteous host, without it seeming like just a ‘put on for passengers on-board or their passengers only’.

5. High expectations that have no centralized ‘managing’ authority: Which really means once some brands are launched it’s very often at the mercy of a large number or people to sway it for or against it. I believe country brands have to take this very seriously. Brand India’s initiative  starring Aamir Khan, attempts to manage the expectations by talking to the average Indian (urging him/her to absorb the values & live it), so that they mirror the promise made by the Incredible India! campaigns.


Often brands & communication partners roll themselves in crafting the most evocative campaign. And then the follow-through campaign. Or then maybe an all pervasive integrated campaign. All of which builds desire for the brand. Builds expectations on what the new world can be like. BUT, what creates a series of solus or core users among today’s choice-ful and word-of-mouth inspired consumers, is how brands live up to it again and again. How brands leverage many ‘moments of truth’ created both by design and some by default, again and again. The buzzword is providing consistency & delight again and again.

Look forward to hearing your stories, of brands that have put a premium on managing expectations & won over loyalists.

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  1. Thanks for sharing the post. I like all the videos specially the Fair And Handsome one.

  2. This reminds me of Avis’ famous slogan – ‘We try harder’. They made managing expectations a core part of what the brand stood for,and in their case, being No.2 worked to their benefit. So I would agree that fighter brands do better at managing expectations than leader brands, and for sure being No.1 means always being on guard for the evil of complacency setting in.

    • freshbrew team |

      I think holding customers has become most difficult & important that gaining new ones. Managing expectations makes such sense there. Both for No.2 & No.1. Avis got away smartly…

  3. True Sandy as communication practitioners we need to look at constantly engaging with our consumers.From that perspective I guess Creating & Managing Expectations is going to play a key role in the growth of brands. Sometimes we just focus on creation that we miss the fact that all we need to do is to keep things simple and be in touch with the consumer. Your CRM etc tries to do that in a certain way. But this also borders on being a little pushy and tend to fall in the creation space….. I think the key to this is brands need to Listen to consumers. In this process of creation somewhere the Listening gets diluted and Talking takes over. As somebody said “When you Listen you have the advantage.When you talk others have it “. For Brands specially in this cluttered media it makes sense to Listen

    • freshbrew team |

      Thanks Anbu…Good to hear from you. I do agree listening is special & the most difficult thing in life too.

      However the intention when managing expectations is not to be aggressive. It is really to ensure that brands don’t ever sadden their owners or let them down. So if we can listen like we try in so many relationships, possibly the ’surprises’ would always stay pleasant.

  4. Brilliant write up! Managing a brand’s expectation can sometimes be more gruesome than creating one.

    This reminds of a case where at one point of time Nokia had surpassed consumer expectations and now, as a brand, cannot provide that.


    • freshbrew team |

      Thanks Jinesh. Complacency occurs suddenly & it grows just as fast. Possibly fighter/challenger brands keep their spirits high for long. Does it then pay to be a fighter or a leader? I wonder.

  5. nice one Sandy..we need to remind our selves this all the time

  6. Enjoyed the read. Managing expectations gets even more critical when safety standards are in question. Toyota is a case to ruminate on. The sugar rush most marketeers have is maintained by the investment in advertising and promotion to keep brand push. Little do product brands realise that it turns into expenditure when a crisis hits. Reality is most classical marketeers follow the stimulus-response practice. Come crisis/Push expectation mgmt button. I suppose AIG just didnt read the books.

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