What it says on the tin
According to Daniel Kahneman we base our assumptions and decisions on the availability of evidence, and we also tend to place a disproportionate amount of emphasis on the relatively tiny amount which is actually available to us. Further, emotional factors play a larger role than rational factors in decision-making, unless we make a conscious effort to question our instincts, and when it comes to routine decisions of low importance, we rarely consult reason and work on auto-pilot. Our perceptions of brands fall into this category. We make quick decisions, emotional and often subconsciously, based on our own limited experience with the brand, be it through advertising, exposure to packaging and products in-store, or talking to their call-centre rep. Unless you work for the brand; study its history and strategies or read its financial statements, our experiences of a brand are emotional, as well as limited, brief and random. And there is therefore no reason to question them.
Any inconsistency in these experiences, however; that is if the brand behave in a way which is not consistent with the way we’ve been taught to expect, results in a feeling of surprise. This, in turn, activates the reasoning faculties of our brains. To deal with this conflict between expectation and experience, we will now consciously assess the brand and question the basis for our original feelings towards it; the result of which may be damage to the emotional connection that has carefully been established over time.
Compare it to a person. If someone you know does or says something which is totally out of character, you will interpret all prior behaviour in light of this latest incident. You may end up changing your opinion of this person, concluding that he finally showed his true colours, or decide that this was an insignificant and forgivable slip. It is easy to imagine that these ‘slips’ will occur when the person is under stress, which of course is also the case for brands. Just look at all the ‘sales’ signs…
Brand perceptions are based on emotions and a person’s emotions are influenced by every experience this person has. While a brand can control only a fraction of the total number of experiences, it must at least ensure their share is consistent with the brand promise, so as to not create surprises and feelings of distrust.