Exceeding/Managing Expectations When You’re on Top

I was getting very excited for the iPhone 5 announcement – not because I am an Apple Zealot, but because I wanted to see how Apple would top itself. The reality is two-fold: it didn’t and possibly it couldn’t.

To be clear, this column is about setting expectations and the struggle to live up to them. It’s not about Apple. But the case is too strong and obvious not to use. And to be fair, Apple didn’t set any expectation at all before releasing the iPhone 5. It was characteristically secretive about it. The public built up the expectation of the phone and started the rumor mill going. Considering some of the rumors included a laser-generated keyboard that emanates from the phone onto any surface, how could expectations possibly ever be met by Apple? Seriously, I heard the laser keyboard rumor from three different people – one of whom was my 9-year-old niece’s best friend.

When most of us launch new products or websites, there is little fanfare. Even if we build anticipation for a new launch, there is one truth: people expect you to evolve, not transform. Or at least, that’s what companies tend to do: evolve, not transform. Because of that customers aren’t expecting every new website launch to be a revolution, or the newest version of your CRM software to reinvent the industry.

With large companies that are known for revolutions, new product launches are not as simple. Taking the Apple example, nothing short of a game-changing redesign that reinvented what it meant to be a phone would have impressed most people. The new iPhone is a little taller: so what? That’s the impression everyone I’ve talked to has. To be fair, when you hold it in your hand it feels like a completely different animal. That’s not the experience you have when looking at a photo. In the photo it’s just a slightly larger iPhone, which isn’t anything impressive.

Is there a lesson to learn here? Building anticipation can work to your advantage. It can raise the hopes of people and make them eager for the new product. But it can also set expectations so people are disappointed. In Apple’s case, its shroud of secrecy hurt it more than helped because its product is not revolutionary this time around. It’s a minor improvement over what Apple came out with before. Perhaps dispelling some of the more outlandish rumors would have helped remove the disappointment people felt over the iPhone 5.

When you are launching a new site or product, think about these issues carefully. Odds are your launch won’t garner as much speculation or excitement as Apple’s launches do. But that doesn’t mean you can’t build anticipation for your launch and manage expectations so no one is disappointed.

Until next time…

Jack

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