Not 100 Percent Perfect

Is perfection the best characteristic for a brand? Until recently, many might have said yes. Martha Stewart fans certainly would have agreed. Year after year, the ever-perfect Martha concocted one perfect piece of decorating advice after another. Her brand-building was perfect. But repetition of such reliable perfection made the occasional mistake glaringly obvious.

The ultimate brand is like a real person. The more human the components associated with a brand, the stronger it is. I’m most amazed by brands when they exhibit human qualities. Instances of brands that offer extraordinarily good service usually coincide with those brand that have a human touch.

I’ve emailed questions and complaints about brands. When replies have a human voice, they’ve addressed my concerns. Such replies typically exhibit the writer’s authority and credibility — the authority to write as a credible individual.

As customers, we demand brands deliver on expectations. It’s a minimum standard to expect a brand to reply to inquiries within 24 hours. That’s about as far as we allow expectations go. So minimal are expectations now, a response that deviates from a standard automatic reply and provides just a glimpse of a person behind it adds equity to the brand.

The human touch has enormous value. A brand that exhibits that quality it is likely to become a favorite.

To achieve this, a brand must develop human behavior. And human behavior is rarely perfect. To err is human. Slips, quirks, and idiosyncratic behaviors define our unique personalities. Brands should do the same.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not talking about messing up your account status or filling email messages and letters with spelling errors. Make a brand’s behavior real. Consistency is a valuable trait. But mechanical perfection and artificial sameness can alienate.

Take huge banking corporations. Edifices in steel and glass line our main streets, plastered with huge corporate logos and filled with people uniformly dressed. How uninspiring.

Corporations don’t need sterile predictability to maintain a professional image. Adherence to conformity can reflect senior level insecurity.

Imagine if Martha had a pudding flop. If a painting hanging on her wall weren’t straight. Imagine she admitted to a terrible hangover. Chinks in the image would reinforce it, not weaken it. They would inspire empathy with her.

Chinks in the armor only appear to be faults to the wearer. From a distance, a consumer sees reinforcement. A few chinks in Martha’s brand could have armed her against the day a real mistake happened.

Project a perfect image to the world and the world expects perfection. Such expectations may not work to your benefit. Before designing your Web site, TV campaign, store decoration, or whatever generates traffic and revenue, consider the level of perfection you want to maintain. Maybe perfection is not what we think it is.

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