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Let’s set the scene: there are two companies, both in the SaaS sector, offering the same products with impressive features, vying for the attention of their target customers. Both companies have a strong online presence and brand recognition, however, there's one crucial difference that sets the two apart.

Company A embraces its weaknesses, openly acknowledging and sometimes highlighting them in its branding and content marketing, whereas Company B follows a more traditional path of projecting an image of perfection. Surprisingly, Company A is thriving, attracting a loyal customer base, while Company B is struggling to make a lasting impact.

What's the secret? It's that Company A leans into and embraces its flaws.

As a social strategy consultant with over a decade of experience, I have witnessed firsthand how the marketing landscape has evolved, especially when it pertains to customer expectations. In this digital age, when information is super accessible and in abundance (thanks ChatGPT!) consumers not only expect quality customer service, but quality experience. And what is the foundation for quality experience? Authenticity.

From a social media perspective, social media platforms have given users unparalleled access to information, making it that much easier to scrutinize and assess a brand’s integrity. Any attempts to mask crises or issues can be quickly exposed and shared widely. Thus being transparent and authentic, in both words and actions, is now vital.  

We also can’t forget that consumers have countless options these days. They are becoming increasingly skeptical of traditional or even account-based marketing tactics that promote a polished and flawless image. They crave authenticity and transparency from the companies they choose to support. But how do you go about being authentic and transparent? Well, look at your flaws.

In today’s fast-paced SaaS sector, standing out from the crowd and building a trustworthy brand persona is more crucial than ever. In this article, we will delve into a phenomenon called expectation branding, and how setting the right expectations by owning your flaws can lead to authentic brand representation and customer loyalty. Put into practice, you’ll hold the key to genuine connections with your target audience where trust and relatability reign supreme.

The Rise of Consumer Expectation

Today's consumers demand more than just products and services; they seek authentic experiences, transparency, and personalized interactions from the brands they engage with. According to Google’s Consumer Insights, over 60% of consumers expect brands to provide them with the information they need precisely when they need it, however less than half feel brands are delivering.

Additionally, a survey conducted by Salesforce reveals that 75% of consumers expect companies to understand their needs and expectations. This emphasizes the need for personalized experiences and tailored solutions that truly resonate with each target customer.

Further to this, a recent study by Deloitte found that 81% of consumers believe that transparency is a crucial factor in their decision-making process when choosing a brand. Consumers prefer brands that are open and forthright about its strengths and limitations.

To manage this, companies need to work on managing expectations through branding authenticity. This involves candid and public acknowledgment of your product or service’s strengths and weaknesses, for better or worse. For example, if a project management software company openly admits that its platform may have occasional glitches as they add new features, it may be annoying to the consumer in the short term, however in the long term they learn to appreciate the honesty and straightforwardness.

This in turn often translates to increased brand loyalty and positive word-of-mouth, because let’s face it: no brand is perfect, so you might as well own your mishaps.

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The Decline of Perfection

These days, the "perfect" brand image that companies often strive for can backfire. With the rise of social media and user-generated content, it's easier than ever for consumers to see beyond carefully crafted marketing campaigns and messaging. 

Consumers today actively seek real experiences from real people to inform their purchase decisions. It’s why we read reviews not on the company website (where it can be carefully curated), but on third-party review sites like Trustpilot. We seek meaningful connections with the brands we engage with and value honesty, transparency, and relatability. 

Some of us may remember Theranos, a once-promising biotech startup founded by Elizabeth Holmes. Claiming to have developed a revolutionary blood testing technology that could detect a range of health conditions, the brand projected the image of confidence and perfection. While Theranos was positioned as a disruptor in the medical industry, an investigative report by the Wall Street Journal exposed the truth. It was found that the technology had significant issues around its accuracy and reliability. Holmes insisted on maintaining a mask of perfection, even though the flaws were apparent, which ultimately led to its downfall. The company ended up facing regulatory investigations, a number of lawsuits, and eventually its dissolution.

Brand authenticity has emerged as a dominant trend over the years, and it plays a central role in expectation branding. These days, consumers want to know a number of things like: who are the faces behind the brand? What are the company's values? What are the genuine efforts a company embarks on to make a positive impact on the world? To be successful in today’s digital age, brands need to go above and beyond just offering quality products or services. 

The Secret Sauce is in Your Flaws

And so, the secret to business success may lie in your flaws. The very things that are considered weaknesses could actually be the things that make you successful.

By embracing flaws, businesses demonstrate their ability to be honest and establish trust with their audience. In the SaaS sector, where products can be complex and multifaceted, the illusion of perfection can be incredibly challenging to maintain. So, instead of attempting to hide flaws, brands should leverage them to humanize their brand. By presenting a genuine portrayal of their product, they create an emotional connection with their audience, fostering a sense of camaraderie and community that traditional marketing techniques struggle to achieve.

Authenticity and trust go hand in hand. When a brand openly acknowledges its flaws and limitations, consumers are more likely to believe in its strengths and capabilities. This creates an authenticity-trust loop that can drive customer loyalty and advocacy. One way you can do this is through customer testimonials, where you feature reviews that highlight initial difficulties, but counteract that by showing how your brand went above and beyond to address it. The goal here is to transform negative experiences into opportunities for growth and improvement. Not only does this salvage existing customer relationships but it can attract new clients and customers who value transparency and integrity.

Examples of Expectation Branding

A good example of a brand managing expectations through authenticity and owning their flaws is Buffer, a well-known social media management tool. Whenever their platform experiences technical issues and downtime, instead of sweeping it under the rug, they take an open and candid approach where they publicly acknowledge the problem by providing detailed updates on the situation and the steps they were taking to resolve it.

They even include apologies to customers, showing empathy and understanding for the inconvenience caused. Their transparent response resonates with users, because they appreciate the honesty and see the Buffer’s flaws as a testament to its commitment in improving quality and servicing. 

Another great example of a brand embracing transparency to create customer trust is Zendesk, a customer support platform. As a company with the SaaS sector, they know that user experience is of utmost importance, so they chose to confront weaknesses head-on and transform them into opportunities. One of the challenges Zendesk faced was around the complexity of their platform, which sometimes led to user frustration.

Instead of ignoring the issue, the brand took an honest approach, where they openly acknowledged the user feedback and conducted in-depth analysis of their user experience through customer surveys in order to gain valuable insights into the areas that needed improvement. 

During this journey, they opened the door to direct communication with users, outlining the steps they would take to simplify the platform's interface to enhance user experience. As Zendesk continued to implement changes based on feedback, they kept their customers in the loop throughout the process. As they released updates, improvements, and new features, they acknowledged their flaws and proactively worked to rectify them, ultimately transforming its weaknesses into strengths. 

Now embracing flaws does not mean complacency. Think of it as an opportunity for growth and innovation. Companies that own their imperfections are more likely to invest in rectifying them, and consumers can sense that. It is about striking a balance between showcasing strengths but also being transparent about the areas needed for improvement. When doing this, you can differentiate your brand from competitors and create a lasting impact in the minds of your target audience.

To effectively embrace flaws, it's essential to align your branding efforts with the genuine experiences customers are likely to have. Focus on delivering on your brand’s promises and provide personalized interactions whenever possible to create memorable brand experiences.

Using the SWOT Framework to Identify & Convert Flaws

Let’s go back to Business 101. When applied strategically, a SWOT analysis can help SaaS businesses to identify their strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats. There are a variety of weaknesses your brand can have, be it a flaw in your product or service, operational inefficiencies, or lack of resources. The key is to take those weaknesses and turn them into opportunities, not threats.

For example, a company with a less intuitive user interface may discover that there is now an opportunity to invest in design and usability improvements. Another example might be a company with a poor reputation for its customer service. This could be turned into an opportunity by investing in training and resources for customer service representatives. Addressing these weaknesses is the first step in enhancing product and services, while also strengthening the overall brand experience. 

It may sound surprising, but in the early stages of HubSpot’s business, they had limited brand recognition as a significant weakness. This then became an opportunity and eventually a strength as HubSpot implemented a comprehensive content marketing strategy that ultimately positioned them as an industry thought leader.

By creating valuable and informative content, HubSpot addressed the cause of its weakness, which was lack of visibility. Over time they engaged their target audience, provided solutions to their pain points, and steadily built a loyal following and advocates. This approach resulted in brand recognition but has now positioned them as a go-to resource in the marketing domain. HubSpot's willingness to embrace its weakness and transform it into a core competency was a key factor in its business success.

Reshaping The Way Consumers Perceive You

The secret to business success lies not in projecting an illusion of perfection but in embracing flaws as opportunities for authenticity and growth. Ignoring your flaws won’t do you any favors, so work on re-shaping negative customer experiences by being genuine, transparent, and committed to improvement. If you work on fostering trust, loyalty, and lasting connections with your audience, your brand will reap the benefits. The flaws that make us human are the same flaws that can drive our businesses to success.

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By Melissa Ariganello

Melissa is a seasoned social media strategist and marketer who was recently awarded the Independent Consultant Award by Women in Marketing Community Interest Company. With a deep passion for understanding the ever-evolving digital landscape, she has developed expertise in leveraging social and content platforms to drive engagement and business growth.