Aligning Marketing Expectations & Reality Aligning Marketing Expectations & Reality

  • Managing expectations can be complicated
  • Having a process for managing expectations will help
  • Be clear on the target
  • Communicate frequently with relevance

Brilliance is scarce, Extremely Good is uncommon, and Not-bad is in abundance. But all of it is valuable if we are clear on what we want and what we are prepared to sacrifice in order to achieve it.

It doesn’t matter what grade of service we are looking for. What does matter is how well the deliverables are communicated and understood by everyone involved. This is easy to externalise but much more complicated to deliver.

The Destination

Any marketing project starts with a purpose or objective – no one is doing marketing for the hell of it. The first stage of discovering expectation nirvana is to be able to empathise and conceptualise what the objective is. Having it communicated to us is one thing, but how our brains digest someone else’s vision is another.

In our (Vandalist) case, we start by reworking the purpose in our own words and communicating it back to our clients. We use examples of cases that we think are similar to the project in question and play devil’s advocate to some degree which allows us to build more context around what is being asked of us. We can then crystalise our interpretation of the purpose, and formally document this to our client with precision and await their confirmation. At this point we are entirely clear on what is needed in terms of all the key expectation metrics:

  • Time frames
  • Budget expectations
  • Potential hindrances
  • Notable parties
  • What-ifs
  • Payment terms
  • Project variances
  • Other metrics depending on the project type

At this point, we have all the possible information we could need to begin the process heading the right way. There is still plenty of time for it to go rogue, but we begin by facing in the right direction.

Maintaining the Direct Line

The destination is unlikely to be at the end of a clean, smooth, debris-free trail. Marketing projects rarely follow precise and predictable pathways regardless of how much planning is done. Be that as it may, we still need to forecast the most likely route (we call this the direct line) to make sure that the expectation metrics above can be maintained.

For us, this is straightforward; we use the expectation metrics as the basis of our pathway and reverse engineer them to align milestones (deliverables) to the direct line (schedule). We then apply our communication process to the effort which provides confirmation to the client of our progress and additional recommendations.

Essentially we confirm that we have done what we said we were going to do, and then advise that the next milestone is our next action item. If we foresee issues or further opportunities, they are raised throughout this process.

Communication Resourcing

Since the dawn of humans, “communication” has been sprouted as being one of the major contributing factors to building a good business relationship. But just doing “communication” achieves nothing. It needs to be done purposefully, with the right frequency, and with relevance.

To aid the communication journey, we developed a more robust system for maintaining the right kind of communication with our clients. It varies depending on the project, but the basis is that we use dedicated team members to control correspondence and use a repeatable weekly and monthly communication schedule. Weekly updates are provided with shorthand notes as to what we are working on, and a monthly report is provided to elaborate on what was actioned and what is next. These resources are predictable in that they are delivered the same time each week or month, and gives the client the opportunity to ask questions at the relevant time.

Additionally, for highly complex projects, we organise a 30-minute video call weekly, fortnightly, or monthly to give the client the option of formally raising any issues or queries that they could not articulate via email or instant message.  A live project tracking tool is activated for those projects that require this facility.

There is no guesswork as to where we are up to on a project or what we are working on. This allows all parties to remain on the direct line to the destination with assurance and certainty.

Expectation Equilibrium

When the process above is followed, it is extremely difficult to reach the destination with an outcome that is in contrast with expectations. The destination has been agreed to, the direct line with milestones has been approved, and communication resourcing confirms the implementation of the action items. If the destination or milestones needed adjusting along the way, the expectation metrics will have been revisited and the path adjusted accordingly, enhancing  the client experience and likelihood of success.

Discomfort Threshold

Most providers want to deliver brilliance, but the investment/sacrifice/commitment/risk/discomfort a client is willing to commit largely determines what the best-case outcome will be. It is unlikely that brilliance will be delivered quickly or cheaply. Not-bad on the other hand should be very affordable and delivered soon. But whether it is brilliant or not-bad is irrelevant – the discomfort that a client is prepared to commit sets the basis for the destination, and the process to understand expectations can begin.


This does not speak to value though. Value can be seen at any level – not-bad, very good, or brilliant, and can only be determined by the one enduring the discomfort. Me telling you that something is good value when I stand to make money from it is, well, irresponsible and meaningless.

If the destination is acceptable and can be attained at a discomfort level the client is prepared to accept, we have the basis of an agreement. “Value” exists by way of receiving a better result with less discomfort relative to what other service providers are offering. In other words, more for less relative to comparable services.

To Surmise

Relying on intuition to align expectations and reality is difficult because human beings are complicated, uncertain, and occasionally sneaky. Having a formalised method for limiting the likelihood of misalignment is wise because if expectations are not met, regardless of how unrealistic they may seem, everyone walks away feeling poorly (i.e., pissed off, incompetent, let down, embarrassed, ripped off et al). There is always going to be an occurrence where two parties are simply incompatible, but most others can be facilitated positively if the outcome, the process, and the communication are consistent and suited to the project.