Originally published in the Boulder Daily Camera and the Longmont Daily Times-Call.

There we were, and I couldn’t have been prouder.

We were lined up in front of the church. The wedding was about to begin. My sweet little boy was all primed to go as ring-bearer. Then everything changed.

“Where’s my bear suit?” he asked.

Bear suit? What bear suit? Suddenly the pieces fell into place and I feared the temper tantrum of the century. The unusual compliance we were getting from my four-year-old was because he thought that at some point he would get to dress up in a bear suit. We said, “ring-bearer”. He heard, “ring bear”. He agreed to play a starring role in the wedding as the ring bear. Now he wanted his bear suit.

Luckily the bride diverted what could have been a wedding-stopping display. The disappointed ring-bearer did his duty. Reluctantly. He frowned while stomping down the aisle. He fretted impatiently at the altar. Ultimately he abandoned the pillow and ring on the floor and headed for the nearest pew.

Flanked by mortified parents, he fidgeted through the ceremony >pondering the loss of his bear suit and muttering about broken promises.

Businesses can have their bear suit moments.

Sometimes when buyers and sellers are talking, the parties aren’t on the same page. What is being said isn’t being heard, isn’t fully understood, or isn’t being taken in its proper context. When reality is imposed to trump expectations, temper tantrums may be close at hand.

As a business person, you know you have great products or services. You know you offer clients and customers better value than the competition. You know you’re providing better quality, service, and a greater selection. You spend significant time and resources developing marketing and advertising plans to tell your story to target audiences But are you communicating in ways that leave current and prospective customers/clients with realistic expectations?

I “sold” my son on how much fun it would be to dress up as a ring-bearer for his dear “Aunt” Sherry. She stressed how special he would be and gave him a present. We bought a tiny suit for him and took him to all the pre-wedding parties. Everyone reinforced the importance of his role as ring-bearer. No wonder he went along so willingly. In his mind, he would be dressed as a bear when taking the ring up the aisle.

If your target audiences aren’t hearing what you think you’re saying, you’re making the same mistake. If your advertising and marketing messages are building the wrong expectations, you’re headed for a ring-bear moment. The outcome will be embarrassment and back-tracking at best. At worst, it will be lost business and hard feelings that will be very difficult to overcome.

That’s why candid two-way conversations, probing questions, clearly defined expectations, and mutual understanding are important in effective marketing. So, too, are knowing what customers and clients really want when they contact you.

It’s wise to ask questions and listen closely to answers. It’s smart to solicit feedback to expand, strengthen, or amplify your public communications. It’s good business to probe customer/client expectations until their expectations match your ability to deliver.

Step out of your business skin. Critically examine your marketing and advertising messages from the viewpoint of your target audiences. Are there any statements or nuances that might build false expectations? Are you really saying what you want your customers/clients to hear? Is everyone in agreement in terms implied promises, warranties, returns, receipts, guarantees, etc.

No one enjoys a ring-bear moment.

No one likes hearing that a real bear suit wasn’t a part of the deal.

Stacy Cornay is the owner of Communication Concepts Public Relations & Advertising. 
Visit www.comm-concepts.com or call 303-651-6612.

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