We’ve all heard the stories of brands letting their most loyal customers down. Whether it’s Coke changing their formula or Sony thinking MP3 could be ignored, it can cause huge outpourings of emotion and radically reduce a company’s profitability, as the loyal core desert them.

But what about when brands let down customers they don’t even have yet?I’m part of a site called Carryology, where we explore better ways to carry (think bags/ wallets/ travel gear). We recently put up a short post about Herschel, a Canadian bag brand that has gone from launch to massive in just a couple of years. They have an awesome brand (think heritage hipster), killer imagery, and a super slick vibe going on. The problem? Hmmm, perhaps read the comments.

For Herschel, the brand promise is really appealing; the images of the bags look dialed, they talk about quality, and everything is pointing to a great product experience. So when the product is a let down due to poor manufacturing, even if you’ve never bought it, you feel like your expectations were cheated. You feel like the brand didn’t follow through and deliver on the promise.We need these patterns and stereotypes to help us negotiate the mega-crowded brand landscape. I don’t go looking for gluten-free options in a bakery. I don’t expect fancy meals and expensive wine on a budget airline. A brand’s story needs to be reasonably cohesive, and it needs to leverage prior expectations. From the price, to the marketing, to the neighbourhoods you’re selling in, brands need to consider the thousands of tiny cues that help tell their story.

Then if a brand wants to change, it has to do so in lots of little steps. It needs to start communicating subtle differences, a few at a time, that slowly shift a consumer’s expectations. And it’s not just for your existing consumer, but also all those potential customers that are considering your brand every day.