In Chapter 4 of my book on Influence: What's the Missing Piece?, I discuss Maslow’s six needs. One of these core needs is the need for certainty. Our brains need it to assimilate information. In order to do this, we need a degree of certainty. Here are some additional thoughts on certainty.  

Face it. The human brain likes patterns. Our brain "thinks" by taking in information and comparing it using a predictable pattern it has encountered in the past. In this way, our brains are constantly predicting and setting expectations. 

In a recent NPR report, David Linden, a professor of neuroscience at Johns Hopkins, stated: 

It helps to consider how the brain looks for consistency and predictability in even a mundane event like reaching for a cup of coffee. Long before your hand reaches the cup, your brain starts making predictions about everything from how much force will be required to lift the cup to how the coffee will taste. 

Once the brain makes its predictions, it starts to "use sensory information as it comes in to compare the prediction with what actually took place," Linden says. 

You grasp. You smell. You taste. 

If the cup’s weight and the coffee’s flavor match the predictions, your brain declares victory. If not, it tries to figure out what went wrong. 

The same thing happens when a client or customer encounters your brand. Not your brand as a logo, color scheme or website, but your brand as their experience in reality as compared to the experience their brain predicted they would have. This is true of BOTH your personal brand and your organization brand. (Yes, we all carry a personal brand, whether you have intentionally built it or not). Pretend you own a medical clinic. If people expected their doctor’s office would be clean with a courteous staff and you deliver that experience, the body actually releases dopamine, a chemical reward of good feeling for the brain toward your brand. If they had to wait longer than expected or were treated unprofessionally, the brain makes a deep mental note of displeasure that the experience did not match what the brain predicted. 

It is no different for our personal brand. If people expected you to deliver what you said you would do, on time, and you do, a brick of trust is laid in the road of your relationship. If you don’t, trust is broken. 

The Lesson 

Striving after excellence in every aspect of your brand is not an end in itself. Rather, in striving for excellence, you are seeking to surpass the brain’s predicted expectations and launch a chemical reminder to the customer, client or team member that your product, service, or personal follow-through is exceptional. Here are a few examples of branding at which the brain makes predictions and sets expectations at an organizational level: 

  • The ease of finding needed information on your website. 
  • The décor and cleanliness of your store, office or practice. You expect a hole-in-the-wall Tex-Mex joint to have concrete floors and industrial fixtures. You don’t expect that of a surgical specialist’s office. 
  • The quantity of time they will get with your team. 
  • The quality of that time. Was the team engaged and in the moment?
  • Your subsequent availability to answer questions and concerns about your service or product. 
  • The cost they expect to pay for a service or product. Here are a few examples of branding expectations regarding your personal brand: 
  • Were you dressed in a manner that was in line with what they would expect? (Showing up in flip-flops and t-shirt for a professional business meeting - not a good expectation). 
  • Did you possess the technical and procedural knowledge they expected? 
  • Were you socially engaging? 
  • Did you listen or dominate conversation? 
  • Did you follow-up in the manner that surpassed their expectation? 
  • Did you deliver more than you said you would? 

Avoid the Mismatch 

If there is a mismatch between their expectation and a lowered reality, dopamine levels in the brain actually drop. This is what could be deemed "bad brand aftertaste." We have all eaten something that had an unpleasant aftertaste, and most of us didn’t go for a second bite. The same is true for our brains. A bad brand aftertaste usually results in a "no" decision by a client, customer or patient. It ensures they won’t repeat the experience with us, and they will seek an experience that better matches their predicted expectation somewhere else. It often leads to them broadcasting their displeasure with your brand to friends and family, and with social media, their megaphone of discontent just got much bigger. 

While exceeding their expectations at every point possible, make sure their experiences with your brand do include enough of a predictable pattern match to their brain’s expectation that they can relate to it. If you are too outside the box and haven’t managed the way your customer will predict their experience, your creativity can actually backfire on you. 

This actually happened in Boston years ago. In an attempt to introduce the concept of the telephone, a novel idea was constructed where theater goers in both Boston and New York would watch a play, and afterwards, patrons could walk to the front of the theater, pick up this new invention and talk to someone in the other city about their thoughts and feelings about the play. Cool brand development? Not so much. The idea was so beyond anyone’s predictable pattern of expectation regarding the product brand that exactly zero patrons participated in the exercise. 

The moral?  

Exceed expectations but have enough of the familiar that the brain says, "YES! This is exactly what I was looking for!" This is the making of a strong brand whether organizational or personal. 

A great tool to help manage certainty is a survey. By surveying clients, customers or simply the general public, you’ll quickly become more aware of what baseline expectations exist. Then you as an individual or team can come up with ways to both meet and surpass those expectations. This helps to build brand certainty, and opens others up to being more strongly influenced by you because they have an assurance you will meet their expectations. This is exactly what happened with Apple’s iPod. The brand was so trusted with computers that when they launched an MP3 player, no one thought, "I’m not so sure about that. How can they pull it off?" Instead, they instantly sold droves of them. The same thing happened with the iPhone. Building a brand of certainty works. Once people develop a pattern in their brain that you exceed expectations, you are set for gold. Get to it! 

Dr. Karen Keller, a clinical psychologist and Master Certified Coach specializing in human behavior, has spent her entire career studying, researching, and developing the Art of Influence. She is CEO and Founder of Karen Keller International, Inc. focusing on influence training; corporate, executive and small business coaching; and inspiring and informative keynote addresses. Check out how influential you are here:


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From regional manager to international executive with quadruple the pay, Karen Keller’s unique blueprint carefully outlined the step-by-step process for creating high-impact influence and let me know when I was being influenced in a way that didn’t serve me.
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