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To understand the nature of customer experiences, we’re going to use a simple metaphor to show how the brand develops over time and what you can do to build your brand quickly. Your brand — the mental image of your business in the mind of a customer — works just like a bank. The brand bank works according to some simple rules:

  • Each positive experience is a deposit into the brand bank.
  • Each negative experience is a withdrawal from the brand bank.
  • The better the experience, the larger the deposit.
  • The worse the experience, the larger the withdrawal.
  • A positive balance in the brand bank pays interest in the form of repeat business and referrals.
  • A negative balance in the brand bank charges fees in the form of lost customers and negative reviews.

Let's take a look at how this works in the real world.


While leafing through a local magazine, you see an ad for Bob’s Diner, a new restaurant that just opened in your neighborhood. All day breakfast, plenty of comfort food options — sounds like your kind of place! A few days later you’re driving by; Bob’s looks like the cozy hometown diner you expected from the ad, and you decide to stop in for an early lunch. A bubbly young hostess seats you in a big booth by the window, and the waitress describes a few blue plate specials that sound delicious. Your food arrives, and it’s just as good as advertised. When the check comes you think to yourself, “That was pretty good! I’ll be coming back real soon.”

At this point, Bob has made a series of small deposits into the mental brand bank account you maintain for his business. Every facet of your experience, from the ad to the menu to the staff to the food, has been captured in your memory. Right now, the balance is positive, and Bob benefits from this positive balance if you decide to eat at his restaurant again.

The following week, you learn that Bob’s Diner has made a big donation to your son’s little league team. You love your son and you watch every game, so his donation creates a very strong positive feeling in your mind — a big deposit in the brand bank. You decide to eat at Bob’s again, but this time you’re bringing friends because you want to show your support and, if possible, thank Bob himself. A few days later you arrive with three friends. You tell your waitress that Bob supports your son’s team. She goes to the back and comes out with Bob, who shakes hands with everyone and chats for a few minutes about his own little league days. After your conversation, Bob sends out free dessert for the table to show his appreciation. It’s an unusually good meal and a great evening. Bob has just made three very large deposits into the brand bank: support for a nonprofit you care about, a great personal conversation, and free dessert. At this point, the balance in the brand bank is  very large, and there’s a good chance you’ll be heading back to Bob’s Diner.

You may begin telling your friends about Bob’s Diner. You may decide to eat there at least once a week. You may decide to invite coworkers and friends. Bob’s business benefits tremendously from the deposits he made into the brand bank — his large positive balance is paying interest in the form of repeat business and referrals.

Even though you probably don’t think of it in this way, this same dynamic occurs with every business you ever interact with. If you’ve had great experiences with Amazon, you may order things from that site all the time. If you’ve had terrible experiences, you probably never do. All of the work that the staff there does — the wish lists, the affiliate programs, the advertising, refunds, emails and so on — was done to create as many positive mental impressions as possible in the mind of each customer. If they fail in one or more ways, they lose business. This is how all brands are built, and as an entrepreneur, you must decide what kinds of deposits you want to make and how you’re going to make them.

A few weeks later, you decide to visit Bob’s Diner again. But this time, the bubbly waitress seems to have disappeared. The new waitress never refills your coffee, forgets the toast, takes at least fifteen minutes to bring the check and never comes by to pick up your credit card. You finally get tired of waiting and take your check to the hostess, but the incident has damaged your impression of Bob’s — a small withdrawal has been made on Bob’s account in your mind. Since the balance in that account was really large to begin with, you may just assume that this waitress was having a bad day and she doesn't reflect the great business that you've come to know. This one experience probably won’t prevent you from returning. But if it happens again and again, those small withdrawals may start to charge fees.  These experiences may eventually prevent you from returning. Bob’s poor choice of employee has eaten away his investment, and is having a real-world affect on his bottom line.

But what if your experience was much worse than an inattentive waitress? What if she had dumped your food in your lap? Argued with you? Even though you like the owner and have a positive impression of the business, you might storm out and swear you’ll never return. An extremely negative experience — a large withdrawal — can leave the account overdrawn, and make it far more difficult to return to a positive balance in the future.

A negative experience charges fees with other customers as well. If you have a negative experience you may tell a friend or two. But if the experience is really bad, you may tell lots of people. You may even write a negative review online for the world to read. These kinds of actions are the result of a negative balance in the account you maintain for that business. When a brand bank account is overdrawn it charges interest in the form of negative reviews and lost customers.

You will never be able to create a business that everyone loves. But you must develop enough positive mental impressions of your business in the minds of potential customers to stay in business. The brand bank is just as important to your success as the bank you use to finance your operations: a positive balance pays interest, but a negative balance can put you out of business.