Brand Surprises

Earlier this week I had to go to the secretary of state to get a new driver’s license.

Hang with me here, I promise this story has a point that is related to branding.

Kathleen here with a confession: I moved from Oklahoma City to Detroit, Michigan over a year ago and as of earlier this week still had not taken care of getting a Michigan ID. Getting a new driver’s license is a lot like going to the dentist for an overdue cleaning or filing yearly income taxes – it’s just hard to get the motivation going to make it happen.

Except with a driver’s license you’re not only taking care of a mundane task, you’re also getting your picture taken – so you also have to will a good hair day into the universe and throw on some concealer and lipstick while you’re at it.

So, I head to the secretary of state and walk into a setting that felt a little like the Netherworld waiting room scene from Beetlejuice.

Let me paint a picture for you: a room with a hundred folding chairs full of people who would rather be anywhere else; multiple lines that weren’t moving; and overhead lighting that would make anyone look like they had the flu.

To be fair, this is pretty much on brand when it comes to what you might expect from a government agency, and I get it – creating a pinterest-worthy space just isn’t a priority. I took a number and got in line to have my documents verified. When it was my turn, the woman helping checking to make sure everyone has their proper paperwork in order was kind, patient, and informative. I expected her to treat me like I was dumb for not knowing the process – nope! She acted like she had my back and all the time in the world to answer my questions. She told me exactly what I needed to proceed and exuded warmth. Then when she told me the wait was going to be 1-1.5 hours I WASN’T EVEN MAD because she was so freaking nice about it. She even explained that I could leave and as long as I got back in the building before 5PM they’d be able to help me.

I was completely surprised.

During that wait time I popped over to the post office to get my passport renewed (it was a very adult-ing kind of day) and by the time I returned to the secretary of state it was my turn to stand in yet another line to finally see someone about getting my new license.

The woman who helped me next checked my vision, gathered my signatures, and verified my documents. She was also incredibly helpful and kind, and even let me take a second photo when my first one came out looking a little like … well … beetlejuice.

I’m sharing this story because I was surprised.

It would have been on-brand for everyone working at the secretary of state to be as harsh as the fluorescent lights – but instead I was surprised by the wonderful customer service I received from every single person I encountered.

Because my profession is branding, the whole scene got me daydreaming about how I would rebrand the secretary of state, from the generic identity to the cold interior space, to match the actual experience I received. Or perhaps, maybe it’s actually better that I was expecting one thing and surprised by another. The experience got my gears turning about brand disconnects – especially the ones we can’t seem to help – like working within budget constraints, and what we can do to accommodate the gaps between brand perception and customer experience.


When we’re taking our clients through the Braid Method one of the exercises includes a fill in the blank ad-lib style activity. One of the lines in this brand exercise is:

“One thing that happily surprises people about my business is ______.”

What happily surprises your dream client about your brand and business? I’ll take it a step further if you’re having a hard time thinking about how to answer that questions:

One thing that happily surprises people about my business is …
once they work with me the discover _________.
they hire me for ______ and in addition to that also get ________.
a little detail, like how I _________.
that I go above and beyond when it comes to ______.

Some examples of these fill-in-the-blanks might be:
once they work with me the discover that I’m incredibly communicative and punctual.

they hire me for coaching and in addition to that also get a lot of practical next steps.

a little detail, like how I send my deliverables with thoughtful packaging and a little meaningful gift so they remember our work together.

that I go above and beyond when it comes to reflecting back to them what they say so they know I’m listening.

Try it for yourself – how would you fill in these blanks?


There are things about the Braid Method that surprises our clients. With every customer we hear things like “I had no idea how much business clarity I would get in this branding process!” or “Wow! I feel like this was such a collaborative effort – like we were on the same team!” And everytime we get feedback like this I think, how can we get more of that experience into our own brand positioning?

But the thing is… there are going to be some things about your brand and business you can’t (and probably shouldn’t) quite articulate. There are some things that just have to be experienced and received by your dream customer as a delightful surprise.


You can’t brand the fact that you write really informative and bulleted emails, and you can’t position yourself as an expert in being warm and kind. Heck, you can’t even market the fact that people are raving fans and really truly love you once they experience your offering … because they have to experience it!

But that doesn’t mean going above and beyond or paying mind to the little details are all for naught. These surprises are the things that get your dream client who has actually worked with you, or purchased your product, telling all of their friends and family about the experience they had.


Take stock of your brand surprises. Try asking your past clients what they loved about working with you and what surprised them about the experience. Take note of how those surprises reflect your core values and try to embody them in every interaction you have with your customers.


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