Blog: Have you broken the mental contract recently?

11th December 2019

Blog: Have you broken the mental contract recently?

First off, I have to give over some credit; this blog was almost entirely inspired by our Senior Developer, Alex – and were it not for the fact he is on a seriously tight deadline, he’d have been writing this instead of me.

So – the mental contract. What is it? Well – remember that favour you did for a friend? They’d do you a favour in return, right? And so, we get (pretty quickly!) to the contract. That may be a simple and obvious example but when you extrapolate, these types of scenarios fill our everyday lives.

From offering someone a cup of tea, to holding the door, to quickly altering some text on a design you did a few months back – our day-to-day lives are full of small, seemingly minor favours and interactions.

But however minor these things are, they all add up. And whether you like the idea of it or not, as humans, we typically keep a mental track of these without necessarily knowing it – and only really find out our thoughts on the subject when we feel that someone has broken the mental contract; either taken too much or not given back when you felt like you needed it.

Trust me – we all default on the mental contract. You might not consciously know it but we all have and we all will. We’ll all ask a favour but then be unable to give back when someone comes to us in what happens to be the busiest week of our working life. We’ll all be flustered rushing around when someone holds the door and we barely even acknowledge it. None of us are perfect and therefore we shouldn’t worry about it too much.

But there is a bigger picture here. As brands, the mental contact can make or break relationships with customers. Imagine you’re in a supermarket and you accidently brush past a bottle that falls and smashes. The hard line is here is ‘you broke it, you pay for it’. But the mental contract can easily spell out that you’ve shopped here for years, spending your hard-earned, and one small accident in that time should be treated with good will from a company that has made plenty of profit from you. Get the opposite reaction and you might just take your business elsewhere for the next decade.

It’s a bit of a metaphorical minefield.

The key to avoiding any unfortunate breaches of contract is to keep your messaging on-point. In simple terms, portraying you have a family relationship with your customers needs to be followed with an attitude that reflects that. Behaviour and actions must follow communication. It’s that simple and when it comes to internal or external comms and marketing, that’s the golden rule. We all want to make ourselves look awesome, but if you can’t live up to the image, you’re misleading at best and lying at worst.

We’ve been bitten before at Jump when we haven’t been clear enough on what’s included and what’s not on projects and taking in to account our values, we’ve chosen to take it on the chin, ensure everyone we’re working with is happy and use it as a clear learning point.

The best way to steer clear of any unfortunate experiences is to harness the number one aim of all marketing and communications: clarity.

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