Oft times I wax melodically about the fact that logos are not brands. I speak about how the brand is an experience and that delivery of the experience is as important as the communications that go with it. Yet it must be said that the bookends of a brand experience are vital to the success.
A couple of examples: First, you're walking down the street and you see this rather inviting coffee shop. The sign is quirky and interesting, through the window you see an inviting space. It smells great. You decide to pop in for a quick espresso or what have you. So far so good. Let's say that service meets expectations, but doesn't knock your socks off. The espresso is pretty good, better than average, but not the best you've ever had. (By the by, the best cappuccino I've had was actually at a totally random place I walked into in Boulder, Colorado). But as you're gathering your things you find out your lid leaks. you try to replace the dumb thing but in doing so coffee goes all over the place. The barista comes and towels up the mess. but doesn't really see if you or your stuff is alright. They don't immediately offer you another drink. you have to ask if you can have one. But it is on the house.
But now the exit experience has been totally trashed. Even though things went fine, the exit wounds will kill any future for this relationship.
Example two has you on vacation in a new city. You fly into town and the airport is fine enough. It's an airport. You get in a cab, which will never blow you away, and hit the road into downtown. on your trip you round the bend and can see a skyline that is very close, but directly in front of you is a brutalist (I don't think this an official architectural term) office park surrounded by strip malls and parking lots. All of it run down and sitting mostly vacant. this waterfront town has an enormous highway between the water and the city. Billboards are for casinos 30 miles away. All in all not a pretty scene. Once there you have a great time. The food is stellar, the people are great and there are all sorts of neat places and things to do. Yay!
However, when someone asks you about the vacation you say it was good, but man it's terrible looking going in. You may not rave enough about the good stuff. And the just fine stuff, seems more humdrum than fine. The vim and vigor of your review simply falls flat. And the word of mouth never spreads. While the entry wound didn't kill the subject in question, it certainly left a scar that others see.
So what's the point? Good question. The point is that the first and last parts of an experience leave as much or more of a mark than the things in the middle. In terms of a brand the beginning and end of a conversation is often where the designer earns their keep. The middle has some of the designer's fingerprints, but is mostly up to the client. This is why it's important to invest in design. Just like a bullet wound what happens in the middle matters most, but the evidence is in the entry and exit wounds.