I measure all paid software and web based solutions against my experiences using Turbo Tax. I measure all breakfast restaurants against Walker Bros. I measure free web services against Gmail. I measure hotel beds against the Westin Heavenly Bed. I measure the way an airline treats me against my experience as an Executive Platinum member of American. I measure commercials against the Mac vs PC ads these days and the older Bud Light commercials, both of which make me laugh. I measure TV shows against Seinfeld, 30 Rock and The Office (which also make me laugh.) And I measure consumer electronics against TiVo and the iPod.
These are the standards against which you will be judged if you want to feed me breakfast, sell me a gadget, or get me to watch your TV show.
It doesn't matter to me one bit if you consider yourself in a different "space" than Gmail, TiVo or Turbo Tax. You will be judged by the standard they set because I said so.
I'm not being difficult, I just know what is possible based on my experiences with my favorites and I will hold you responsible every time you fail to meet my expectations.
It's tempting to "mange expectations." But be careful, if you manage expectations too low, I will just avoid you. If you manage expectations too high, you better stack up against the best. It's a catch 22, it's completely out of your control, and it's the cost of getting my business. Get over it.
Microsoft spends billions developing and improving it's core software product Microsoft Office and sells it for around $300 retail. Or you can get a 100% compatible suite of software from Open Office for free. I used to buy shoes at Nordstrom's, but now I use Zappos because it has a better selection and is a better use of my time. Two hugely recognizable brands with long histories of being the best at what they do, swept aside because my expectations changed. Don't get me started on books, music and movies...
And if you think that this only applies to businesses, think again. I'd bet that every one of you can name a person that does a really good job at something that's important to you. Whether they work for you, with you, or as a customer or contractor you know who they are. They set the standard for how you will judge other people you come in contact with.
When you take a new job, how will you most likely be introduced? "This is Tom, he is the 'new Steve.'"
How much of your acceptance in your new job will be based on who you are and what you bring, and how much will be based on how you stack up against Steve? Fair? Doesn't matter.
There are simply too many options available to us consumers to think that anyone can get away with being "below expectations" for longer than it takes me to find an alternative and switch. And you don't even have to be bad at what you do to find yourself on the wrong end of expectations. Sometimes a new concept comes along and totally changes expectations (Zappos). Or circumstances outside your control change how people view you (kinda wish you bought a Prius last year instead of an SUV?)
So you can be the best at what you do, or be so different that you create a whole new expectation.
At the very least make sure you are obsessed with understanding the expectations against which you are being judged.
And be ready to change.