Megan Lyman of Gilford, Miss New Hampshire 2012.

I just finished five days as a judge on the panel to select the next Miss New Hampshire.

I expected one thing and got another.

What I got was honor students, athletes, talented performers, and mentors. Young women who have already volunteered more time in a few years than most adults do in a lifetime. A program that in one night granted over $70,000 in scholarship money. And the feeling that our future is in very good hands.

So why did so many people roll their eyes when they heard I was going to be a judge in this competition? Why do people have such an inaccurate perception of the Miss New Hampshire Scholarship Program?

Why is this brand so misunderstood?

It’s because it’s connected to deep perceptions built by a long “beauty pageant” history. Images of bathing beauties sauntering across the stage. Stories of over-bearing parents living vicariously through their daughters. News reports of six-year-old girls getting makeovers. A media machine determined to hang on to the “beauty queen” moniker and perpetuate an unsavory stereotype.

Brands are often saddled with an image that is dated, vague, or flat-out misleading. Inaccurate brand perceptions that need to be changed. There are many elements to be considered when your brand is ready for a little facelift. One of the most powerful is inspired by an important axiom:

The experience is the expression of the brand.

It worked for me. Before my judging experience, I knew very little about the program. I had met a few Miss New Hampshires at various events and they seemed nice. But I had never attended any Miss New Hampshire competitions, never met any of the dedicated volunteers, didn’t know anyone who had ever served as a judge.

Many brands are best built through experience – when you see things in a different way, meet the real people involved, feel the energy, and appreciate the passion. Have you ever heard someone say this? “Baseball is okay on TV, but going to a game is a completely different experience.” Or this? “I feel so much better about that project because I did it myself.”

Think about how you can better express your brand through experience. How can you get people to interact and interface with your product or company so that they will feel it?  How can you convert them into advocates like the Miss New Hampshire Scholarship Program did with me?

Newly crowned Megan Lyman will spend the next year making appearances throughout New Hampshire and representing us in the Miss America competition next January in Las Vegas. She is smart, talented, friendly, and genuine. Yes, she is beautiful, but both inside and out.

If you have the pleasure of meeting her, you will learn what I know now. That this is one outstanding young woman we can be proud to call our Miss New Hampshire. That she will make a positive impact on all those she meets, perhaps most importantly, the young people she inspires at the scores of school appearances she will make over the next twelve months.

It’s up to Megan to deliver as much of the Miss New Hampshire brand experience as she can. But that won’t be enough to make people feel like I do about the Miss New Hampshire Scholarship Program. I’m an ambassador now. A believer. And for others to feel like me, they have to have an experience. Let’s hope they do.