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Creating (and Keeping) a Brand Promise


As America celebrates the 2012 presidential election results and Obama’s win, undoubtedly the same thought must be on everyone’s mind: “Will the president deliver on his promise?” Much like major brands, the newly elected president has a responsibility to deliver his promise to meet public expectations. After all, it’s the president’s promise that convinces the American public to favor a specific candidate over another. If expectations are not met, this can lead to major disappointment.

We live in a world filled with choices and many promises, which is why it becomes important for a brand to distinguish itself through strategically crafted positioning. A brand positioning is the distinctive position that a company adopts in its competitive environment to achieve differentiation and sustained customer appeal. Part of a brand’s positioning, is the brand promise — often a statement or idea that communicates what a brand intends to deliver. This can also be seen as the expected value proposition or “tangible results” to key audience members. A brand promise is important because it builds a relationship with customers by telling a story. It also has the potential to elevate a brand.

A brand like FedEx has been able to successfully deliver on its brand promise throughout the years, which has given it a competitive advantage in the express shipping category. Since its founding, FedEx has dominated the overnight-shipping business by delivering on its promise of “When it absolutely, positively has to get there overnight.” This overt brand promise is emotive of the customer need for guaranteed delivery which is also a key reason why it’s an important component of FedEx’s brand strategy and has helped FedEx attain a reputation of reliability. Today the tagline “The World on Time,” helps to support the long-standing brand promise and the company’s positioning as a global provider of time-sensitive delivery.

On the topic of the presidential election, at the height of the international space race, John F. Kennedy also made a bold emotional promise of “Landing a man on the Moon and returning him safely to Earth.”  While a risky move to proclaim such a bold promise, it was one of the elements that helped capture the vote of the American public. Kennedy was elected in 1960 and Neil Armstrong took the first step on the moon in 1969, six years after President Kennedy was assassinated.

Brand Promise 
An interesting similarity between the turnaround time for outcome of presidential promise and brand promise of B2B brands is that both areas generally take longer to generate results.  Unlike consumer brands where success of a brand’s promise can be realized almost immediately as products and services are consumed at a faster rate, B2B brands have a more complex transaction process. American Airlines Cargo has successfully delivered on its brand promise of “Did you know? Not just flights, business insights” as part of an integrated strategy campaign, which moved American Airlines Cargo to a leadership position. Through the launch of their innovative thought-leadership intranet, AA Cargo leveraged its deep market expertise in freight forwarding industry by providing customers with market trends and practical advice on building their businesses. While it may be tough to measure the true value of AA Cargo’s expertise with its customers, the brand promise stays true by delivering something tangible — a destination where customers can gather important information and learn.

The most important element in constructing a brand promise is making sure whether it can actually be kept. In today’s highly interactive world, not delivering on a brand promise can have immediate effects on a brand’s reputation and credibility. If Lyndon Johnson’s bold, but under-delivered brand promise to end the Vietnam War cost him reelection for second term back in 1969, just think what the media would be making out of this in today’s time. With social media’s influence and an increased desire for transparency, the public [and customers] today have much more room to rise in support of or against a brand depending on perceived success or failure of a particular brand promise. Brands can’t hide behind a smokescreen for something that turned sour. As quoted by Hill & Knowlton, a global survey on corporate reputation management: “Companies must keep their promises, be transparent and avoid corporate scandals.”

To summarize, there are a few important factors to consider when creating a brand promise:

  • It must be clear and consistent: First, the promise should be simple and immediately graspable to the target audience. Second, it should be broadcast on a regular, repeated basis, in a consistent way, across diverse media, applications, or touch-points.
  • It has to be distinctive and memorable: Identify or articulate a unique benefit that will help differentiate you from other brands.  It’s a cluttered world, filled with numerous and competing messages and distinctiveness is key to being recognized and remembered.
  • It must be believable and measurable: Keep the message relevant to your key audience and their expectations. Make sure it’s a promise that you can deliver on with some tangible results.
  • Carefully consider form of delivery: There are various places where a brand promise can exist from tagline, brand messaging to advertisements. It can be loud or toned down. A brand promise that is explicit rather than subtle has more impact but there is more pressure to deliver on it. Remember, actions speak louder than words, so if you don’t deliver what you loudly proclaim, it will come back to bite you in the end.

What is your brand promise?