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Elements of a Successful Brand 4: Brand Promise

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A brand is a complex organism. This is part four in a series of articles in which we examine a successful brand's component parts.

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Any time you buy a product or a service, you probably have a mental picture of what your purchase will do and how it will improve your business or life. Often, these expectations are based on presumptions, which can lead to real disappointment when you put an unfamiliar product or service into action. Sometimes these expectations are built on the recommendations of others. And sometimes, these expectations are communicated by the brand itself. Only this last scenario gives the seller any control over the buyer’s experience. Called the brand promise, it is one of the most powerful aspects of branding.

The brand promise is an extension of a company’s positioning, though it’s not necessarily the same thing. If you think of positioning as the fertile ground that allows a brand to germinate, grow and thrive, the brand promise is the brand’s fruit—it’s the expected tangible benefit that creates desire for a product or service. To sustain that desire, however, the harvest must be appealing and bountiful year after year.

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A brand promise can be explicitly articulated to the public, or it can be manifested more subtly in the expression and delivery of the brand experience. A few years ago, FedEx declared that it was the only choice “when it absolutely, positively has to get there overnight”—an overt promise that still resonates today.

In the belly of the world’s food capital, at 84 Avenue des Champs Elysée in Paris, France, is a world-renowned eatery that constantly attracts a crowd. It’s not La Tour D’Argent or Maxim’s. It’s called McDonalds and over the past 30 years it’s taken the world by storm. How does an unpretentious American import thrive in a culinary paradise? To Americans and Europeans alike, McDonalds delivers on its brand promise: an inexpensive, familiar and consistent meal delivered quickly in a clean environment. Wherever you happen to be, the fries are always crisp, the coffee comes in a convenient take-out cup, and the bathrooms are clean. When people need to take the guess work out of dining out, McDonalds is there to serve them.

A promise, however, is good only if it’s kept. If a company doesn’t deliver on its promise the vast majority of the time, its reputation—and sales—will likely decline. So why would a business risk everything on a brand promise? It’s always safer to make no promises at all to customers. But the opportunity cost of hiding in the shadows is enormous. If a business is confident in its abilities and has developed a compelling and consistent customer experience, it can more easily differentiate itself and assume a market leadership position. Customers will choose these businesses more often because they appear to offer more value.

Brands can be notoriously difficult to control. A brand promise, however, gives a company substantial leverage over the brand experience. It allows a business to set up customer expectations and generate excitement. So tonight, close your eyes and make a promise. Then tomorrow (and ever after) make it come true.

3 Ways to Make (and Keep) Your Promise

What promises are you making to your customers? To motivate customers, a brand promise must achieve the following three goals:

  1. It must convey a compelling benefit
  2. It must be authentic & credible
  3. The promise must be kept, every time

Promises Kept

A promise can define a company in the marketplace. Below are a few examples of companies that create expectations and consistently deliver on them. Can you think of others?

FedEx - Your package will get there overnight. Guaranteed.

Apple - You can own the coolest, easiest-to-use cutting-edge computers and electronics

McKinsey & Company - You can hire the best minds in management consulting

The Nature Conservancy - Empowering you to save the wilderness

Check out our free Rebranding Kit to learn more ways to build and strengthen your brand.

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