3 Things Your Brand Promise Must Have

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Few things irk consumers more than an empty brand promise.

You know the feeling. A brand makes a sweeping claim: “We deliver the best.” However, your own experience with the brand is lousy. When a company promises the moon and falls about 239,000 miles short, you lose patience. You lose faith.

It may feel like that brand promise is . . . mocking you.
Much has been made of brand promises that don’t quite measure up. Avis Rental Car, for example, has been taken to task for its “We try harder” tagline, given the company’s consistently poor J.D. Power customer satisfaction rankings. In 2014, Avis ranked fifth out of eight rental car companies, with a customer satisfaction index below the industry average.

When it comes to your brand promise, there is no “try.” You must get it right, and deliver on it consistently, or consumers will start mocking you.

Make Your Brand Promise Worth Something

There’s no point deploying a clever catch phrase if it doesn’t reflect your customer experience.

In fact, it’s best not to deploy if you can’t fulfill your brand promise company wide, from the sales floor to the C-suite. If your brand promise is just words, your customers will judge you harshly. And your brand image will take a huge hit.

What do effective brand promises offer that most do not? Clear value, thanks to one, two, or all of these traits:

1. Purpose

Measuring business success in human terms is the new bottom line. — Merry Carole Powers

There’s a good reason the “purpose economy,” led by companies like Whole Foods, is catching fire. It’s focused on improving lives and communities. It’s culture- and values-driven, not profit-driven. And it resonates with consumers on an emotional level.

It’s the emotional piece that separates the best brand promises from the rest.

A brand promise with purpose speaks to the heart. It makes consumers feel good about supporting the brand—as both loyal customer and outspoken ambassador—for any number of reasons.

  • Corporate citizenship—support for greater causes (“Whole Foods, Whole People, Whole Planet”)
  • Cool factor—subversive or disruptive (Airbnb’s “Belong Anywhere”)
  • Elite factor—superior quality; conferred status and prestige (Lexus’s “The Pursuit of Perfection”)
  • Awe factor—game-changing innovation (GE’s “Imagination at Work”)
  • Sheer delight—fun, memorable experiences (Disney’s “Entertainment with Heart”)

Emotional appeals like these are hard to resist. That’s what makes these brand promises so powerful and enduring.

2. Meaning

When a brand acts in accordance with its brand promise—especially if that means putting principles over profits—consumers take note.

Consider CVS Health (formerly CVS Caremark Corp), whose brand promise is “Health Is Everything.” In the fall of 2014, CVS Health did what none of its competitors had done: It ended tobacco sales at its pharmacy locations. The company also kicked off a social media campaign (#OneGoodReason) encouraging smokers to quit.

These moves drew attention and praise from all quarters—consumers, celebrities, political leaders, and the American Medical Association, among others.

CVS could have limited its rebranding to a name change and new logo. Instead, it made good on a clearly meaningful brand promise.

3. Accountability

We started out to get a computer in the hands of everyday people, and we succeeded beyond our wildest dreams. – Steve Jobs

Last year, we blogged about “The Best Brand Promise Examples We’ve Seen.” One reader commented that, other than GEICO’s familiar “15 Minutes or Less” brand promise, few brand promises are truly measurable.

We can’t argue with that. You won’t see many brand promises like Steve Jobs’ promise to bring a PC to every home (“a computer for the rest of us”). If the gold standard is clear, concrete, and measurable—in other words, accountable—most brand promises don’t make the cut.

Those that do, however, really shine through.

In October 2015, Southwest Airlines rolled out its “Transfarency” campaign. The company’s promise: “Low fares. Nothing to hide.” Its new hashtag: #FeesDontFly.

Southwest had already distinguished itself in the marketplace as a no-hidden-fees airline. But “Transfarency” is a promise to consumers that’s unconditional, verifiable, and 100 percent binding. Southwest is betting everything on its ability to deliver on its promise, each and every time.

To consumers who’ve been burned by empty brand promises, a promise like Southwest’s is a breath of fresh air.

What’s in Your Brand Promise?

With a Beloved Brand, the culture and brand become one. – Graham Robertson

Everything hinges on your ability to deliver on your brand promise. Consumers won’t take kindly to your emotional appeal, demonstration of principle, or concrete service guarantee if the experience isn’t consistent with the message.

As we’ve written before, your employees hold the key. So do your customers. If you commit to listening to them, you’ll know whether you’re fulfilling your brand promise, at all levels within your company, and at all times.

Now It’s Your Turn.

Are there any brand promise attributes you’d add to this list? Are there any brand promise examples you find particularly effective?

Let us know in the comments below.

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This article was originally posted to our blog where you can find more posts like this at ICC/Decision Services Blog.

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