The power of brand promise: Why it pays to be true to your word

The power of brand promise: Why it pays to be true to your word 

Brand Promise

A promise is a commitment.

Whether you swear that you’re going to return your friend’s laptop this Saturday or reassure your customers that your new child’s toy will provide hours of entertainment, you’re making a pledge. In a fast-paced world where trust is hard to come by – promises matter. They’re how people learn whether they can truly believe in you, and your company.

We’ve all felt the sting of a broken promise before. In the corporate world, a broken brand promise can be enough to bring your entire organisation to its knees. After all, if your customers don’t believe in you, or what you’re selling, then how can they feel comfortable handing over their cash?

When a brand follows through on its promises, the result is a loyal, and happy customer base, ready to advocate for the business and help it grow. On the other hand, when a brand breaks its promise, it also shatters customer trust. This can lead to a damaged reputation, reduced revenue, and plenty of dangerous negative reviews.

Today’s consumers build their understanding of brands on the memories that they collect from each interaction with that organisation. If you’re not making sure that you deliver on your brand promise through every touchpoint, then you could be missing out on your opportunity to develop a strong, and lucrative customer following.

So, what is a brand promise, and how do you create one that keeps your consumers coming back for more?

Brand Promise

Your corporate commitment: What is a brand promise?


At a basic level, a brand promise is a declaration of assurance. It’s you, telling your customers what they can expect when they purchase your products and services.

A good way to look at it is as an extension of your company positioning statement. While your brand positioning statement gives context to your organisation and explains why you exist to your customers, your promise is how your clients can differentiate you from your competition. A promise makes you inherently more desirable, and relatable too.

Think of it this way. If your brand were a person, its brain would be responsible for the logical things, like your unique selling proposition and positioning. The way the person looked would be represented by your logo, and visual assets, while their voice would be driven by your marketing plans and personality. In this metaphor, the brand promise is the heart of your personified company, it’s the emotion that drives the brand to deliver a memorable experience.

A brand promise can be spelled out to the public through website pages, your corporate story, and even your straplines. However, the best brand promise definition will always be one that infuses the guiding values of your organisation into everything you do and say. After all, a conflict between your brand promise and the way your business behaves can quickly cause problems for your company.

We’ve all seen companies that struggle with establishing a strong, and credible brand promise. From the restaurant that claims to be family-friendly, but never has high chairs for toddlers, to the company that claims to be all about efficiency but takes forever to deliver. The only way your brand promise can deliver value and loyalty for your brand is if you commit yourself to it.

Customers know a genuine promise when they see one. Your company’s pledge should be borne from your brand purpose, connected to your values, inspired by your mission, and delivered in every interaction you have with your clients.

Brand Promise

Brand promise definition: Choosing vows with value


Like many aspects of the branding journey, a brand promise is one of the components a company can use to develop connections with their target audience. If you want to stand out in an increasingly competitive marketplace, then vague promises like “We promise our cupcakes will be delicious” simply won’t do. Your customers will expect certain things from your business as standard, and your promise needs to go beyond what they already take for granted.

Think about FedEx’s brand promise for instance. The company claims to be the ultimate solution for people who need to send packages safely and securely overnight. In this vow, FedEx tells their customers they’re not just another delivery company, they’re a business with a focus on speed and efficiency.

The easiest way to find your brand promise is to dive into your manifesto and think about how you can combine your mission, personality, values, and story into a deliverable concept for your customers. Here are the 3 key steps of building a brand promise:

Step 1: Define your pact


Defining a brand promise is the hardest part for many companies. To begin, gather all the details you already know about the nature of your brand. For instance:


  • What’s your brand personality? Are you fun, carefree, sophisticated, or professional?


  • What are your values? Do you believe in protecting the environment, or delivering speedy service to your customers?


  • What’s your USP? What can you offer that no-one else in your industry has?


Bringing these different components together can help you to choose a brand promise that makes sense for your organisation. For instance, a bakery might promise to deliver custom-made gluten-free cakes to their clients, while using locally-sourced organic products. This promise can then be transformed into a strapline and implemented into marketing messages.

A brand promise often begins as a written statement, but it’s far more than just a piece of paper. A promise is a way of life for a brand, and a convenient way to help you filter your decision-making process. For instance, in the bakery example above, shareholders would know to avoid switching to non-organic suppliers to save money, as it goes against the brand promise.

Step 2: Deliver your brand promise


Once you’ve answered the question “What is a brand promise?” for you and your company, you’ll need to think of ways that you can implement your vows into the way you run your business. Keeping a brand promise is the responsibility of everyone in your company – not just the customer-facing employees. If you want your customers to trust you, then you’ll need to make sure that you don’t cut any corners on the path to success.

If you promise to always put your customer’s needs first, that doesn’t just mean that you add service-based keywords and phrases to your marketing plan. It means sitting down with your shareholders, studying your buyer personas, and thinking about how you can deliver the experience your clients are looking for. For example, do they need next-day delivery on emergency items? Could you offer better service if you add an instant messaging app to your website? Do you have someone available to respond to social media questions and complaints?

As the marketplace changes, you may eventually decide that it’s time to change your market promise. If that happens, it’s important to remain transparent, keeping colleagues and customers involved along the way.

Step 3: Track your performance and adjust


A lot of the branding experience for today’s companies is a mixture of art and science. While you need creative aspects like an emotional marketing campaign and a strong logo, you also need a strategy in place that will help you to make sure that your strategies are really working. Tracking your brand reputation and engagement metrics will help you to determine whether your brand promise is resonating well with your audience, or whether you need to rethink your approach.

A great way to find out whether you’re making the right promises to your clients is with customer surveys and polls. Send questionnaires to your most loyal customers asking them what they think about your mission statements. Do your customers consider your company to be credible, appealing, and unique? Or do they think you sound the same as your competitors?

If your clients aren’t happy with the commitments you’re making, ask them what they’d rather see from a company like yours. Sometimes, when clients have a chance to help shape the brands they work with, they begin to feel more devoted to those companies, which helps to drive greater loyalty.

Brand Promise

Brand promise tips: How to bring more “impact” to your pact:


Choosing a brand promise definition that resonates with your target audience isn’t always as simple as it seems. The guarantees you make when building your company need to be present in everything you do and say. Your brand promise can appear in a snappy tagline written underneath your brand logo, and it can also show up in the customer service solutions you offer, or the unique packaging you use to ship products to customers.

Often, the best brand promises are the ones that build on the inherent values and strengths your company already has in place. If you think back to the metaphor we used previously about the brand promise being the “heart of your business”, you’ll remember that everything you create needs to be built around this underlying commitment.

While there’s no one-size-fits-all solution for any brand promise definition, the following guidelines on what a brand promise should be will help you to pick the right one for your company.

What is a brand promise? 1. A simple commitment


We live in a fast-paced world where most customers only have a few moments to decide which companies they want to do business with. With that in mind, make sure you keep your brand promise as short and simple as possible. Remember, your promise isn’t the same thing as your mission statement. It’s a basic ethos that you can use to keep your organisation on track.

One or two lines maximum should be enough to convey what your company is all about. An effective brand promise harnesses the catchiness of a tagline and reinforces it with the essence of your company mission.

What is a brand promise? 2. Credibility and trust


When all you want to do is draw attention to your brand, it’s tempting to promise your customers the world to get them on your side. However, if the brand promise and customer experience don’t match, then the value of your brand may be weakened. A good example of a brand promise that didn’t live up to expectations can be seen in the “Ford” brand.

Back in the 1980s, Ford claimed that “quality” was its number one concern. However, customers were constantly spending money on repairs. This meant that Ford had to rethink its strategy to deliver the experience customers expect. Now, the “Go Further” promise harnesses the dedication to innovation that Ford has begun to show, as well as its commitment to creating more reliable cars.

Brand Promise

What is a brand promise? 3. Differentiation


If all you can do is promise your customers the same experiences and products that they could get from your competitors, then how do you stand out from the pack? A brand promise can be a great way to convince your clients that you have the answer to their problems. However, you’ll need to make sure that you’re building on whatever makes your company unique and different.

Go beyond the benefits and features of your product and explore the soul of your company. Do you deliver personalised customer service that people can’t get anywhere else? Is your CSR strategy second-to-none?

What is a brand promise? 4. Memorable and inspiring


A brand promise has an impact on everything your company does, and every decision you make. That means that it needs to be memorable. A memorable promise is much easier for your employees to implement on a day-to-day basis. What’s more, it also helps to make your company more compelling in the eyes of your customers.

Remember, today’s consumers are more likely to act when they feel like they have an emotional connection with a product, person, or company. A great brand promise can help to establish that critical connection by being both memorable, and inspiring. Consider lynda.com‘s promise for instance: “High quality training that’s affordable and convenient”. This promise is easy to remember, and it shows customers exactly what they can expect from the organisation.

Great guarantees: Our favourite brand promise examples


Your brand lives in the minds of your customers.

With clever messaging, a great logo, and the right social media campaigns, you can gradually begin to alter the perceptions that customers have of your brand. However, that’s only true if you know your brand promise, and how to stick with it. If your clients know that your underlying pledge is just an empty vow, they won’t believe anything else you have to say.

In other words, the credibility of your brand promise has a direct impact on how successful the rest of your branding and marketing strategies might be.

There are plenty of companies out there that understand the importance of a brand promise. Iconic organisations like Coca-Cola and Virgin are effective because they deliver on the pledges they make to their customers.

To help inspire your own brand promise strategy, here are a few companies who know how to deliver on their word.

1. The Sony brand promise


The Sony mission statement demonstrates how this technology company has stuck true to its brand promise from day one. Since the company first emerged, it’s been constantly challenging itself to do things that no-one else can, growing its business domains from electronics, to entertainment and more. Now, Sony is a highly diverse company that offers everything from state-of-the-art gaming devices, to financial services.

Sony promises their customers that they’ll always be a ground-breaking and exciting company, that inspires people, fulfils their curiosity, and delivers unique entertainment solutions. One of the interesting things that sets the Sony brand promise apart, is their commitment to the concept of “Kando” – or emotional involvement. Because the brand wants to build deeper connections with their customers, they rely heavily on social media and word of mouth marketing for their campaigns. These social campaigns also mean that Sony can deliver on their commitment to “fulfilling curiosity” with videos, shares, and articles:

Brand Promise

2. The Subaru brand promise


The car manufacturer Subaru is a great example of how companies can set themselves apart by making their brand promise unique. While most vehicle companies focus on things like efficiency, speed, and comfort when they’re trying to sell their brand, Subaru built their brand promise around the concept of “love”, bringing a warm and fuzzy feeling to all of its marketing strategies.

Not only does Subaru promise to deliver a car that customers can fall in love with, but they also do their part to bring love to the communities they work in too. For instance, a couple of years ago, the automaker launched an advertising campaign showcasing true stories from real people who have been affected by the Subaru “Share the Love” programme. The campaign included videos from Meals on Wheels in America, the Make-A-Wish Foundation, ASPCA, and the National Park Foundation.

3. The BMW brand promise


BMW is devoted to creating the “Ultimate Driving Machine”. They believe that if they want to set themselves apart from the other carmakers throughout the world, they need to produce only the most elegant, efficient, and engaging vehicles in the world. That’s why each and every touchpoint, customer interaction, and engagement BMW make with their audience focuses on putting the customer experience first.

The advertisements BMW use are elegant, artistic, and poetic. They focus on what their cars can do and show the world why they believe they’re building the ultimate driving machine.

4. The Harley Davidson brand promise


Harley Davidson has had various brand promises throughout the years, designed to showcase the unique value of their company to their customers. While the promises might have changed, they all revolve around an underlying commitment to creating a motorbike experience that’s unlike anything else in the world. After all, there’s nothing quite like a Harley.

The Harley-Davidson “Live Your Legend” marketing campaign helps to demonstrate the company’s brand promise perfectly. It showcases the values of freedom and innovation that go into all Harley Davidson products and reminds customers that the organisation has always been committed to giving a next-level road experience that’s unique to the driver.

Bonus: A broken promise – The Victoria Secret brand promise


Victoria’s Secret is a lingerie company all about female empowerment. They promise a flattering figure and confidence for women regardless of their shape. Unfortunately, the brand has come under fire in recent years for their racy and somewhat controversial campaigns. Victoria’s Secret is an example of how companies need to think carefully about the way they display their brand promises.

With their “Perfect Body” campaign, the lingerie brand attempted to showcase their commitment to serving women of all shapes and sizes. Unfortunately, the ad only showcased a very specific “model body” shape. This led to upset from customers who felt that the company wasn’t truly living up to their promise to offer a flattering figure, no matter what.

Brand Promise

Making your brand promise (and keeping it)


Ultimately, creating a brand promise isn’t easy.

However, when used correctly, this component of your company identity can serve as the foundation for long and meaningful connections with your customers. The most important element of any brand promise is making sure that you keep it – no matter what. After all, what good is a promise you can’t make good on?

When a company embraces a purposeful pledge, extraordinary things can happen. Make the right commitments to your customers, and they’ll be your loyal ambassadors for life. However, fail to follow through on your vows, and your business is sure to struggle.

Remember, promises are the foundation of consumer trust. From trust comes loyalty, and from loyalty comes the long-standing mutually-beneficial relationships that help your business to thrive. As the component that drives your company forward and filters your decisions, your promise is the crucial heart of your brand strategy. Make sure you choose your pacts with care.

If you enjoyed this article, you might enjoy these too:

— The art of self-promotion: Sell yourself, without selling out

— Let’s be honest: Earning trust through brand transparency

— How to use reputation management to influence people

— Persuasive promotional strategies to power your brand

About the author...

Steve Harvey

Client Director. Captain of calm. Armchair football fan. It’s 18 years since Steve turned his back on investment banking (and any chance of early retirement) to plough his own furrow in creative services. Experienced. Knowledgeable. Meticulously well-organised. Keeps Fabrik running like a well-oiled machine. His temperament is cool. But his peppermint tea is piping hot (with a Fox's Crunch Cream on the side).

    2 Comments

  1. Yes! It’s so, so important as a brand to keep the promises you make, not just to your customers and clients through you directly saying to them, but through all your advertising and marketing promises too!

    In the past I think that broken brand promises were more prominent than they are now, as people didn’t necessarily have a forum to voice their displeasure on other than writing an angry letter. Now, with brands being so easily accessible to the public via social media, taking a wrong step can be an absolute PR nightmare because it spreads like wildfire.

    Not only do you want to keep your brand promise to retain customers, but to ensure potential customers are not put off by the bad things they hear!

    • By Matt Walton |
    • 15 May 2018
    • Reply
  2. There is such a huge potential for reputational damage when it comes to breaking promises as a brand. Trust, even in branding terms, is something that can’t be bought by a company. It has to be earned. In studies, 79% of people said that they would go for a ‘trusted’ brand when it came to purchasing items of a similar quality and price.

    Once you’ve earned that all trust the key to retaining it is definitely making sure that you keep it consistent!

    • By Mark Sider |
    • 22 May 2018
    • Reply

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