When you think about the most important factors of your brand’s success, what comes to mind? What is fundamental and critical to the well-being of your brand? The market’s perception of you as unequivocally credible with your brand promise is paramount.
Any time you buy a product or a service, you have an expectation of what your purchase will do and how it will improve either your business or your life. Often, these expectations are based on unsubstantiated assumptions or beliefs, which can lead to real disappointment when you purchase an unfamiliar product or service.
Sometimes these expectations are built on the recommendations of others. In other instances, these expectations are communicated by the brand itself. Apple is an example of a highly recognized brand with a brand promise communicated by the company itself. Others include Porsche, Starbucks, Amazon, and the Cleveland Clinic.
The message the brand communicates gives the seller control over the buyer’s experience. This is the brand promise — and it’s one of the most powerful aspects of branding.
Delivering on Your Brand Promise
What is a brand promise? It’s an extension of a company’s positioning. If you think of positioning as the fertile ground that allows a brand to germinate, grow and thrive, the brand promise is a brand’s fruit — it’s the tangible benefit that makes a product or service desirable. A brand promise can be spelled out to the market, 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. Microsoft’s brand promise is expressed as a question: “Where do you want to go today?” The implied answer is that Microsoft can take you there.
A promise, of course, is good only if it’s kept. If a company doesn’t deliver on its brand promise the overwhelming majority of the time, its reputation — and sales — will sink.
A promise is a direct expression of integrity. Integrity means “whole, complete, nothing left out, unbroken.” Integrity as a context, a core value, and an operating principle should therefore be the primary colors of your brand’s picture. If integrity is the context — an authentic core value and a governing principle — it is the foundation of the brand promise. Equally important: integrity cannot only exist in the company’s message to the market — it must also exist within the company itself.
For a brand promise to exist and thrive, integrity must be a constant focus — both internal and external. Nevertheless, I often find that integrity is a “good intention” rather than an authentic driving force within many companies. Integrity simply doesn’t exist as the dominant intention, but merely as a platitude. As long as the company makes a decent effort to produce enough results, that’s “good enough.”
But “good enough” — as Collins and Porras point out in their seminal book, “Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap and Others Don’t,” good enough is never enough to make a company great.
Commitment to Integrity
In companies that generate powerful brand promises, what you find is the company is unconditionally committed to operating with and inside integrity. When integrity is sovereign and people are unrelenting about giving and keeping their word, the brand promise is strong. To the degree that the people honor their word and operate with integrity, will also be the degree to which the brand promise has power.
The higher the level of integrity inside and outside an organization, the higher the level of brand credibility to the market. And better credibility means a more powerful brand promise.
When we work with emerging or small-group practices, I often ask “what is your brand promise?” Few companies have brand promises that would “stoke the fires” of their staff or the market.
In “Good to Great,” the authors refer to the “Big Hairy Audacious Goal — a BHAG.” But from my view, creating and cultivating a powerful brand promise is more powerful than a BHAG.
Why is a brand promise more generative than a BHAG? Because a goal is internal, but a brand promise is external. It carries more weight. A promise to your market puts you at far greater risk than making an internal goal. It says to your market, we promise “THIS,” and if you’re are credible, your brand delivers on its promise.
Homework: What is your ABP — authentic brand promise? Are you leading, hiring and managing so you can deliver on your brand promise? Leading and operating your business to authentically deliver on its brand promise should be true north on your compass.