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Do You Know Where Your Brand Promise Is?
 by: Rick Barrera

When I address business audiences, I often ask people to share their companies' brand promises. To my amazement, many don't have articulated promises at all. And those that do are often given to promises so fuzzy as to seem indistinguishable from those made by thousands of enterprises in any and all markets. These self-deluders tell me their brand promise is "world-class quality," or "guaranteed best service," or "a company you can trust." My unspoken comment is harsh: So what?

In a world where winners shout distinctive promises, these misguided companies whisper sweet nothings and set themselves up to lose.

A generic promise has no meaning to the customer.

You have to be specific: First, discover who your consumers really are and what they expect from you. Second, tell them exactly how your unique product or service (or both) will consistently meet their needs and unfailingly arrive on time, in order, as advertised. Third, do exactly what you promise -- always. Finally, forget about trying to use incremental product or service improvements to win customers to your brand.

In a time when every market is saturated and margins are paper-thin, small-bore fixes will never be enough to jump-start flagging sales and profits. Success demands that you create a brand promise so radically different from those of your rivals that you first set yourself apart from the competition, and then fulfill that promise -- brilliantly. You must overpromise and overdeliver, as the title of my book suggests.

Many businesses are doomed from the get-go. They simply never invest enough time or money to pinpoint their markets, fully identify each significant element of their brand, and craft a unique promise consistent with those elements. To get off to a winning start, remember that a promise is a serious commitment, a pledge to do or deliver something at a particular time, without fail. And a brand promise, in particular, expresses all the things that set your brand apart from the competition, all the characteristics that make it distinctive -- which is why it's so critical that you live up to your pledge.

Nothing kills a brand faster than an empty promise (just ask tire maker Firestone, a unit of Japan's Bridgestone Corporation, which had to mount a massive recall a few years back after tread separation was implicated in scores of auto-crash deaths; the brand suffered incalculable damage when it lost the trust of consumers who had relied on its tires to perform safely). To put it succinctly, a true brand promise sums up the essence of the brand.

Hardiplank's brand promise, for example, reassures homeowners that their siding will keep them snug and secure for years, while Orville Redenbacher's brand promise simply guarantees popcorn lovers that they will get more of what they love.

Whether simple or profound, the promise must be so radically different from what everyone else in the market is promising that the customer hears you even though you aren't shouting. In other words, great brand promises cut through the chatter because they speak directly to customers about an issue that matters deeply to them.

How to accomplish all this?

As with just about every successful venture in life, you have to start with a firm grounding in the basics -- in this case, by truly understanding the meaning of "brand." When I ask audiences, "What is a brand?" I typically hear that it is the mark or logo you stamp on everything you make. It's true that the term "branding" comes from the practice of searing livestock with the mark of a ranch to signify ownership. But in today's business environment, branding has come to mean much more than a way to prevent rustlers from riding off with your property. The great adman David Ogilvy defined brand as "the intangible sum of a product's attributes: its name, packaging and price, its history, its reputation and the way it's advertised."

Brands also carry emotional impact and fulfill deep-seated needs. They connect with a customer's identity and deep aspirations, express personality, and telegraph one's role in the community and desired social status. In the end, your brand is shorthand for a host of qualities, features, benefits, beliefs, and business practices that the customer associates with your company, and that he or she is willing to lay out the money to acquire.

Take the Sony brand, for instance. When I ask people what Sony means to them, I get such responses as "high quality, innovative, expensive but worth the money, latest features, user-friendly, intuitive interface designs, and cool electronics."

Yet, when customers shop for a new DVD player, they don't say, "I'm looking for a high-quality, innovative, expensive-but-worth-the-money, cool, user-friendly DVD player with the latest features and an intuitive interface design." Instead, they use their shorthand: "I want a Sony DVD player."

So it follows that the only way you can know what your brand is, is to ask your customers. Whatever they tell you is the reality.

Your job is to minimize the variations and the changes by sharply defining the brand's promise and then holding it as steady as possible -- until you decide it needs to be changed. Once you've crafted a strong, differentiating brand promise based on your understanding of what customers expect from you, you are on the way to building the value of your company.

As brands like Orville Redenbacher, Lexus, and Starbucks have proven, defining and delivering on the right promise can lead to near-legendary status as a company whose products are so coveted that sales continue to grow even as the price climbs. In short, radical brand differentiation that resonates with customers means enormous increases in your profit and the addition of untold value to your brand.

About The Author

Rick Barrera

Create breakthrough brands and deliver extraordinary customer experiences with tips from Rick Barrera's new book, Overpromise and Overdeliver; The Secrets of Unshakable Customer Loyalty. Free excerpt available at Rick's Overpromise Website You may freely publish this article as long as Resource Box remains unaltered and article links back to

This article was posted on December 01, 2005


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