Brand Promise is where expectation, and brand building begins. Simply put, it is the promise the brand makes to the customer. Sometimes those promises are specific, but mostly they are broader and strategic so that they can be delivered throughout the marketing mix. But before we get to how Brand Promise works with expectation, here are a few examples of Brand Promise.
BMW: Ultimate driving machine
Apple: Innovation and great design
FedEx: When it absolutely, positively has to get there overnight.
Avis: We try harder.
Amazon: Everything under one “roof”
Las Vegas: What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas
Barack Obama: Change
You get the idea.
Further, there are two different ways companies elucidate Brand Promise; the post-affect way or the pre-affect way. The post-affect way says that whatever positive affect the brand has had on people to date IS the Brand Promise. This allows companies the luxury of 20/20 hindsight. Basically, a company looks at what they already offer and how they communicate to their target, and calls that the Brand Promise. If, in this instance, this Brand Promise was something developed prior, then their pronouncement should come with some pride—the brand is actually fulfilling the promise. Otherwise, this method is simply a function of the five senses rather than actual brand strategy. For better or worse, this is how many companies identify their brand promises.
The pre-affect way is the written/premeditated way. This way of viewing Brand Promise goes as such 1. A bunch of smart people from the company and from their associated media agencies sit around and figure out what their brand should be by identifying brand essence, personality, values, requisites, and differentiators, just to name a few. The culmination of this exercise elicits the Brand Promise. 2. They write it down and called it a Brand Promise.
Of course, after this step comes the hard part—you have to deliver on your promise throughout the organization and across all marketing touch points. This is really the starting point for Marketing Communications and the next element, External Associations. It is also the filter through which Competition should be viewed and the strategic catalyst for Brand History.
The process of delivering the Brand Promise builds expectation in the customer’s mind and thus forms the brand. That is, the promise is delivered and people expect exactly what the promise says. Or, it doesn’t deliver, and people expect something that is not the promise—the latter of which can be very dangerous for a brand because you’re saying one thing and doing another. This confuses consumers and/or makes the brand untrustworthy.
Over the last 100 years, few brands offer a better example of delivering on the Brand Promise than Volvo. In 1920, Assar Gabrielson and Gustaf Larson, the founders of Volvo, established the following vision: “Cars are driven by people—the guiding principle behind everything we make, therefore, is and must always remain safety.” This Brand Promise has been around since the beginning and is still espoused today. The ad below, from several years back, could have only worked for Volvo. It would have seemed false for most other companies. Most companies wouldn’t have been able to pay it off. But for Volvo, it was a natural.
Over the past decade or so Volvo has been able to nicely weave the fact that their cars are actually fun to drive into their brand, with taglines like Volvo For Life. Clearly, this line speaks to safety, but it also intimates living life to its fullest and enjoying the driving experience. These positions also made a nice segue into Volvo’s environmental stance. Yet, even though their marketing communications began speaking about things other than safety, these messages still feel true to the Brand Promise and true to what Volvo is all about, and they work towards furthering the power of the brand.
When a new brand establishes a Brand Promise, or when an old brand revitalizes theirs, they bear the burden of not just acknowledging or elucidating that promise, but also delivering on it. As in the case of Volvo, delivering on their promise has paid off in spades. Because the promise is so strong and well understood, there is little miscommunication with their target. This strong clear message resonates and builds with each successful communication to form an uncomplicated and unsullied expectation in the target’s mind. This expectation mixes with other expectations to form the brand.