Making and Keeping Brand Promises

by Brad VanAuken, BrandForward, Inc.

Brands make promises and then they must keep those promises. Making the promise is easy. Keeping it is the hard part. One can make a promise with words. But it can only be kept through actions. Consider BP repositioning itself as an environmentally friendly brand with the “Beyond Petroleum” slogan and the bright yellow and green sunburst icon. BP supported this with a $200 million public relations advertising campaign designed by Ogilvy & Mather. It worked well until the Gulf of Mexico oil spill in 2010. Then other actions came to light, like the environmentally controversial oil sands project in Alberta, Canada.

A brand’s marketing department, often assisted by marketing agencies, can help a brand craft its promise, but who is going to make sure the promise is believable and sustainable with real proof points? Who is going to make sure that the organization can authentically deliver against the promise?

This is why the brand’s promise must be crafted at the most senior level of its organization. Delivering on the promise requires alignment with the organization’s mission, vision and business plans. It will affect the allocation of resources including capital expenditures. To deliver on the “Beyond Petroleum” promise, BP needed to invest significantly in alternative energy sources including R&D spending in that area and it needed to implement tighter environmental standards and controls not only for its own operations but also for all of its sub-contractors. These are not marketing manager decisions. These are CEO decisions.

When we conduct brand positioning workshops for organization brands, we include the organization’s CEO (or equivalent) and his or he staff, including his or her CMO. Why, because this is a strategic exercise that will require total organizational alignment and support. A marketing manager cannot guarantee this. And an external marketing agency certainly cannot guarantee this.

Remember, the most important part of a brand’s promise is not the making of the promise, but rather the keeping of the promise. Make sure your brand is able to do that.

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