"How to live up to our brand promise"

by Didier Marlier on Sunday May 22nd, 2011

In a Financial Times article from November 2006, titled “My two weeks in Hell with the tortured Soul of Dell”, journalist Stefan Stern shared his frustration at his Dell experience, conflicting badly with the brand’s promise such as conveyed in its tagline, advertising and marketing material. I regularly write to CEO’s in order to inform them about my client experience, both when it does or does not match their expressed promise. For Stern, as quoted in our book[1], “companies expose themselves dangerously by trumpeting statements both to their customers as well as to their own people”.

Too often still, companies leave their tagline, positioning, or brand promise in the hands of marketeers and communication people alone, failing to deeply root their new intended image in the reality of the culture, as perceived by clients and employees.

I was recently visiting a company who had decided to come up with a new and convincing brand promise. The work had been seriously done: an army of competent sociologists, anthropologists and marketers have studied the brand, what it meant to the public and to the clients, what it could mean in the future, etc. They came with an original, stretching and credible new claim, transformed in a powerful promise.

Very carefully, they crafted a campaign launch that was well designed at the Pathos/Emotional level. All symbols and metaphors had been carefully inserted into the launch for the public as well as for the employees. The problem is that, some months later, nothing has changed and my own experience of the company is the same as before… And “before” was poor…

To their credit, some executives of the firm invited their (very) dissatisfied customer who had given them a tough feedback. Discussing with them, we realized that they had worked on one agenda only (Pathos) instead of the three (Logos/Intellectual, Ethos/Behavioural and Pathos/Emotional) and consequently failed to build strong bridges between them.

  • Logos: The Board, focused on getting things right, and convinced that the new brand promise was the way forward, totally forgot to create the necessary ownership amongst its several thousands employees. For them to “own” the new brand promise, to live it fully, clarity and meaning must be co-created. Remember the story of SRC, where the then CEO, Jack Stack, disappointed by the lack of attention from his people to “the bottom line” stopped broadcasting and selling his project and instead designed a course which would help his people realize how crucial the management of resources was for the company. And he then finally succeeded.
  • Ethos: A new brand promise often requires a new set of behaviours. Rhodia, the French speciality chemical group who will probably be taken over by Solvay, seems to be well underway in succeeding in its bold “Move for Growth” transformation. But its Board is acutely aware that it is imperative that their behaviours spectacularly exemplify the desired new culture and each faux pas (Board members are human…) means a few steps backward unfortunately. To identify which behaviours will be a clear demonstration of the new Brand promise in the eyes of the customers and the employees, is a critical step often overlooked by marketers and other specialists.
  • Pathos: As several articles in this blog suggest, the decision making centre in the human brain is the limbic brain, which is its “emotional control tower”. Creating emotional markers, through symbols, metaphors, stories and spectacular gestures will anchor the new Brand Promise in the “unconscious collective” far better than a 3 hours slideshow with jingles, music and lights…

We are increasingly part of the “Experience Economy”. Our customers, clients and employees compare the dream sold through our brand promise with the reality of our delivery. They expect to believe in it and will spread the positive rumour that something has really changed inside our organisation or trumpet their disappointment at any possible occasion and the cynicism inside the firm will grow amongst the employees.In case of disappointment, look herebelow what has happened to United Airlines in 2009 when they badly failed on their brand promise. Dave Carroll was an obscure musician with an obscure band. United badly mishandled and broke his guitar. Replying with the usual arrogance of the airline industry, they refused to acknowledge anything. Dave and his band published this home made clip which in weeks drew an audience of… 10 million viewers. United rapidly capitulated and still pays for breaking its brand promise.

Nick van Heck likes to say that “Strategy is too important to be left to the sole strategists”. A new brand promise launch is such a unique opportunity to transform our organisations with the support of our employees and clients: it is something an Executive Board needs to be immersed in.

Another very busy week in São-Paulo is ahead for what will be the most innovative workshop we ever came up with. Have a great week all and thank you for having helped this blog beat a new audience record last week!


[1] www.engagingleadershipbook.com

Share and Enjoy:
  • Print
  • Twitter
  • Facebook
  • StumbleUpon
  • del.icio.us
  • Digg
  • Google Bookmarks
  • LinkedIn

4 Responses to “"How to live up to our brand promise"”

  1. Hi, Didier! I wish I could have a minute of your spare time during this busy week in São Paulo, but I know this is asking too much! Your blog arrives in a important moment. In B2B we have brand promises that often are not taken like this: quality and on time in full (OTIF) deliveries among the most important, innovation coming just after. Shame on me for the numerous times I broke these promises in my life! .

  2. Dear Didier,

    Excellent points, as always. A few supportive comments.

    I believe the ‘brand promise’ is closely linked, if not the same, as the fundamental ‘purpose’ of the company. If the two are not authentically associated, then problems will follow.

    Some of these problems, looking a the ’employee experience’, is if the brand promise is publicised externally but the internal organisation is behaving counter to this promise, then the people who need to deliver the promise are left confused.

    BTW, Dave Carroll’s career has been launched by the United Event, and not only in singing: http://www.davecarrollmusic.com/appearances/speaking/
    Customer experience failures, with the new reality of social media, are now the breeding ground of people looking to make a career move at the expense of your company. If you haven’t already, get serious about developing your authentic brand promise, and your social media crisis response plan!

    Kind regards,

  3. Well said!

    I’ve heard that the brand is the promise of an experience. So if it does not match reality, not only will customers be disappointed, but they will perceive the company as inauthentic.

    First, therefore, ascend to the proposition that you are staging experiences rather than merely delivering services or making goods. Then turn your mundane interactions into engaging encounters. And only THEN change your brand promise to reflect your change in mindset and orientation.

    And from what I’ve read here, you would do well to align that promise through Logos, Ethos, and Pathos.

    • Thank you Joe,
      This is a true honour to be read and receive a comment from the other of such a seminal book as yours and Gilmore’s “Experience Economy”. Synchronicity, I was talking about it tonight in São-Paulo with Jimmy Chiavone, a marketing professor at USP (University of São-Paulo) and Nick van Heck (www.elpnetwork.com, who had introduced me to your book years ago). Your opus is still totally up to date and quoted in our own (“Engaging Leadership” 2009).
      I hope we can benefit further from your thoughts. Heartfelt thanks


Leave a Reply