A Good Brand Is a Promise; A Great Brand Is a Promise Kept

Published on 20th February 2007

When our lives are over and we have left our lifeless bodies to the mercy of our relatives and friends, the biblical phrase “it is all useless” takes on its truest meaning. What do those left really moan? Do they moan that we can no longer enjoy life on earth? Do they mourn the likelihood that they will miss our presence? Do they mourn that we have been robbed of life and probably gone to an undesirable place? Probably, just probably.

What they definitely moan is a lost relationship. Life is made richer or poorer by relationships. Relationships are the glue that binds life together and make it wholesome. I believe that relationships, as complex as the behavioural scientists may make them appear for the sake of continued study; can be simplified into one basic element – promise keeping. Great relationships are built upon promises being kept.

I recently had a long conversation with a friend who runs his own medium sized communications outfit. Let’s call my friend Moses. As a client, I wasn’t amused with the service I was being accorded by his outfit, and had reached the limit of reasoned politically correct discourse. In short, I had reached that point where only the blunt unrefined truth can work. In the course of airing my dissatisfaction, I could hear myself saying, “if only you had told me that you will always be late with your service delivery, I would never have a problem. All I’m really dissatisfied about and what I think is really hurting our relationship is the fact that you are not keeping your promises. I’m not judging you by my own standards, but by the standards you have set for yourself. If I was judging you by my own standards I would have forgiven you but I find it difficult to forgive you when you had the luxury of setting the exam and creating the marking scheme. Yes, I appear to be marking the exam but in truth you are actually marking you own exam!” Moses’ eyes instantly lit up and his jaw went on strike. The truth hit him like a hot brick!  All he needed to do is make reasonable promises to me and keep them. 

The forgone diatribe is the sort of discourse few consumers have with brands. Funny enough, consumers only have this conversation with brands that they value. Consumers are human beings and their lives are made up of a string of relationship. They carefully pick which relationships to get into as they do not wish to get hurt. They intentionally invest in chosen relationships and treasure them dearly. Good brand custodians know this and endeavour to create satisfying relationships with consumers. Like interpersonal relationships, consumer relationships with brands can be simplified into one basic element – promise keeping. 

Another friend who happens to be in the hospitality industry recently stormed into my office almost foaming at the mouth. Maureen’s latest customer satisfaction survey pointed a big accusing finger at her firm’s turnaround times. Despite the fact that they had nearly halved this figure since the problem was pointed out three months before, customers were still not impressed. As I listened to her, the problem became clear. Her brand had over the years consistently promised heavenly turnaround times. As their customer base increased significantly, largely due to superior turn around times in the industry, the organization started struggling. Even as they struggled, they still maintained turnaround times that were way above industry standards. What was interesting was the fact that customers who also patronized the competition never complained about the competition’s poor turnaround times. The problem was simple. It was a relationship problem. The brand was in a relationship with its consumers and had made a promise of superior turnaround times. It was incumbent upon the brand to keep its promises. The other brands hadn’t made such a promise and therefore didn’t need to keep it. Because they hadn’t made any such promise the competing brands were able to get away with their satisfactory yet inferior service.  Maureen’s problem, like with most relationships, could be reduced to one basic element – promise keeping. 

Jim Collins, author of “Good to Great” once wrote, “the good is the enemy of the great”. In the same vein, “A good brand is a promise, a great brand is a promise kept”.


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