“Come on,” my dad quipped, pretending not to notice the look of sheer horror pasted on my face. “It’ll be fun. I promise.”
I was just a 9-year old kid, getting ready to ride a roller coaster called the Loch Ness Monster: 3,240 feet of bright yellow steel tubing wrapped around itself like a two contortionists playing a game of Twister in the middle of tornado. I nearly crapped my pants when I saw it.
By making that promise, my dad was taking a risk. Any father knows that if you promise something, you better be sure you deliver. But precisely 2 minutes and 10 seconds later, I had a huge grin on my face. The promise was kept. Trust was established. And many more roller coaster rides ensued that afternoon.
Why am I telling you this story?
Because just as kids look to parents to fulfill any promises made, customers expect that brands do the same. To find out what a brand promise really is and learn how to develop your own, keep reading.
What Is A Brand Promise Anyway?
A brand promise is simply what customers expect a brand to deliver. It’s the very reason someone chooses to buy something. It’s what connects the actions of the company with the needs and desires of the buyer.
For example, two similar mobile phone services might each offer their own brand promises. Brand A might promise that you’ll always be able to connect with loved ones. Brand B might promise that you will always receive an affordable bill, as long as you never travel outside the United States, never call someone outside the United States, never exceed your data cap, never forget to look both ways before crossing the street, and never even touch at your phone. Two similar services, two very different promises.
DDMMM: The 5 Points Of A Great Brand Promise
Creating a great brand promise isn’t always easy, but I put together this framework to help you evaluate your ideas. You know if you’ve come up with something solid when it’s DDMMM: Distinct, Desirable, Delivered, Measurable, and Memorable. Here’s what each means.
Any decent brand promise has to stand out from similar products. If you’re Starbucks, and your brand promise is simply “Hot coffee in a cup”, that’s not going to help you much unless you’re the only coffee purveyor on the planet.
Or if you’re a trucking company, don’t tell me that you’re “On time, every time.” You better damn well be, as that’s pretty much table stakes for every trucking company in the America. Instead, a powerful brand promise is one that only your product can deliver.
This sounds kind of obvious, but how many times have you heard a company tout that if offers something like, “Strategic, value-added solutions.” A promise so frustratingly vague that you’re probably tempted to leave this page just because I made you read it. In fact, I dare you to read it again… Strategic. Value added. Solutions. Still here? Wow, your pain tolerance is pretty high.
A great brand promise has to be something that gets the buyer excited through its appeal. If your brand promise involves a unicorn descending from a rainbow to deliver you cauldrons full of crisp $100 bills, then you’re on the right track.
I know what you’re thinking. “I’ve got this whole brand promise thing figured out. It involves unicorns, rainbows, and lots of cash. But there’s one problem. You probably can’t deliver on that. Especially since unicorns are notoriously difficult to train. A great brand promise needs to be something you can actually do. (That’s why it’s called a promise).
An appealing brand promise that you can’t deliver on is worse than having no brand promise at all. Fail a customer’s expectations and they’ll never come back.
Now we get into the tough part. A brand promise is far more likely to generate raving fans if the buyer is certain that her expectations were met. If a brand promise is both deliverable and measurable, then buyers who see that promise fulfilled are going to love you.
One of my favorite examples is BMW’s The Ultimate Driving Machine. You can head to any dealer, plop your butt in 3-series, nail a few onramps, and come away feeling pretty certain that a BMW provides a much more satisfying drive than that cushy Lexus you’d been cruising around town in. Pro tip: do this when the dealer is open and with the permission of a salesperson. Doing so greatly reduces your risk of jail time.
This is where many good brand promises fall short of becoming great. If no one can remember your brand promise, it’s of limited value.
Not only will your customers have a tough time remembering it, your own sales, marketing, and customer support teams will, too. How can you expect your team to build an experience around a promise that no one’s aware of?
Geico’s promise that “15 minutes can save you 15 percent on car insurance” is probably the best example on Earth:
What’s Your Brand Promise? Do You Even Have One?
If you haven’t defined your brand promise, two things will happen.
One, people will make their own conclusions about what your brand represents. Their answer is unlikely to be the same as what you’re trying to deliver, and you’ll be setting them up for disappointment.
The other scenario is this: potential customers won’t be sure why you exist, and they’ll patronize a business that is clear about what they have to offer. Especially if unicorns are involved.
P.S. Here’s a lesson I’ve learned the hard way… just because you’ve established a brand promise once doesn’t mean that you never have to touch it again. As your product evolves (and as the tastes of your customers change), your brand promise will need to be adapted.