What’s Your Brand Promise?

A few weeks ago I had a good talk with Josh, a financial expert at my bank about restructuring my retirement plan. At the end of our talk Josh handed me a computer printout of various financial scenario’s. Lots of numbers and graphs. Impressive stuff. He also gave me his business card. It has written Personal Attention. Anytime, Anywhere on the back. Nothing too catchy, but a nice sounding brand promise nonetheless. It’s also meaningless.

Here’s why.

One week before my meeting with Josh I got a phone call. “Good morning mr. van de Werk. My name is Mark. I see you’re interested in one of our retirement plans?” Halfway through our conversation the signal on my iPhone starts degrading and I suggest I call him back. “Do you have a number I could call?” I ask.

“I’m sorry, you’ll have to go through our central service number.”

Moments later I am greeted by a computer. “Please enter your account number.” When I finally get back to Mark, he suggests I make an appointment with one of their experts – next Tuesday at 10:00. The expert will help me put together a better retirement plan. “So, what’s this person’s name?”, I enquire.

“I don’t know yet. When you get at our office, my colleagues will able to tell you from our system, though.”

Tuesday 09:40  “Good morning mr. van de Werk, this is Samantha. According to our system you have an appointment at our branch office at 10:00 today. I’m afraid there are no mortgage experts available in our particular office. Can I make another appointment for you?”


Mortgage? Huh? Grudgingly I agreed. And that’s how I met Josh. Josh did a good job, but his brand promise didn’t feel genuine. It annoyed me. Especially when I got home.

 (Yup, they made a grammar mistake, but who care's?  The note was handwritten!)

On my doormat I found a small package from Uitgeverij Snor. My wife had ordered some children’s books. With it came a friendly postcard. On the back somebody had written:

“Dear Carmen, thank you for your order.
You will receive them in two packages.
I hope you enjoy the books and best [wishes] from SNOR!”

Sure, it’s bad grammar, but who cares? I got a handwritten note! Somebody, not some computer, not some system, but a real person had taken the time to write that note. Now that’s personal. Uitgeverij Snor may or may not have a fancy brand promise written on its business card (I really wouldn’t know) but they are damn well keeping it.

Lesson to be learned: not making a brand promise may be bad, breaking one is much, much worse. So here’s two basic questions I would like you to ask yourself:

  • What promise does my brand make to its customers?
  • How do I make sure this promise is kept?

You would be surprised to see how many of us stumble when asked these fairly basic questions. And if we are left groping for words, how can we expect our employees and colleagues to fare much better?

6 Replies to “What’s Your Brand Promise?”

  1. Indeed, making a brand promise is easy, keeping it is a whole other story.

    I do love the idea of the handwritten note; this will work for small and in some cases medium businesses. Big corporations are however stuck in their own organizational structure; creating a personal account manager for their clients is to costly.

    Maybe they can hire a personal account manager who has only one task; taking care of the brand promise throughout the entire corporation. The phrase personal account manager will be changed to brand promise manager. Or is this just a brand promise without any promise?

    In these difficult times corporations often fall back to cost efficient leadership and not client intimacy.

    But the thing is, is a brand promise for large corporations something that they will ever live up to? Are is it just a flavour to get you to buy their product/service?

  2. Hi Alexander, thanks for your interesting thoughts. Indeed there are two separate issues at play here: making and keep your brand promise. In case of my Bank their brand promise (we are a personal bank) simply didn’t fit reality (systems, computers, teams of people doing different things etc.)

    My bank could really try to become a ‘personal bank’. But perhaps they simply made the wrong promise and should consider another one?

    Whatever the case: don’t write something on your business card you simply cannot (or will not) live up to. That ain’t rocket science.

  3. Good call, making a brand promise is easy but keeping it is what makes a company tell a story, or show marketers are liers.

    I have seen this many times in corporates where the marketing department has thought up of a catchy, fluffy loving brand promise, but does not review the operations side or how/what will need to be done to keep and deliver on the promise. This bank lacks communication because i’m sure their contact centre team would have told them there is nothing personal about their service.

    It’s always funny to see what departments that don’t deal with customers perceive themselves as in the market place, but as reality has it.. they don’t! Market research ?

  4. Hi Mark,

    Very true. It’s people in top level management that think up these ‘catchy slogans’ (or rather, they pay people like me it for them.) It’s a good first step, but to truly have their ideas and strategy come alive requires a very good mutual understanding and communication with the people who are working with actual customers most of the time.

    Thanks for sharing your ideas!

  5. opws k na ‘xei, etsi einai o kosmos k xoipimosrihse ton pros symferon sou. protimotero o pinakas na eixe poulithei se mia dimoprasia k ta xrimata na eixe karpothei to ellhniko dimosio, para na eixe klapei. kati tha eixe piasei afou oloi to brand koitane… h epeidi h pwlhsh tou pinaka tha htan hthiko atwpima (pwpw ti rude oi ellhnes na poulane to dwro…) tha mporouse lew egw, na eixe stalei ws daneio se ena mouseio ths allodapis (e ti na ton kanei to metropolitan, ton thelei omws ena eparxiako mouseio ths finladias…) wste na kanoume k diafimish!alla egw nomizw oti h merkel edwse entolh na klapei. nai, nai gia oles tis klopes oi germanoi ftene. oi ellhnes ekanan poly kala th douleia tous. alloi ftene pali!

  6. Quebra, quebra, quebra…Bate! Fura o pneu! Erra no Box!Venceu um brasileiro! Tã, Tã, Tã……Erraram na estratégia!Estão dando o melhor carro para o outro!O pneu estava ruim! Faltou freio!O adversário atrapalhou!Um brasileiro perdeu e foi injustiçado…

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