Make a Real Brand Guarantee

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A few weeks ago in this space, we discussed “Reasons to Believe.” We defined RTBs as persuasive facts that support the promise you make or the difference you claim.

Reasons to Believe are particularly critical in this era of eroding consumer trust. These days, you should assume distrust. That’s because consumers have been disappointed so many times in the past – lousy customer service, bait-n-switch, golden parachutes for incompetent execs, you name it.

Reasons to Believe build credibility, assuage fears, and overcome objections in advance. They ease the consumer’s mind before she opens her pocketbook. And the more RTBs you can provide, the better.

Today I’d like to explore a particular kind of RTB – the brand guarantee. Guarantees are the most potent Reason to Believe, because they minimize or eliminate the consumer’s downside.

The Trouble With Most Brand Guarantees

Trouble is, many guarantees aren’t constructed properly. For example, the following is the entire Holiday Inn Hospitality Promise, as presented on the little placard in the bathroom the last time I stayed at a Holiday Inn Express:

“Making your stay a complete success is our goal. Just let our Manager on Duty or front desk staff know if any part of your stay isn’t satisfactory. We promise to make it right or you won’t pay for that part of your stay.”

“For that part of your stay?” What does that mean? If the heater goes out in the middle of the night, what is “that part of my stay” worth? And who decides?

Holiday Inn is on the right track, but the payoff isn’t there. If it’s not clear to the consumer just what the recourse is, the entire brand guarantee is rendered ineffective.

Men’s Wearhouse faces a similar conundrum. I’ll give them high marks for consistency; by now, most of us can recite their familiar advertising sign-off: “You’re going to like the way you look. I guarantee it.”

But the brand guarantee lacks meat. If you visit the Men’s Wearhouse website, there’s a list of what they call “guarantees.”  But these are really just a set of vague philosophies and promises.  There’s nothing that readily indicates what happens if you aren’t satisfied.

Hallmarks of a Strong Brand Guarantee

If you’re serious about standing behind your products or services, you’ll want to offer a more ironclad guarantee. Some of the hallmarks of a strong brand guarantee:

  • It cuts through the clutter. It’s bold enough that it makes a strong selling claim. Take the famous guarantee of L.L. Bean: “Our products are guaranteed to give 100% satisfaction in every way. Return anything purchased from us at any time if it proves otherwise.” Can’t get much bolder – or more clear – than that.
  • It actually reassures. It speaks to areas of the greatest concern for consumers, and offers peace of mind and confidence.
  • It involves risk by the company. As Doug Hall writes in his book, Jump Start Your Business Brain, “The power of your guarantee is directly linked to the level of risk you and your company are perceived to be taking.”

Where to Look for Your Brand Guarantee

So if you’re looking to present a potent and persuasive brand guarantee, where do you start? I recommend visiting the “Three C’s”:

  • Your company: What do you deliver as part of your product or service bundle that would lend itself to a guarantee? Where are you exceptional?
  • Your consumers: If you know your consumers well – and you do, right? – then you know what their concerns and pain points are. What brand guarantee would speak directly to these concerns?
  • Your competitors: Study their claims and policies. I’d guess you’ll find that, from one competitor to the next, they all kind of run together. What guarantee could you offer that would cut through the clutter and make people take notice?

So what’s stopping you? If you’re serious about earning consumer trust, you could do much worse than offer a powerful brand guarantee. Get started today.

A version of this post appeared in the American City Business Journals column “That Branding Thing” on December 11, 2009, and appears here with permission.

About Matthew Fenton: Matthew helps challenger brands to focus, grow and win.  Since founding his consultancy, Three Deuce Branding, in 1997, he’s helped hundreds of brands to achieve “brand clarity.”  His consulting services and speaking engagements help brands to focus on what matters through positioning, strategy and ideation.  Contact Matthew here.  He calls Chicago home.

Copyright 2009 – Matthew Fenton.  All Rights Reserved.  You may reprint this article with the original, unedited text intact, including the About Matthew Fenton section.