A Brand Is Not Just a Promise

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You may have come across this brand definition: “A brand is a promise.”  I’ve heard this definition perhaps a thousand times, and it remains as woefully insufficient as it did the first time.

Why does it fall short?  For me, there are two major reasons that a brand is NOT just a promise:

In the first place, not every brand has, or should have, an overt promise.  Every brand should have a positioning, but they’re not the same thing.  The notion of a promise gets especially dicey when you’re talking about categories and brands that are rooted primarily in emotional benefits.  For example, Coca-Cola is one of the most beloved brands on the planet; can you nail down its “promise”?  (I can’t.)  How about fashion brands?  Don’t they all, on some level, promise self-esteem?  And if they all promise the same thing, what’s the real value of the promise?

Secondly, and more importantly, promises are a dime a dozen.  It’s one thing to make a promise, and another thing entirely to keep it.  As consumers, we know this every time we endure a lousy service experience.  The trouble with defining a brand as a “promise” is that a promise is just something you say.  And branding’s not about saying.  It’s about doing. That’s where the real work is. So your brand may start with a promise (or it may not), but that’s neither the whole deal nor the core of your brand.

So if a brand is not a promise… then what exactly is a brand?  I’ll share my definition in next week’s post.

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 2014 – Matthew Fenton.  All Rights Reserved.  You may reprint this article with the original, unedited text intact, including the About Matthew Fenton section.