The Brand Promise: still as important as ever

“Your product is the only honest container of your brand promise”

I got back from the Product Development Management Association (PDMA) conference in Orlando to an overflowing backlog that confirmed I was no longer at “The happiest place on earth¹” .

What I found to be the most interesting theme that came up was the reinforcement of the importance of brand promise. Jeevak Badve (VP of Strategic Growth at Sundberg-Ferar) noted in his keynote that “Your product is the only honest container of your brand promise”. Not your mission statement, not your product promotions, not your social media feeds – your product is the only manifestation of what your brand stands for and what it delivers. I thought this was fitting since we were on the Walt Disney World property and few companies are as fanatical about what their brand stands for as Disney is.

What does a brand promise mean? Disney Institute defines 4 characteristics of a brand promise:

1. Important – Customers have expectations regarding the fair exchange of value. In exchange for their money and time, they rightfully expect something meaningful in return. The brand promise must convey what matters most to your customers.
2. Credible – Customers must believe that what you are promising is possible and deliverable. It has never been good policy to "over-promise" and "under-deliver."
3. Exclusive – No organization can be successful at trying to be everything for everybody. Find your niche, and carve out a unique space to "own" in the mind of your customer.
4. Differentiating – The brand promise must truly set you apart from your competitors and be based on legitimate differentiators.

For BMW, it means promising “The ultimate driving machine”. For FedEx, it means promising “Peace of mind”. For Disney, it means promising “Magical experiences”. Each of these companies has experienced disruption in their customers, their competitors, and in the technologies that they use to bring products to the market, but throughout the changes they have held to their brand promise. In fact, when they DON’T hold to their promise - when a FedEx package is late or when a Disney attraction is less than magical - we’re confused. We don’t feel this way when a post office package is late, or when a ride at the local fair is disappointing.  But when a reliable company fails to deliver on a brand promise, it creates a cognitive dissonance because we struggle to hold the two ideas (the promise and the disappointing outcome) in our minds at the same time.

I think about BMW moving to electric vehicles. They could have launched a pedestrian electric sedan to put a toe in this new market, but that would have broken the brand promise. Instead they brought the i8 to the market – a car that the first time you see one your reaction is “What is that?” followed by “Where can I get one?”. It fulfills the BMW brand promise.

All of this brings us to the importance of strategic planning and filtering product ideas based not only “is it profitable?” and “is it feasible?”, but also “does it fulfil our brand promise?”. Our roadmaps and strategic plans should reflect our brand promise as much as they do our revenue needs and cost constraints. Our product briefs should require that we explain how our products fulfil our brand promise, and leadership should only consider products with a credible promise. Since we can’t “be everything for everybody”, we must make sure that everything we do is consistent with what we are. This is how we can ensure that our customers get what they expect from us.

So the next time you look at your strategic planning process, your ideation process, or your stage & gate process, ask yourself what you can change to protect your brand promise.

Until next time.

If you’re not familiar with the Product Development Management Association (known as PDMA), it is an organization of over 2,000 product development practitioners and academics focused solely on the multi-disciplinary challenge of bringing products to market.


¹The official tagline for Disneyland in Orlando