How difficult is it to change your brand promise?


A discussion around a brand promise makes for a spirited conversation.  Outside of Marketing professionals, the concept of a brand promise is new, or at least a new way to describe what your brand means and represents.  To understand what a brand promise is, let’s look at what the two terms mean by themselves.

What is a brand?  A brand is commonly defined as a name, term, design, symbol, or any other feature that identifies one seller’s product distinct from those of other sellers.  Basically the name you’ve attached to your business as the producer of the product or service you sell.

What is a promise?  A promise is a declaration assuring that one will or will not do something; a vow.  This is your commitment to follow through as you said you would.  Say what you do, and do what you say.

When combined together, a brand promise is what you say to your customers that you will do for them if they purchase your product or service.  Fulfilling that promise is critical to building trust in your brand.  With trust comes growth through more sales, higher revenue, and long-term customer relationships…repeat business.  In the absence of trust, your brand is teetering on thin ice with the slightest move one way or another causing a complete collapse.

Companies that consistently demonstrate their brand promise include:  Nordstrom, Whole Foods, Lowes, and the Four Seasons Hotels & Resorts.  These companies understand the importance of connecting their brand promise to their operating plans…and they execute in most cases with near perfection.

But what happens when a company falls through the ice on their brand promise?

JC Penney has been struggling for years.  After the Great Recession JCP’s revenues began to fall and store sales declined.  In the fall of 2011, JCP turned to Ron Johnson, a celebrated senior executive from Apple and more recently Target, to lead a turnaround of this iconic brand.  Unfortunately Mr. Johnson began tinkering with an age-old JCP promise that centered around weekly “sales” of their merchandise.  In a bold move Mr. Johnson eliminated “weekly sales” and began promoting “everyday low prices”, a promise Wal-Mart built an empire upon.  I believe what Mr. Johnson missed was the fact that consumer attitudes didn’t align with this new JCP brand promise.

Of course the result of this move became clear very quickly.  The stock price dropped by more than 50% in the 16 months Ron Johnson was at the helm.  JCP’s revenue declined by nearly 30% and profits turned into losses in 2012 and so far in 2013.

So is it even possible to change your brand promise?  The answer is yes.  I’ll explore this process in a future upcoming blog.  As a sneak peek I’d suggest that it all starts and ends with a deep and intimate knowledge and understanding of  your customers, as well as your complete target audience.

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