What Promises to Keep (or Break), Will Impact Your Growth (or Death).

Twelve years ago, our company was hired by a plastic surgeon who had developed a product to help his patient’s skin heal. The product’s origin story was the classic one. Since the surgeon couldn’t find any skin care products that performed the way he needed them to, he invented his own.

His patients loved what was coming up.

Our task was marketing and branding his Lexli skin care products.

Not surprisingly, our initial industry research revealed a plethora of false promises about wrinkles, aging and “more youthful-looking skin.” As a result, a talented writer on our team created an ad with the headline Stop lying to Me.

The campaign didn’t work.

In retrospect we realized that our media budget was not sufficient to make the impact we had hoped for. Each year, millions of dollars are spent on the promotion and sale of beauty and health products. We just couldn’t break through in our attempt to wage war against the ginormous marketing budgets and questionable claims of the huge companies in the industry.

It was back then. We would have had a better chance of success if the campaign was launched today. Times have changed. Transparency and truth are now the top priorities in social media. It is becoming more difficult to keep broken promises because people are quick to disclose what they mean.

Your Brand is Making—and Breaking—Promises Every Day

This is something you might want to think about. What promises should your brand keep and make? What promises does your brand make and break? These two questions will determine if your brand is successful.

If you don’t think you are breaking any promises, consider these examples and see how many ring true for your organization:

  • Your promise of unparalleled customer service is repeated by a voice recording again and again and again and AGAIN…while your customer waits on hold for an actual person to pick up the line.
  • You promise simplicity while making your customers click, navigate and scream at a computer interface that is maddeningly unintuitive and frequently doesn’t believe they have the correct password even when they do.
  • Your promise of customer intimacy becomes painfully ironic when you ask for social security numbers, birth dates, mother’s maiden name and the breed of your first pet, EVERY SINGLE TIME you transfer a customer from one department to another.
  • Your promise of knowing your customers doesn’t align with your database strategy. For example, despite being a customer for 30+ years, direct marketing still starts with “Dear G” (as in G. Michael Maddock for those out there who go by their middle names).
  • You say you have your customers’ back, but then you sell products that don’t do what they say they are going to do. For example, insurance companies that sell cyber policies that don’t cover phishing. Or life insurance that doesn’t cover—uh—a pandemic.
  • You may promise the world that your concern for the environment is genuine, but instead spending hundreds of millions fighting environmentalist suits, you lobby against any green products, and spend hundreds of thousand to do so. Or 27 pieces were used to make one cup coffee in your hotel room.

You get the idea. And here’s the thing. Everyone knows exactly what your activities are. Social media platforms allow you to easily share your broken promises.

The viral truth is not something you can save your advertising budget.

Keep the right promises

I learned back when I was working with executives at Procter & Gamble that the definition of innovation and a brand promise are the same.

Innovation is the synchronized intersection—this means we need to make it happen—of a meaningful customer need, an idea (new product, service or business model) that solves that need, and an experience that delights your customer or consumer.

Understanding your customers is key to creating the right products and services.

Great brands master the art of branding Who. WhatAnd HowTo keep and fulfill the right promises.

Stop lying to You

While most people love to see the positive aspects of our products and services, it is much more rewarding to be focused upon what they don’t like.

Entrepreneurs who have the most success understand that customer hatred is the main source of true disruption. They are open to the idea that customers hate is necessary to invent. They identify the thing everyone hates about an industry and fix it.

  • Late fees for video rentals were a pain for many. Say hello to Netflix.
  • Nearly everyone hates taxis. Say hello to Uber.
  • People hated the inability of accessing cash after 9 to 5. Use the ATM.
  • Although the song was well-loved by many, not enough people bought the entire album. The industry got “Naptsered.”
  • People hate going to the gym. Peloton provides trainers.

Here’s the thing. Most leaders are too stubborn, afraid or distracted to do research about the elephants in your industries’ room. They would rather lie to themselves, and consequently break promises, than try to understand their customers’ most “outrageous” grievances.

This is how famous companies get ruined and their promises broken.

Brand promise keepers need the right tools. Make it your priority to change Board members and senior leaders have their minds. Here are some suggestions for where to start.

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