Brands should promise less and deliver more

"We have to be humbler, simpler and more realistic in how we depict the role of our brands in people’s lives, matching our claims to what we can control." This is Helen Edward's advice to marketing teams in another of her excellent columns in Marketing, here.

Helen starts by reminding us that brands exist to create trust and that to do this companies need to "Ensure that  brands are exactly what they purport to be, and do precisely what they claim to do." 2013 was not a great year for trust of course. The horsemeat scandal in the UK (beef burgers sold by Tesco and others with horsemeat in) was a stark reminder that consistently delivering reliable product quality is difficult, as I posted on here

Helen then sets out two ways that brands can earn our trust.

Ladders and snakes

The first route is one Helen suggests is "tough, bordering on impossible". This is to create a lofty, ambitious brand promise, such British Gas with "Looking after your world" and Vodafone with "Power to you". This involves "laddering up" to higher order emotional benefits, leaving the humble product behind.  As Helen says, "These days, we don’t just "ladder up", we take the elevator, hoisting our brand to the pinnacle of Maslow’s pyramid in the matter of a moment."

I posted on the risks with this approach here, including an update of Tom Fishburne's cartoon he was inspired to create by a brandgym talk. The problem is that often the product or service fails to deliver against the promises made. "There we stay, our heads in the clouds of self-actualisation, failing to notice the "out of order" sign that has been hung on the ground floor, down at the level of serving basic human needs.", as Helen eloquently points out.

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Brand and deliver 

The second approach is to to make smaller promises and actually bloody deliver against them. This sounds less sexy than "Becoming a lovemark/hugbrand that creates loyalty beyond reason". But in the long run its probably a better way of building your brand and business. This approach goes back to the founding post in this blog, back in 2006, urging teams to build brands on substance, not spin.

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As an exmple of this approach Helen refers to Sainsbury's Basics campaign, that she applauds for being "utterly refreshing in candour and simplicity." The camaign informs us that this water has passed through mineral-rich rocks whereas the same-priced Tesco Everyday Value water "starts at the mains" (i.e. tap water in a bottle).


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In conclusion, I'll leave you with Helen's suggestion for 2014 that sums up perfectly the idea of building brands on substance, not spin: "We could do worse than find charming ways to keep our promises in line with our powers to deliver, earning a bit more trust, and somewhat fewer headlines."