Why Every Brand Needs a Promise


When was the last time a brand’s vision and mission statement inspired your life? My answer is easy: never. Most people don’t even know why these constructs exist, let alone understand them. Consider me one of those people.

Forget complicated brand models

I’ve been in brand consulting a while, and I’ve come across many different brand models and platforms, most of them complex and/or inflexible. Some even dogmatic. Most of them suck. My feeling is that, very often, these models are a way for consultants (or university professors with a side job) to make themselves appear indispensable and justify their ridiculous rates. The idea is that, if it looks too simple, anyone could do it. But if no one understands it, it must be scientific. This is bizarre logic. If you don’t understand your platform, how will your customers?

A glance back

Where does all this come from? In the early days, which lasted until the late 1970s, marketing was all about the product. Barely anyone talked about branding, and when they did, it was always attached to a physical product, its benefits and its features.

In the 1980s, the focus shifted to image. Marketers realized that if image and product features don’t match, people don’t like you (even in the pre-Facebook era). A simple mismatch of promise and experience led to frustration. People turned their back on overpromising brands and kept their wallets closed.

Then in the 1990s, the conversation shifted to brand identity, which is defined by brand values. Eventually every second brand had quality and flexibility at its core. Let’s be thankful that this history didn’t repeat itself in the new millennium. Instead, the 2000s saw a paradigm shift which still is in progress: the discovery of the user.

What do you really need when building a brand? A clear promise. Nothing more, nothing less. You need to combine two perspectives: 1) what your brand wants to convey and 2) what impact you create with your users. It’s about interaction, a social interaction.

A brand is a promise

A brand is not defined by a sentence on a piece of paper, but by what reaches people’s hearts and minds via experience. Don’t worry too much about having the right tool. Think about what role your brand can play in the lives of the people you address. If you are not relevant to their life, why should they care about you? Think about the impact your brand can have. Then formulate a concise and relevant (from the user’s perspective) promise. This will be the guiding light and foundation of anything you build – be it communication, product features, brand design or anything else. You must live up to that promise to create a compelling user experience. If you succeed in doing this, people will like you and talk about you – and you’ll reap the rewards.