As a child our parents teach us the importance of keeping our word and telling the truth. In essence, the lesson is “don't make promises you can't keep.” As we get older we really begin to understand the importance of keeping our word and gaining the trust of our friends, family and colleagues. It is unfortunate that this simple, but important message has not carried over to adulthood for many people shaping some of the world's most powerful and emerging brands.
Promises, promises, promises…Consumers are continually promised everything from next day delivery, to great customer service, to the best prices, but they are all too often promises that the product and representing company cannot keep. In fact, I'm sure we can all think of a dream vacation resort that was the exact opposite of what was displayed in the brochure, or the sure thing money-making system that only turned out to be another dusty stack of books, or the ever-famous weight loss pill that delivers a lot of hype, but no results.
If you are among those companies that make promises they cannot keep, there are a couple of things that you can count on. Those consumers who were hooked with false claims are not coming back for more and they will likely tell ten friends about their negative experience with your brand. If your goal is simply to land a one-time sale, and you are not concerned with customer satisfaction or referral business, this might be the right strategy for you.
Hopefully most everybody reading this does not fall into that category and is working toward more than a quick sale and an unhappy customer. You are probably more likely to be working toward strengthening your brand, gaining the trust of prospects and existing customers, and building lasting customer relationships. Yet, it is with examples like these in mind that we can see our brand promise as the beginning to achieving customer loyalty and broken promises as nothing more than a major barrier.
I thought I could trust you…Just as you don't like to be let down or mislead, neither do your customers. Although it may be tempting to make claims of greatness or leadership to stand out within a cluttered marketplace, it will not lead to long-term success and customer loyalty if you can't deliver. You need not look any further than to what Richard Gold said in Blueprint Magazine: “In the past, corporations could disguise their bad behavior behind their brands. Some still do. But with the massive growth of the Internet, all that is about to change. In the age of mass communication, the truth will come out. If brands make false promises, consumers will spread the word and boycott the product.” If you lie to your prospects and customers you cannot hide. In the end, you will lose and your competitors will gain.
A poster child for broken brand promises is the holiday season of 1999, especially within the toy sector. From large corporations like Toys-R-Us to the then-blooming dot-coms like eToys, next day service and free shipping were the promises du jour. The dot-coms were all trying to turn profits and be the best, while the large corporations were trying to overcome the dot-com coup by leveraging their existing brand and infrastructure. At the end of this rush the real results were broken promises, disappointed customers, and damaged brands. Companies simply made promises their organization, infrastructure and overall brand could not keep. Many companies like amazon.com learned from their '99 Holiday season mistakes, and have been able to rebound, but the false promise makers still are among us.
Loyalty delivered…“A corporate brand is essentially a promise. In the case of a company, the promise is: 'We'll act according to these principles,' 'We take these responsibilities seriously,' and 'We have this vision of our purpose” (MORI, February 2002). The fact is that brands and trust are built and reinforced over time based on perceptions and experiences we have. The companies that choose to ignore these glaring facts and continue to make brand promises they cannot keep will never build a loyal customer base. As Carly Fiorina once said, “Leadership is a performance. You have to be conscious of your behavior, because everybody else is.” Those companies who acknowledge this new level of customer awareness and offer the highest degree of quality, consistency and value will become customers' trusted agents. Losers make false promises, winners take action. Does your brand deliver?