A brand is frequently characterized as a "promise".  On a  superficial level that may be the case, but the day-to-day reality is much more complex and nuanced.  To me, the word "promise" speaks of a singular, narrow agreement that is unbending.  Frankly, for most companies, a brand needs to serve a broader purpose.  

A brand is a relationship - not too dissimilar from the one's that people have with each other.  As such, it is comprised of the sum of all experiences that consumers have with a product or service.  As with human relationships, there can sometimes be ebbs and flows, ups and downs, and surprises.  While one may know a person or a brand, sometimes that "promise" is stretched without breaking the bond.  And that's ok.  

As an example, my relationship with McDonald's has been established over the course of my life.  Probably for most, that brand means burgers, fries, and Coke.  Sure they serve other things, but the core is about tasty American fast food.  A number of years ago, McDonald's served lobster rolls during the summer.  To brand purists, that may have been something of a risk.  It certainly is outside of the brand's traditional culinary footprint and "promise".   Perhaps the lobster rolls served some meaningful business purpose that was important at the time.  Who knows, maybe their bread supplier was too long on wheat and the lobster rolls allowed them to power through the excess.  Maybe the participating franchisees got shortchanged on their McRib shipment earlier in the year and this was a 'make up' for them.  Either way, businesses frequently need to have the flexibility to stretch their brands - and I'm not sure that the "promise" metaphor adequately embraces that reality.

In another example, aside from Delta Airlines' core consumer business it also offers a private jet service.  It's tag line is "Wealth shouldn't be flaunted and surcharges shouldn't be hidden."  Most Delta consumers probably don't even know that this exists.  Many might even find it somewhat off-putting.  Here they are, jammed in sardinesque fashion onto (frequently late)  flights without legroom, meals, and sometimes even their bags while the company bends over backward for rich flyers in their private jets, no doubt with amenities that most can't even dream of.  Might this be considered a part of the central "promise" of the Delta brand?  Despite the economic case for the business, it probably is not.

Bottom line, just as with people, brands sometimes meander a bit from their primary "promise".  If done thoughtfully and strategically, this can work with no adverse side effects.  Let's remember, brands have no value or purpose outside of their ability to sell.  Marketers just need to be intimately aware of the boundaries of their consumers' relationship with their brand to understand when, how far, and for how long it can be stretched.  Most understand this.  Perhaps it's just the metaphor that needs updating.   As we've discussed before, branding seems to have an unusually high degree of lingo.  Clarity on this point would seem to serve marketers well in how they think about, and manage, their brands.

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Tags: brand, brandpromise, metaphor, positioning, promise, strategy

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