Your brand is a promise. Keep it.

Death by public opinion is one of the very few things a brand will struggle to recover from. Notable examples of abject failure include, Netflix with Qwikster, Coke with New Coke, Royal Mail rebranding as Consignia and Tropicana’s disastrous packaging redesign. The most interesting part of their failure is that it came at the hands of their loyal customers. Why? Because the brand failed to stay on message.

The one thing every good brand will have is a mission statement. Go to the corporate pages of any brand and you’ll see a short sentence, or a paragraph that sums up what they stand for. The best mission statements are slightly waffly, and are more about ideas than a solid 20 year road map.

While memorable, this is a brand slogan not a mission statement.

Products get slogans, brands get mission statements. While the exact wording might change from year to year, barring a radical rebranding, once established it generally keeps the same feel. Usually these missions read more like ideas and feelings, but to be effective it must be deliverable. Without handing out a card with the statement printed in giant gold letters to every customer every brand must make sure that with everything they do, the mission is visible, easily understood and easily recalled.

So what does one look like?

To be believed, this is expressed and reinforced with every customer facing aspect of their business, their social media behaviours, packaging, product selection, their adverts, the kind of apps they make all the way down to the celebrities that endorse their products. It must be reflected internally too, so their hiring practices, how they train staff, company pay, everything they do at its core must reflect this statement.

This is called staying on message.

Be Consistent!

Or in fancy business terms, don’t bait and switch your value propositions.

A value proposition is the promise of value to be delivered or experienced through use of a product or service.

Nike vows to inspire customers, so part of the value proposition is that every interaction with Nike should be inspirational. Every. Interaction. A quick glance at their English Twitter page shows the way they publicly interact with their customers is consistently on message. I mean, every interaction.

Sure it looks like the inside of the world’s sappiest greeting cards (I bet your first thought when I said that was Hallmark), but they are on message, consistently inspiring their customers to be the best athletes* they can be.

Writing a mission statement, having a company vision are all easy, the hard work is translating that into a deliverable value proposition that is tied to a brand identity. Companies work very hard at that, and the best brands are the ones who never waiver in that promise.

If you lie, everyone will know you are a liar.

All a brand has is its customer’s trust in its value proposition. That’s all it has. The only question a customer needs answered when they are ready to make a purchase decision is, “Do I trust that this brand can deliver its promise?” In this Digital Age, brands who break their promises will be outed and consumers will do something about it.

Whoops? Not great for a company that promised, “To experience the joy of advancing and applying technology for the benefit of the public“ in 2011.
Not great for a company that promised to be “ a world leader in customer satisfaction and quality”
Pretty terrible for a company that promised, “to be the champion for customers”.

Not great right?

Are customers ready for change?

What if the market changes, and the mission appears no longer relevant? Does it mean that a mission chosen in 1825 has to be the company’s mission forever? No. Change is inevitable, but once the core customer has accepted the value propositions, it is hard to shift their focus. Customers on the whole need to be prepared for change if it affects the brand’s value proposition.

In the late 2000s before Android phones and in the infancy of iOS, Blackberry devices reigned supreme. Now in 2016, Blackberries have all but faded away, so where did they go wrong?

Blackberry Annual Reports. Left 2006, Right 2007.

You can see very clearly from the two images the mission of the company changed dramatically in one year in an effort o gain new customers. To dramatically change a brand mission is to dramatically change value proposition, which leaves customers uncertain and confused. This change in mission totally abandoned their original customer base, to focus on another. This might have worked if their core audience was no longer interested in their value proposition, or if their new audience could sustain their business. In the end this was not the case.

A brand’s mission is directly linked to their identity, and consistently reinforcing it is the only way they remember what it is. While change is good, deviating too much from your mission after solidifying your value proposition in the mind of your core consumer will only lead to disaster.

Consumer Psychologist. Mother of Dragons.

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