By Dr Simon David Munyaradzi M’zungu

Brand promise is accepted as an important concept by branding scholars and practitioners alike. Nevertheless, the concept is often treated in a normative or prescriptive manner, where it is assumed that keeping brand promises enhances trust, credibility, and reputation with stakeholders. For example, Delgardo-Bellester and Munuera-Aleman (2005) state that a promise-centric approach is needed when managing the brand in order to harness competitive advantage of brand equity as a relational market-based asset.

The late Professor Don E. Schulz, considered the father of Integrated Marketing Communications (IMC), asserted in 2001 that, “the true heart of the brand is the brand promise or brand value proposition. It’s the single, concise, relevant element that makes up the essence of the brand.”  Schultz, however, cautions that “the heart of the brand does not come from out of the blue. It’s not a lunchtime epiphany or even a brilliant stroke of creative genius. It is a sound, deliberate process that starts with input.” Others concur such as de Chernatony (2006) who urge that brand management should be viewed as “managing promises” to stakeholders.

The aim of this article is to shed light on this important concept and does so by first deconstructing brand promise into its constituents of brand and promise, followed by its synthesis.

What is a brand?

Based on research on an extensive literature review and interviews with leading branding consultants, de Chernatony and Dall’Olmo Riley (1998) uncovered a variety of brand interpretations, which belong to three categories namely (1) input-based, (2) output-based, and (3) time-based.

The input-based perspective stresses how managers deploy resources to influence customers. Interpretations under this perspective are brand as: logo; legal instrument; company; shorthand; risk reducer; positioning; personality; cluster of values; vision; adding value; and identity. Hence, brand management creates an identity with visual elements they legally own, and craft positioning strategies using a cluster of functional of emotional values to influence a favourable image with customers.

The out-based perspective stresses consumers’ interpretations of what brands mean to them, and its two interpretations are brand as: image and relationship. This view reflects how consumers interpret management’s internal brand building effort. After all the meaning of brands resides with its stakeholders.

The time-based perspective recognises the evolutionary nature of brands, and the interpretation is brand as an evolving entity. Hence, regular auditing of the brand is necessary to keep the brand relevant.

Attention now turns to the promise concept.

What is a promise?

Finnish scholar, Henrik Calonius (1984) developed a promise concept, which was posthumously published in 2006 in Marketing Theory. Calonius conceptualised the promise concept within a contract framework, where contracts viewed as transactional or relational. Transactional contracts involve monetary exchanges over a specific period of time. Relational contracts, on the other hand, according to Rousseau (1990:391) “involve open-ended agreements to establish and maintain a relationship involving both monetizable and non-monetizable exchanges.”

Calonius viewed promise as a multi-dimensional concept. He posited the following dimensions: intentional object of the promise, including its degree of activity or inactivity; direction of promise, which can be towards self or others; degree of explicitness involved, considering that a promise can also be implied in fact; conditionals, which refer to legal obligations in reciprocal exchanges; whether contract is alive and enforceable or terminable due to force majeure or act of God; and the degree of future orientation of the promise. Hence, the promise dimensions advanced by Calonius are also relevant in branding contexts since brands are implicitly relational contracts between the brands and their stakeholders.

 The human resource domain posits the psychological contract as form of an implicit promise. A psychological contract is considered an individual’s beliefs regarding reciprocal obligations with another party, such as about the terms of the exchange agreement between an employee and her/his organisation. Arguably, since stakeholders are in on-going relationships with brands and can form psychological contracts with them.

The concluding section synthesises brand and promise concepts into brand promise.

So, what is brand promise?

Since brand is considered a promise, it is logical to view brand and promise as two sides of the same coin. Brand promise, when deliberately formulated and communicated can inform positioning strategy, through the cluster of functional and emotional values the brand is imbued with. Brand promise can also serve as the platform for internal brand management, which requires management to communicate the brand’s core values to staff. Consequently, staff who intellectually and emotionally buy-in to the brand’s core values are likely to live the brand when interacting with customers and other external stakeholders. Favourable customer and other stakeholder experiences in turn leads favourable brand images and positive reputation.

Managing the brand promise deliberately to create valued customer brand experiences involves three activities.

  1. Making the brand promise, which is facilitated via external marketing, such as advertising and social media communications. The brand can also be communicated implicitly such as through quality of products and services.
  2. Enabling the brand promise involves preparing the entire organisation to deliver the brand promise, such as through communicating the brand promise to staff, staff training and resource provision. It is the domain of internal marketing.
  3. Keeping the brand promise is most critical since customer-staff interactions represent the moments of truths. It is facilitated by interactive marketing and aimsto ensure consistent delivery of the brand promise.

To conclude, this article sought to highlight the concept of brand promise, suffice to say that due to space limitations greater detail cannot be provided regarding the formulation and management of the brand promise.

About the author

 Dr Simon David Munyaradzi M’zungu is a Zimbabwean-Australian citizen and lives in Harare. He holds Bachelor of Commerce, Master of Marketing (First Class Honours) and PhD in Marketing degrees. He taught in the Marketing Department, Griffith University Business School for 11 years. He aims is to serve as a bridge between academia and practice. His primary interest is in corporate brand management. His contact details: Email: simonmzungu1@gmail.com ; and Phone/WhatsApp: +2637863409866.