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Posted on Oct 27, 2016

Closing the Gap Between Brand Experience and Brand Promise

Closing the Gap Between Brand Experience and Brand Promise

I love talking to business leaders about how to build brand equity – the asset on a company’s balance sheet often referred to as Goodwill. It’s a simple formula:

Brand Equity increases when
Brand Experience = Brand Promise

There are important two aspects to understanding this formula.

  1. When the experience customers have with a brand equals the promise made by the brand, then brand equity increases.
  2. When the experience customers have with a brand does not equal the promise made by the brand, then brand equity remains flat, or worse decreases.

Sadly, the number of companies that experience a misalignment between the brand promise and brand experience is huge. Even those that work hard to align the experience with the promise find these two elements are out of alignment more often than desired.

This is clearly a big issue, as reported in a 2016 Brand Experience Survey, conducted by UK-based Chartered Institute of Marketing (CIM). Here are a few of their stark findings:

  • Only 53% of marketers claim successful internal-external brand alignment in their workplace. And only 37% believe all employees understand how they deliver the brand promise to the customer.
  • While 3 out of 4 marketers believe their employees care about what customers think about their company, only 17% of companies enable employees to suggest ways to improve the customer experience.
  • 81% of marketers believe brand experience is a stronger driver of brand performance than communications. Yet only 52% believe the brand experience they deliver to customers is leading in their sector.
  • 67% of marketers say their senior leaders do not fully understand the strategic role, value, or potential of the brand experience.

For many companies, there’s obviously a major gap between the brand experience and the brand promise. To close this gap, we need to understand the root causes of the problem.

I see three key issues:

  1. Defining a meaningful brand promise
  2. Training employees
  3. Matching the brand experience

Defining a Meaningful Brand Promise

imac-blueWhen Apple launched its innovative design of colorful iMacs in 1997, it proved to be a huge hit. So how did Steve Jobs, as the comeback CEO, know that consumers wanted this? Did Apple conduct years of research? No. When Jobs was asked to return to Apple and lead the company forward (and out of it’s sinking state), he looked to the roots of Apple and its differentiating value of Radical Creativity.

As one of the co-founders of the company, Jobs knew what set Apple apart. He saw the plain, white, boring computer boxes being produced by competitors and said, “Hey, let’s design our computers differently. Let’s be radical.

A strong brand promise is rooted in clearly defined differentiating values. Such values are ideally written down and purposefully communicated, but will also spread via key decisions and behaviors of leaders, and then word-of-mouth, as was the case at Apple. [Note: since Steve Jobs passed away, I feel the original values have disappeared at Apple.]

Bottom line: while it’s important to have a solid grasp of customer needs, a strong brand promise is rooted in the unique strengths of the company that also determines its competitive advantage. It can’t be aspirational or wishful thinking. It must represents the DNA of the company.

Training Employees

business-leader-presenting-vision-values-to-a-crowdAn article by ERE Media discusses how culture and values fit into the onboarding experience of new employees. The author makes the following insightful statement:

It’s often assumed new employees have an understanding of the company’s culture and values when they are hired, but that is not always true. In some cases, new hires may not even know the company’s mission statement.

Most companies provide some kind of training for new hires. But the focus tends to be on product training, skills-based training, and even leadership training for managers.

What about training employees on a company’s mission, vision, and values?

As I wrote in a previous article, the way to build a culture of excellence is to encourage all employees to make sure their decisions and behaviors are aligned with the company’s values. This means they need to know and understand the values.

This sounds easy – and it should be. But few companies provide any training on values, instead “assuming” (hoping) the knowledge and understanding will just be absorbed by working there.

Bottom line: training for ALL employees on mission, vision, and values is critical to ensuring the band experience aligns – and remains aligned – with the brand promise.

Matching the Brand Experience

Research featured by the American Marketing Association shows there is a significant gap between the customer (brand) experience companies believe they are delivering and the actual customer (brand) experience. The AMA article on this topic highlights three common pitfalls that lead to this problem:

  1. Misunderstanding customer needs. It’s a common occurrence for business leaders to assume customers expect one thing but later discover the real need was something different. It’s important to align the strengths of the business (brand promise) with a real customer need to create a positive customer experience.
  2. Capturing only part of the customer experience. This comes from allowing internal departments to work in silos. At some point, a full picture of the customer experience needs to be measured. Only then will real problem areas surface (e.g. a problem with the product itself, how it’s distributed, or the support).
  3. Overweighting best practices and undervaluing unique industry context. I’ve seen many smart business leaders try and implement best practices they’ve observed in other companies or industries. The real question is whether these are viewed as beneficial or ideal for their business and unique customers?

Bottom line: matching the brand experience to the brand promise is not easy. It requires a solid understanding of customer needs; possessing a holistic view of the brand experience across all parts of the company (and brand touch points); and constant sensitivity to what is unique to the specific business and customers.

If this were easy, anyone could do it. Maybe that’s why so few companies manage to build significant brand equity.


What else would you recommend to close the gap between the brand experience and brand promise?