Strong brands possess credible, relevant and distinctive brand promises. Even more importantly, they fulfil these every day. Developments in social media have changed the world of brands. It has become a zillion-channel place where anyone can express their opinion about your brand and where that opinion will be heard. So, how can you deal with this? The answer is simple: with trust. The execution, however, is far more complex.

People need to be able to trust your brand. This requires a shift in marketing. The days when marketers screamed, “Proof first, promise later” are over. We have learned it is important to “Promise and Prove” at the same time. Trust is the lever here. Your market has to trust your brand. Who would you trust more than your own family and friends who have just told you how amazing an experience was that they had at Starbucks, for instance? Within the zillion-channel world in which we live, an ‘objectively’ positive message is easily spread. And a negative message probably spreads even more easily. So, keep in mind what your brand promise is and whether your brand delivers the proof for this promise.

Taking this as our starting point, we will set out our definition of a brand promise and present the Brand Performance Model, which you can use to determine the extent to which you exploit your brand promise at different brand touchpoints, online and offline. After that, we will focus on the lifecycle of a brand and how you can keep your brand consistent and manageable over time.

Brand promise

The brand promise clarifies what the brand stands for and is also the most important reason for stakeholders to choose a particular brand. Often this promise is communicated explicitly through a slogan or pay-off, but it can also be conveyed implicitly via communication with and behaviour towards stakeholders.

Brand success is a relevant brand promise that is proven throughout the organisation. Every single day it is visible as the DNA of the organisation. This was spelled out back in 1997 by Steve Jobs: “To me, marketing is about values. This is a very complicated world, it’s a very noisy world. And we’re not going to get the chance to get people to remember much about us. No company is. So we have to be really clear on what we want them to know about us.” So, what it boils down to is that for every moment your brand is in contact with stakeholders you want to give them the correct look and feel of your brand. This means that you have to be consistent.

Brand proof points

The least a customer should expect from a brand is that the experience with the brand lives up to the promise made. The brand proof should at least be equal to the brand promise to avoid disappointing the customer (Smith, 2011). To prove the brand promise everything has to be in place. Customers have to experience the brand promise through all the different channels: via the telephone, in all the stores/locations, on the website and in face-to-face contact, etc. Social and technological developments make it necessary nowadays to prove what you promise in your (marketing) communication. Consumers are becoming more assertive and, with the launch of Twitter and Facebook, they are able to forward their opinions to many followers and friends. If a brand promise is not in harmony with the brand proof, this can be communicated in an instant to large groups of people located all over the world, with the result that the credibility of the brand is eroded. For many years, a brand was supposed to have an attractive exterior. These days, the brand promise is regarded as key to communication and behaviour as a whole. The external focus of the brand – supported by attractive television commercials and eye-catching ad campaigns – has given way to seeing the brand as the ‘guiding principle’ for the entire organisation. A brand touch point is every moment a brand interacts with customers, employees, partners and other stakeholders. When brand touch points demonstrate the brand promise, we refer to them as brand proof points.

One example: Starbucks

A good example of a brand with a consistent brand promise and brand proof is Starbucks. They are coffee lovers who enjoy spending time with quality products. Employees are friendly and quick, and the atmosphere is inviting with modern furniture, relaxed music and pleasant aromas. Furthermore, their range is the same all over the world. In addition, they are likely to behave responsibly towards people and the environment. And, most notably, they communicate their brand promise everywhere in exactly the same manner – not just in the stores, but also on Twitter, Facebook, the corporate website, everywhere. They are welcoming, provide a fast service and are passionate about coffee.

'Processes' are the procedures within the organisation that contribute to the applied consistency of the brand. These include approval processes for (communication) resources, but also complaints processes and other processes that contribute to customer satisfaction.

Brand performance model

The Brand Performance Model enables you to determine the extent to which brand proof points are exploited. This model consists of four dimensions, which together determine the performance of the brand. The top half represents the exterior part of the organisation that is visible to stakeholders. The bottom half constitutes the internal organisation.

‘Presence’ is the presentation of the brand in all expressions. This refers not only to where the brand is visually active, but also to the extent to which communication, resources and products are consistent with the brand promise. When the presence fits with the brand, this helps prove the brand promise.

‘People’ are the people who represent the brand, usually the employees with whom customers communicate. Employees are the key when it comes to proving the promise of the brand to customers. The extent to which the knowledge, attitude and behaviour of employees fits with the brand determines how the brand is experienced by customers.

‘Processes’ are the procedures within the organisation that contribute to the applied consistency of the brand. These include approval processes for (communication) resources, but also complaints processes and other processes that contribute to customer satisfaction.

‘Programmes & Tools’ are all the resources that are used to provide employees with the opportunity to apply the brand consistently through their knowledge as well as their attitude and behaviour towards customers. The brand is activated with the aid of training and internal branding programmes. These provide employees with the chance to pass on the values of the brand. Tools, like office automation software, help employees to apply the brand correctly, both visually and textually. This results in a brand experience for all stakeholders that is just as intended.

The four dimensions of the Brand Performance Model interrelate. This means that when organisations have problems with their internal organisation, these will be noticed and experienced by people outside the organisation. Even if you are visually excellent, if your employees do not communicate your brand promise this will have a big impact on the extent to which the consumer perceives that the organisation has proven its promise. So, you need to score highly on all four dimensions.

As mentioned earlier, to communicate the correct brand promise (implicitly and explicitly) at all times you have to be consistent. It is not just the brand promise that has to be consistent, the visual identity of your brand has to be, too. The way your brand looks also implicitly promises something. A Fiat car makes an implicit promise with its visual identity that is different to, for instance, a Ferrari. Therefore, we will now present to you the Brand Life Cycle, which will help you develop a brand that is consistent and manageable. This will eventually improve your brand promise and also your business.

Brand life-cycle

With the brand as an incentive for the entire organisation, the importance of getting the brand into shape and keeping it that way has increased. This requires constant attention. The Brand Life Cycle sets out the steps for developing and managing a brand.

Five phases can be distinguished:

  1. Evaluation and analysis
  2. Strategy
  3. Development and creation
  4. Implementation and activation and
  5. Management

Evaluation and analysis

Part of managing a brand is monitoring how the brand performs, both internally and externally. Reputation research, stakeholder analysis, brand proof point evaluations, net promoter scores, client and employee satisfaction analyses and online brand monitors will help the brand manager to evaluate and monitor the brand constantly, enabling timely adjustments when needed. However, the evaluation of a brand also focuses on the extent to which the brand promise is proven each day – in the presentation of the brand in all forms and in the behaviour of employees. The analysis should therefore be supplemented with an internal evaluation to determine the extent to which processes, tools and programmes contribute to proving the brand promise.

Back to the example: Starbucks. Starbucks has been around for forty years now, but it is still a modern brand. It has changed with the times but has kept its brand consistent all over the world. The Siren has been retained as its logo through all these years. In 2011, they announced a new rebranding because, as Howard Schultz stated, “…the world has changed and Starbucks has changed. The new interpretation of Starbucks at its core is the exact same essence of the Starbucks experience. That is the love we have for our coffee, the relationship we have with our partners and the connection we built with our customers.” So, Starbucks keeps on adjusting to the world and the market to stay ahead of the competition and keeps on working on its brand promise and proof. That is why it has now removed the brand name from the logo and set the mermaid free.

Strategy

The results of the aforementioned analysis will generally result in minor adjustments to specific areas, and will not, therefore, require major strategic adjustments. However, some evaluations might also lead to significant changes within the brand, resulting in a change to the corporate visual identity and/or brand name. This is called a rebranding. In these circumstances, the brand evaluation acts as a platform for the development of a new or adjusted organisational strategy, positioning of the brand or brand promise.

In the strategy phase for a brand, the organisational strategy is translated into a brand strategy: here, the mission, vision and core values are transformed into a clear and relevant positioning of the brand. This brand positioning can be seen as the place the brand occupies among all other brands. The focus is on what distinguishes a brand from its competitors, and attention is drawn to its most important characteristics.

The brand promise is the actual effect of this positioning on the stakeholders. It indicates what the brand does for the customer and thereby communicates the relationship between the product’s characteristics and the benefits promised by the brand. This turns the brand promise into a tool for making the organisational strategy a reality, both internally and externally. The brand promise can be used to attract consumer attention and also to instil enthusiasm. It is vital that an organisation only chooses brand promises that it can actually keep. A beautiful brand promise is worthless if it is not fulfilled.

Development and creation

In order to make the brand visible for all stakeholders, the brand must be reflected in all aspects of the organisation. During the development and creation phase, the brand promise is translated for the brand proof points. Programmes must be developed to involve both employees and external stakeholders in the creation of a new brand strategy. All forms of communication (including the tone of voice) should be tailored to the new promise, and the visual identity must be adjusted or developed.

Furthermore, the products and services provided by the organisation must be adapted to the new brand promise. This means that those that no longer fit the new promise should be abandoned.

During the development and creation phase, different departments and agencies have to work together (Communication, HR, Facility Management, etc.). This increases the risk of the brand promise becoming diffuse and of creating an ambiguous brand image. Forming a brand team can prevent this problem. The team monitors the brand promise and makes sure that it is correctly translated for all the brand proof points. The brand team also selects and guides all the institutions involved in translating the brand promise. Using a brand briefing created by the brand team, the same starting point can be established for all the departments and institutions involved. In this capacity, the brand team is responsible for the overall development of the brand and can act as a producer, sounding board and checkpoint for all brand expressions.

Implementation and activation

During this phase, the design and programmes developed are implemented at each of the brand proof points. This means that the new corporate visual identity is applied to all brand carriers and, in addition, the internal change programmes and external campaigns are launched. This might also mean that a new way of working is initiated.

The introduction of a new or adjusted brand often brings a lot of tension and uncertainty to an organisation. Employees are not always enthusiastic when a new brand is introduced. Internal acceptance of the new brand is, therefore, one of the biggest challenges during a rebranding (Figure 3).

The greater the change, the larger the impact will be on internal resistance (Krokké, Bolhuis & Van Vuuren, 2011). Since this can have negative consequences for the way in which employees pass on the new brand it is important to pay attention to this part. Adequate communication before, during and after the rebranding is crucial to the success of the brand. The moment that a forthcoming change is presented, it is imperative that not just the background to the new brand is explained but also the reasons behind the change. This ought to be done by top management. The commitment of top management is one of the most important pre-conditions. Clearly visible support for the rebranding by top management highlights the necessity for the change, and employees will be more inclined to cooperate. After this step has been taken, it is important to get the most important stakeholder enthusiastic about the new brand. A pre-established communication plan is essential here (Bolhuis, Van den Bosch, De Jonge & Heuvelman, 2007).

Management

Proving the brand promise every day demands organisational skills and coordination between the front (presence and people) and the back (processes and programmes) of an organisation. The management phase is therefore a continuous one in which the brand is carefully managed at all the brand proof points. This requires that the processes in an organisation connect perfectly with the brand promise.

Even programmes for training new employees contribute to the performance of the brand. If the importance of the brand is accentuated from the start, the employee will be able to act accordingly. Organisations can take this one step further by only hiring new employees who are a good fit for the brand.

In addition, tools can be used to apply the brand consistently. Starbucks has an online shop portal with an advanced tool that enables facility managers at Starbucks to create different types of Starbucks Stores (interior and exterior) in just a few clicks. The order is sent to the different suppliers and delivered to the address specified on the date indicated. This means that the brand promise within stores will always be consistent all over the world but, at the same time, can also be created quickly. Furthermore, a brand support office can be established (either within the organisation itself or outsourced) where all questions regarding the brand can be answered and brand carriers can be developed quickly. Facilitating employees and institutions is crucial to maintaining and improving brand consistency (Van den Bosch, 2005). A helpdesk that acts quickly and adequately will be more attractive to use. It will also enable employees to learn so they can make the right branding decisions sooner without having to consult the brand support office.

Conclusion

The Brand Life Cycle is a proven model for a modern brand management approach, across all channels. The Brand Performance Model is the perfect model for checking annually whether you are still on or off track with your brand management. The success of a brand does not rest solely with the credibility, relevance and distinctiveness of the brand promise, but also, and even more so, with the way in which this promise is embedded in the entire organisation. If this is done from top management to the shop floor, from products to their advertisements and throughout each and every department, this will lead to consistency at all brand proof points – in turn proving the brand promise and enabling the brand to realise what it promises!