bad_promise

When Texas-based cloud storage provider Rackspace was launched in October 1998, the three founders were so wrapped up in developing their technology that they gave little attention to their customers—to the point that management frowned on employees picking up the phone for tech-support calls. Why? According to longtime chairman Graham Weston, they considered their “real” work to be programming.

Of course, clients didn’t much like this, which gave the managers the revelation that customer service shouldn’t be ignored; in fact, it should be prioritized above all else. Enlightened, Weston and his colleagues decided to make “fanatical customer support” Rackspace’s brand promise. It would be what the company was known for in the marketplace.

It seemed like a great idea. But it wasn’t good enough.

That’s because everyone else in Rackspace’s industry was promising great customer service, too. But no one was really doing anything to deliver it. Clients had, understandably, grown skeptical when promised top-tier service—after all, they’d been given no reason to believe these promises were anything but empty. In short, Rackspace’s brand promise was meaningless.

A great brand promise is much more than words on the company letterhead or a plaque in the lobby. It complements not only what your customer needs, but also what they value. It communicates both why customers should choose to buy from you and exactly what they can expect once they decide to do so.

Related: How a brand promise can boost your business

Over the years, I have found that most companies have a relatively easy time coming up with an effective brand promise. The challenge comes in the execution. Too often, companies don’t have clear measures in place to deliver on what they’re promising. As a result, their brand promises amount to little more than hollow rhetoric. Is it any surprise that clients find this off-putting?

So, how can you tell whether you’re losing customers to a bogus brand promise? Here are five signs:

1. Your employees don’t “get” your brand promise

Like all things, change starts from within. Ask your employees to explain to you what your brand promise is, and why it’s a market differentiator. Can they answer with absolute clarity? If not, how do you expect them to deliver on it?

2. Your customers don’t “get” your brand promise

Survey a dozen clients, asking each what they think your company is known for. If their responses are inconsistent and/or differ wildly from your promise, it’s a clear sign that you’re not delivering what you think you are.

Related: What your customers really think about you

3. Your brand promise isn’t what your customers want

Just because you think your brand promise is relevant to customers doesn’t mean it actually is. Say your brand promise is based on service. That’s all well and good—unless your customers are driven primarily by price. Sometimes what you think sets you apart isn’t something the market wants; you must factor this in when developing your brand promise.

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