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A Brand is a Promise

2010 February 7
by Greg Satell

What’s the difference between a great brand and a silly slogan?

A powerful brand is incredibly valuable.  Interbrand estimates that a successful brand can be worth tens of billions of dollars.  That’s far too much money to be attributed to nice words or cool colors. What makes a brand valuable is the promises it makes and keeps.

Here are some examples of great brands that win through making and keeping their promises.

Apple Computer

Apple promises to make the machine work with the man.  We love Apple products because they are made for us.  Once you buy an iPod you never want to use another MP3 player.

Apple doesn’t depend on ideas that are wholly original. All of their breakthrough products like the Macintosh, the iPod and the iPhone have been followers, not first movers.  They invent surprisingly little new technology.  The categories they enter have stiff competition, Apple just beats them at their own game.

What Apple does is agonize over every small detail until their products work flawlessly. A thousand engineers working on a million things that most of us will never notice, but are essentially to delivering a superior product.  This is a promise that they keep everyday.

Many people have criticized Apple’s new iPad because it is, essentially, a lager version of the iTouch.  Yet, it keeps all of Apple’s promises.  It’s fun, tactile, easy to use and, as I’ve written before, the Apple iPad will most likely be a success.


Walt Disney stands for wholesome entertainment filled worth magic and wonder.  It is an incredibly valuable brand that has stood the test of time.

Some marketing guru somewhere probably thinks that it would be a great idea to earn more value out of the Disney brand by extending it to include different categories. Why not have “Disney Sports” or attach the Disney name to movies for grown ups.

The Disney brand has endured because they know that when you extend a brand you risk diluting its promise. ESPN, Miramax and Touchstone pictures are different brands with different promises and the company benefits from them all (Disney owns them).


McDonald’s promises a minimal standard of quality combined with great service and convenience.  Go anywhere in the world and you can expect to see full McDonald’s restaurants. (And after a couple bouts of food poisoning I’ve had in some of the rougher places in the world, the McDonald’s brand can be an incredibly welcome sight).

McDonald’s promises to keep their standards uniform everyday, anywhere on the planet. They have gone to enormous lengths to keep that promise.  Their corporate university trains an amazing global network of executives that meet and are constantly exchanging ideas on how to improve processes and gain efficiencies.

Every supplier in every country is vetted and inspected regularly and every no detail is left to chance.  For instance, there are only a few photographers in the world who are authorized to take pictures of McDonald’s food for marketing campaigns.  It is their constant attention to detail that allows them to keep their promises in 119 countries around the world.

A Simple Equation

Brands are not built through gimmicks or sleight of hand.  The consumer can not be fooled for long.  Great companies build great brands by valuing their customers and wanting to make their lives better in some way.

In the end, despite all the gimmicks and tricks that gurus use to sell books and seminars, it comes down to one simple equation:

Brand Value = the value of promises kept.

Everything else is just optimizing efficiency.

– Greg

29 Responses leave one →
  1. February 7, 2010

    truly greg a brand is a promise. i agree with u. Also wud like to add the ability to differentiate from the market enhances a brand’s equity. being niche helps a brand to stay longer on customers mind…constant innovation than mere improvising gains customer loyalty.

    so whats ur favourite brand?

  2. February 7, 2010

    Favorite brand? Digital Tonto. I promise;-)

    – Greg

  3. February 7, 2010

    🙂 great. thanks ur region are companies relying on pull strategy as their marketing tactic…hows the advertising area over there…u hv a very interesting profile…check me on linked in thanks

  4. February 7, 2010


    Advertising here is pretty much like everywhere else. Depressed.

    – Greg

  5. gertrude Huber permalink
    February 8, 2010

    Digital Tonto is one of my favorite brands too! solid article!


  6. February 8, 2010

    Thanks Gertrude;-)

  7. February 8, 2010

    I agree. Successful brands are those that know who they are, know their customers and market, know their product, have a clear vision and mission that is valued internally and externally, present a clear and consistent message across the board (communications, branding, product), enter into brand expansions and partnerships with caution always keeping brand integrity at the helm. Creating a successful brand means creating a package of these many elements that when handled, managed, understood and expressed consistently (keeping the promise) generates loyalty.

  8. February 8, 2010


    Thanks for your input. Seems promising;-)

    – Greg

  9. February 8, 2010


    Excellent post with a clear focus on what really matters – keeping your promises.

    My own experience taught me this rings especially true in today’s world, where consumers have increasing amounts of choice and thus increasingly decline to make any choice at all. Too much choice leads to indecision, meaning the competition for share of wallet becomes increasingly intense – and skewed towards those brands they have built the strongest relationship with.

    For another analysis of why Apple offers an integrated brand experience, check out


  10. February 8, 2010


    Thanks for the link. I enjoyed reading it.

    – Greg

  11. Dan G permalink
    February 9, 2010

    A nice post. You can tell quickly if someone knows anything about Marketing by asking the simple question, “What is a brand?” The only correct answer is “a brand is a promise.”

    Your point on brand (over-)extension is well taken. However, I would like to point out that Miramax has closed its doors.

  12. February 9, 2010

    Another thought provoking post, Greg. Somewhat answered my silent question of ‘what was that about?’ as I watched the latest ad campaigns roll out – leaving many of us to conclude that in some cases, someone had left the youngsters in the boardroom too long without adult supervision. If a ‘brand’ does not invoke a positive association of ‘the promise’ who wants it? Promises have the irritating way of lasting long term, which is rated highly by a public that will not soon forget.
    ‘Promise to deliver; deliver what you promise’. Nothing more to share than my appreciation. LP

  13. February 9, 2010


    Thanks for your comment. However, Miramax is indeed still open. In fact, the Weinstein brothers are negotiating to buy it back from Disney. Will HUnting lives!

    – Greg

  14. February 9, 2010


    Great comment. Thanks Although I’d like to add something to what you said: Promise something of value

    This is what the whole “USP” crown misses (I have USP’s). Your promise doesn’t need to be unique, it just has to be something they want or need. Unique really has no value (and sometimes, negative value – do you want a unique MP3 player or an iPod?).

    The upshot is ridiculous positioning statements like: We are the leading handicapped, Eastern European lead specialist firm in the local area that focuses on the 8-13 year old power tools market.

    – Greg

  15. February 9, 2010

    Hi Greg,

    Wee thought out article on brands and their promises.

    I have to think about Toyota and the challenges they are facing at the moment and how will this impact their brand in the future? How they respond to the owners of their cars and how they treat them throughout the recall process will be the determining factor I think in how they are perceived going forward. These types of challenges bring out the true nature of a brand and it can strengthen them or destroy them depending on their response.


  16. February 9, 2010


    I think you’re right. It won’t be long before this current situation is studied along with Tylenol at all the big business schools.

    – Greg

  17. February 13, 2010

    Right to the point!! Creating s promise is half the cycle; the other half being able to deliver on that promise. First part is all about communication. 2nd part is customer experience.

  18. February 13, 2010


    Thanks. I couldn’t agree more.

    – Greg

  19. February 13, 2010

    Easy to grasp, yet incredibly important post, Greg. Am going to share (and attibute!) your column at a marketing seminar in two weeks.

    I have been working with some small businesses lately and have been totally amazed at the responses I get when I ask… “Why should somebody use your business?” and they say…”I dunno.” As you say, doesn’t have to have a unique position, but you have to have A position!

    I would love to do an interview with you someday.


  20. February 13, 2010


    Nice to hear!


    – Greg

  21. March 12, 2010

    Hi Greg,
    As always, your article is right on the money. As a female consumer in a mans world, especially when it comes to cars and large appliances, we are sometimes thought of as not having a brain especially if your cute – so I stand by a “product promise” is a “product promise”. And if the promise is broken – you can only fool me once.
    I am glad we have gone back to respecting what you offer in business – for so long many companies have taken the consumer for granted and not live up to their promise.
    I do my best in my company by keeping my promise with every customer. I truly believe you do the same.

  22. March 12, 2010


    Being extremely cute myself, I can relate;-)

    (At least my wife thinks so)

    – Greg

  23. March 12, 2010

    lol……and may I add very funny too … 🙂

  24. Hiren permalink
    March 31, 2010

    Really encouraging post.. keep it coming.

  25. March 31, 2010

    Thanks for your support. Much appreciated!

    – Greg

  26. May 14, 2010

    Apple is actually all about simplicity. The brand is built around products that look cool, but are so easy to operate that it’s laughable.

  27. June 25, 2010

    Absolutely it is a promise but it is really about building expectation and anticipation in the consumer that stimulates a buying need.

    Products can then be segmented to deliver the brand experience and satisfy the buying need.

    How you build and protect the brand experience is about how effective you hear what the customers are telling you and matching this to your compnaies strategic intent. Hence Apple and Disney’s success .. they not only listen but hear very effectively.

    This builds loyalty, brand equity and ultimately the intangible asset on your balance sheet worth millions / billions

  28. June 25, 2010

    Well said, James.


    – Greg

  29. May 7, 2019

    Thumbs up to this article for featuring the world’s greatest brands who kept their promises since the beginning. Pretty excellent work.

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