The Consistent Brand Promise.

The Brand Promise is more about consistency than conception in B2B marketing.

If you’re not asking the question, ‘What’s our brand promise’, daily, and reminding each other what it is and why it’s important, you’re doing something wrong.

“Hi Scot, thanks for seeing me. I’m thinking about changing our brand promise.”

“Don’t do that.”

“Oh, why not?”

“You’re still learning how to deliver on your existing brand promise.”

“But we’ve had that one for a while, I think it’s generally time to change our B2B marketing strategy.”

“You seem to be confusing your brand promise with your underwear.”

“Excuse me…?”

“If you have the urge to change something regularly, make it your underpants. We’d all benefit from that. Don’t change your brand promise unless you have to.”

“Why do you say that?”

“Well the obvious answer is, I wrote it for you. And it takes your customers a long time to absorb, appreciate and respond to your brand marketing. But just when you’ve penetrated their thick skulls, you want to go and change the one thing they attach brand loyalty to – your brand promise. How can that be good? Concern yourself less with the brand awareness of your customers in the first instance and more with your own ability to deliver your brand promise effectively and consistently.”

“That’s easy though, surely?”

“No, it’s actually very difficult. To focus on a single, consistent brand promise, and deliver it without losing sight of why you’re in business and why you have a brand promise in the first place is tough. Companies fuck it up all the time. All. The. Time.”

“Give me an example.”

“Really? An example? Again? Why do you always need an example? Why don’t you just listen to me and do what I say.”

“I’m the client. I pay you. So humour me.”

“Ok, [Sighs…] an example?”

“Yes please.”

“There’s a coffee shop in Southwark near my office. It opened with a pretty clear statement of intent – ‘Great Coffee Without The Drama’. It’s not like there’s a shortage of coffee shops on the same street – Nero, Pret, Costa, they’re all there. But they apparently have ‘drama’, you know, like ‘seats’ and dramatic stuff like that.”

“You’d have to be pretty brave to take on that kind of competition.”

“Exactly. I applaud their bravery. And they’ve thought about their competitive brand positioning. What they’re not doing, however, is delivering it adequately.”

“So, what’s happening?”

“Well, their brand positioning is price based. Not exclusively, but primarily. The line they have in 3m high lettering on the shopfront is, ‘There’s only one thing worse than a bad cup of coffee, an expensive bad cup of coffee.’ So everything in the coffee shop is £1.50. ‘Quality Coffee £1.50.’ ‘Great Coffee £1.50.’”

“Everything is £1.50…?”

“Everything. Cappuccino, Latte, Flat White, Americano, Espresso, Hot Chocolate, Filter Coffee – all £1.50.”

“That’s cheap.”

“Yes it is. And it’s clear. The promise is clear. There is no doubt in the customer’s mind what that brand has to deliver and there should be no difficulty in living up to the brand promise – a good cup of coffee for £1.50. Done. ‘Without the drama.’”

“Right. Easy.”

“You’d have thought.”

“Oh. What happened?”

“Well, to show my solidarity with the independent retailer, and because I’m a cheapskate, I ventured in and asked for a coffee…”

‘Would you like sugar with that, Sir?’

‘Sure, just a little.’

‘Oh you can have as much as you like, I just need to know. That’ll be £1.55 please.’

‘I think there’s been some kind of mistake. Your signs, everywhere, say £1.50.’

‘Sugar Tax.’


‘Sugar Tax. The extra 5p is the Government’s Sugar Tax.’

‘Right, but the signs say £1.50. ‘Quality Coffee £1.50’. ‘Great Coffee £1.50’. Not, £1.55. Not, ‘£1.50 unless you want sugar in which case you can have as much as you like but it’ll cost you an extra 5p.’

‘Look, it’s not for us, we don’t keep the 5p, it’s the tax.’

‘I know. I get that. But your signs are misleading. They should say, ‘£1.50 plus Sugar Tax (where applicable)’. Or, ‘Up to £1.55’, if you wanted it to be a little punchier. Unless of course there are more hidden extras? Like an extra 10p to sit down? 5p if you need a stirrer, 15p for a teaspoon…?’

‘Look it’s only 5p. It’s still cheap.’

‘Ah, but I didn’t just come in here for cheap. I came in here to show my support for the independent bravery of your founders. I came in here to stick it to the man. I came in here to stick two fingers up at the ‘drama’, and all for the promise of £1.50.’

‘Look Mister, do you want the coffee or not?’

‘Sure. Here’s your £1.50. And here’s your other, undisclosed, extra, secretive, 5p.’

“I reached down to pick up my coffee and nearly dropped it. I tried a second time, and for a second time, the paper cup almost slipped through my fingers. I stopped, checked to see if anything had happened to my hand, which it hadn’t. So I checked the cup. It would be unfair to say it was half the size of a competitive ‘drama’ cup, but it was smaller. Significantly smaller. Small enough for me to nearly drop it because the muscle-memory in my hand was expecting something bigger.”

“Did you say anything to the server?”

“No, I just added an inordinate amount of sugar and left. I didn’t actually drink the coffee. I threw it in the trash outside and crossed the road to Nero’s.”

“Wow. All over 5p…?”

“No, not over 5p. Over the experience. Over the broken brand promise.”

“That’s a bit extreme.”

“Is it? They had two jobs. Declare the brand promise. Deliver it consistently. That’s all they had to do. They excelled at one, and failed miserably at the other. The coffee wasn’t £1.50 and it wasn’t a ‘full’ cup of coffee.”

“So, after all that, should I change my brand promise…?”

“Is your brand promise broken?”


“Then don’t change it. Are you delivering against it?”

“Eh, no.”

“Then change that.”

“Ok. Yeah. Wow. [Pause for reflection] Just, you know, wow. [Further pause] Is this why you’re… ‘The Legend’?”

“Yes, yes it is.”


“We’re finished here. You can leave. Goodbye.”

“Oh, ok. Fancy a coffee?”

“Fuck off.”


Scot McKee