Brand Promises

I recently purchased three new pair of underwear at a well-known department store.  Upon the first washing, the elastic had separate from the fabric on one pair.  I was disappointed by I know that these things happen sometimes.

Running the underwear through laundry a second time made it seem as if everything was okay.  But upon the third washing, the remaining two pairs split apart at the seams and had the elastic separated from the fabric in the washing machine.  I am now the proud owner of three very expensive cleaning rags.  I have also vowed never to buy that brand of underwear again.  Nor will I buy socks or any other product from that brand.

What is a Brand?

Brands promise four things to a company or a customer.brand

  1. Name
  2. Known
  3. Symbol or logo
  4. Trusted customer experience

These are the things that make a brand special, noteworthy, or memorable in our minds.  These are the elements that a company should focus to retain customers and to gain new customers.


All new product teams must consider elements of branding.  The name might derive from a previous product line or be new.  New brand names can be functional, describing the use of the product (“VitaminWater”) or may reflect an emotional connection with the product (“Red Bull”).  Sometimes brand names are new words (“Xerox”) or reflect cultural trends.  The Toronto Raptors NBA franchise brand name was selected through a contest in 1993 during an international dinosaur craze set off by the movie “Jurassic Park”.  To my knowledge, there is no natural or geological tie of Toronto or Ontario with dinosaur fossils.


Successful brands are well-known.  Some brans are so well-known that the brand name becomes a name for the product itself (“Kleenex” or “Crayola”).

Brands names become known through several methods.  Advertising is perhaps the most common way for a brand to establish itself.  Advertising is a one-way communication of the brand promise to a customer.  Thus, advertising needs to validate the brand in the minds of the target audience.

Mazda is currently running a television commercial featuring a jet-lagged business traveler arriving at his home airport.  As he views his Mazda, a wide grin shines across his face and the announcer informs us that he now be in the driver’s seat again.

This is an effective branding advertisement.  It focuses on the product, the promise of the product, and is direct.  The target audience is well-understood and if we didn’t know the brand before, the advertisement makes it known to us.


mazdaMost people recognize and identify known brands by their logos, such as the Mazda symbol on the front grill of the car in the advertisement just described.  Coca-Cola does not even need to label an image of a soda bottle – the shape immediately informs an audience of the brand.

Logos and symbols should be simple and memorable to support the brand.  Though I clearly recall one of this year’s Super Bowl ads (“puppy monkey baby”), I have a hard time associating it with the Mountain Dew brand.  (In full disclosure, I am probably too old, female, and not a video-gamer for this ad to target me.)

Dairy Milk has trademarked a certain shade of purple as part of its branding.  Likewise, Reese’s has trademarked a certain shade of orange used to brand the candy packaging.  The NA and the Toronto franchise have licensed certain symbols and logos representing the Raptors basketball team.

Products should be recognized by their symbols to reinforce the brand promise in the minds of consumers and the buying public.  A well-known brand can command a higher price in the market.  Two pairs of running shorts may appear identical, but the pair with the “swoosh” (Nike) might command a 100% markup.

Trusted Experience

Of course, we trust the Nike brand promise.  We can measure our speed and performance during a 5K race wearing an ordinary shoe and compare it to our speed and performance wearing Nike shoes.  We know that the shoes will last a certain amount of time and can endure a given amount of wear and tear.  Drinking VitaminWater or Red Bull yields a satisfaction that is repeatable every time we consume the beverage.

A trusted customer experience is perhaps the most important element of the brand promise.  It does not have to be the best or the highest quality experience, but it must be reliable and consistent.  McDonalds’s is a trusted brand because we know exactly what we will get – a relatively inexpensive hamburger prepared the same regardless of geographic location, time of day, or purpose for our visit.  The brand delivers consistency as its promise.

This is precisely the area of branding that broke down in my experience with the new underwear falling apart in the laundry.  The brand is well-known, has enduring and cute symbols, and clever television ads with jazzy music.  Yet, they lost my trust.

Brands in Product Development

As new product development (NPD) practitioners, we need to design the brand as we design the product.  Brands inform the customer of an expected experience with the product and must be known to the target audience.  Brands typically involve a symbol or logo to reflect the name or function of the product, and are used to build familiarity with the product.  Most importantly, a brand name must demonstrate a trusted, reliable, and consistent service to a customer.

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