On a recent visit to Glacier National Park, my son and I hiked over 30 miles, saw two bears, three mountain goats and dozens of mostly small critters (chipmunks, squirrels, etc.). We were able to traverse the entire length of “Going To The Sun” Road, the path that takes you from the East Entrance of the park to the West, and is perhaps the coolest named road in the history of the world.

But we got lucky! A few weeks earlier, firefighters were fighting a couple of wildfires, smoke engulfed the park and “Going To The Sun Road” was closed – it opened three days prior to our arrival. However, even if our hiking and wildlife watching opportunities had been curtailed we still would have had a great time.

This got me thinking about Brand Promise. The National Parks’ Brand Promise is the adventure and the opportunity to bond with nature, no matter what it brings. The unpredictably of the weather, wildlife sightings and yes, even fires, are all part of the gestalt of the journey. The lack of consistency and predictability and the challenges it may bring is precisely what lures us to these treasures of natural beauty.

In the marketing world, of course, this kind of product unpredictability would be the death knell of your brand. Could you imagine your favorite restaurant telling you “the food will be great today, but we can’t guarantee how it will be next week?” Or your car may start up perfectly one day, then not at all the next? You will soon be in the market for another restaurant or for another car.

So which brands have done a great job of defining and living up their brand promise?

Tylenol and protecting people first
Well, the classic example is Johnson & Johnson’s handling of the Tylenol crisis. Back in 1982, seven people were reported dead in Chicago after taking cyanide-tainted extra-strength Tylenol capsules. So, what did Johnson and Johnson do while their market share was dropping from 37% to 7%? They immediately and proactively recalled 31M bottles and put out multiple announcements warning people about the consumption of the product. No “this wasn’t our fault” distractions…they just followed their brand guidelines (and part of their brand promise) of protecting people first and property second. And through their actions, they regained the public’s trust in them to do the right thing.

Importantly, J&J recently paid a $20M fine and pled guilty to a federal misdemeanor for a failure to respond to complaint about “black specks in the liquid on the bottom of the bottle” of Infants’ Tylenol produced at its Fort Washington, PA plant.

Lesson learned: You can’t mess around with your brand promise…it can be fragile, and your organization must live and breathe it every day!

A more recent example – CVS and improving public health
Now let’s take a look at CVS – recently renamed CVS Health – and their brand promise to “Improve Public Health”. Well, they’ve certainly put their money where their mouth is – first, risking a detrimental revenue hit to their business, in late 2014 they discontinued cigarette sales in their stores (and have seen revenue rise by almost 10% since, btw); then in July 2015 they announced they would resign from the US Chamber of Commerce amidst revelations that the chamber and its foreign affiliates were undertaking a global lobbying campaign against anti-smoking laws.

According to David R. Palombi, senior vice president at CVS, “We were surprised to read press reports concerning the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s position on tobacco products outside the United States…CVS Health’s purpose is to help people on their path to better health, and we fundamentally believe tobacco use is in direct conflict with this purpose.”

While this was a reactive response to a public health threat, a very proactive initiative recently undertaken by CVS Health was the launch and expansion of their CVS Minute Clinic’s. These clinics diagnose, treat and write prescriptions for common family illnesses, provide vaccinations, treat minor wounds and offer other routine tests and care. This essentially has transformed pharmacies into true “health and wellness pit-stops”. Talk about reinforcing your brand promise!

Living your brand promise means being both bold and decisive in making changes to the way you do business, not just reactively making changes to align with the changing winds.

So, does your company/organization have a brand promise? Are you living and breathing your brand promise, and making the tough business decisions even if it means sacrificing short-term revenue?

Our brand promise at BottomLine Marketing is our commitment to driving our client’s profitable growth through developing highly differentiated, actionable brand strategies and marketing plans. What’s yours? We’d love to hear it!

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