Understanding The Psychology of Brand Promises

Betrayal is blinding. There’s no better way to make someone behave irrationally than betray them, especially if an intimate partner perpetrates it. It can lead to mental trauma and even revenge. When a brand breaks a promise to their consumers, they risk not only alienating them from the brand community, but from all other brands. Broken brand promises are why people are wary of advertising to begin with.

Brands break promises at their peril because they are ignorant or dismissive of how brand promises function on the consumer’s end.

Breaking Brand Promises

Canadians were stunned and dismayed to learn our country’s number one grocer was caught up in a price-fixing scheme with bread maker Weston, owned by the same company. The scheme lasted 14 years, from 2001-15. As a result, Loblaw Ltd. fired several people involved and then offered a $25 gift certificate to millions of Canadians who may have been affected. The Competition Bureau, in return, offered not to lay criminal charges. Furthermore, the public isn’t very happy with their mea culpa.

It doesn’t end there. Wells Fargo. Samsung. Apple. Toyota. I’m sure you could name a few more off the top of your head. Brand promises represent everything a company stands for, it is the unique statement of what the company offers; it’s what separates it from its rivals and what makes it worthy of customers’ consideration. Every relationship is in a way transactional and the promise is the currency.

A Gallup poll finds “only half of customers believe the companies they do business with always deliver on what they promise.” Customers’ ability to recall specific instances of service failures is acute, and it affects their overall view of the company. Referred to as the “negativity bias,” we are hardwired to remember negative experience more strongly than positive ones. There tends to be a bias towards sharing negative reviews and negative interactions online, as well as in our tendency to recall them.

This is the ultimate result of too many brands lying over too long a period: general distrust. It means every brand has to work much harder to break through to people, and to get them into their brand community. It means people not only don’t trust Loblaws, they trust all grocery stores less and now they’ve been made aware of an entire ecosystem of backroom deals could hypothetically lurk around every corner. This is how you get to where society is with politicians where we assume they’re all liars. This is how you get a society where people don’t trust brands. You’re in this with the rest of us, whether you like it or not.

Trust is a Science

breaking brand promises - exhasperated audience memberThe most important component of brand loyalty is trust. In fact, the most important element of a functioning society is trust. The most ordinary interpersonal, commercial, medical, and legal interactions would be impossible without some degree of trust. You can see this in your customers, but often times you can see the beginnings of it with your own employees and corporate culture.

Trust involves oxytocin, a hormone manufactured by the brain’s hypothalamus involved in mother-infant bonding. However, oxytocin also acts more generally in social bonding, and some believe it is a key component in the psychological experience of trust. This means on a basic chemical level, trust can be measured. It can even be manipulated in a laboratory setting by injecting mice and other mammals with synthetic oxytocin and noticing how their behavior becomes more trusting, affectionate, and social. And really, we’re just mice with nicer shirts.

If you’re the victim of a betrayal, your brain and personality may interact to make you want to seek revenge. Think of the last time you were betrayed by someone close to you, and then think about all the people you know who have been betrayed and recall how they reacted.  But Brands are not spouses. Perhaps brand relationships are easier to break for this reason. The 2017 SAP Hybris Global Consumer Insights Report shows 53% of respondents “break up” with a brand if they make a mistake more than twice. 71% leave if customer service is poor. And you don’t get to take them to counseling.

Related Article: TIFF and the Importance of Keeping Brand Promises

How To Easily Keep Your Promises

breaking brand promises - two-faced brands

One of the biggest tips is to respond to a broken brand promise fast and effectively. If a failure on the brand’s end goes viral, it can prove to be an opportunity to improve the reputation. Small businesses can experience this any time they get a negative review online; dealing with it politely and publicly can make the business look even better than before. How you respond not only gives you a chance to repair and regain consumer trust, it showcases your brand promise and assures your brand community.

Consistency is a key factor in gaining and keeping consumer’s trust in brand promises. It is a sustained building of trust which nurtures brand loyalty and grows the brand community. Furthermore, brands must pay attention to the promises they are making, especially if they are startups or smaller businesses in a competitive marketplace. When brands cannot compete on price or access they will often try to compete on quality, and quality is very easy to speak of in objective terms when it ought to be done subjectively. Don’t promise the world just to create buzz and get people in the door.

Lastly, keep the lines of communication open. Make it easy for customers to contact you, and make sure someone is there to respond. Make certain someone is tending to Facebook messages, phone lines, or the instant message bubbles on your homepage so someone knows there is someone keeping watch of the brand community.

Branding is somewhat a specialty of Blade, so if you have any questions about what you’ve read here, drop us a line.


Blade Brain Trust

The Blade Brain Trust brings you relevant insights to help you build your brand community.

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