A worthy pledge or just another marketing campaign?

Chris NooneBrands can make as many promises as they like but they need to keep them says Chris Noone, in a piece that first appeared in Encore.

Fierce competition and the rise of the informed consumer are taking brands into new battlegrounds. Competing on price, service and features is no longer enough to get consumers to take notice. Many brands are now trying to differentiate themselves by being ‘good’ or ‘honest’. These catchphrases make great marketing campaigns, but what obligation do marketers have to ensure that they are actually delivering on the commitments they make?

ANZ has been heavily promoting its pledge to lend $1billion to new small businesses over 12 months. A worthy objective and an opportunity that will be welcomed by many small businesses.

After three months one would expect that about $250m would have been loaned but when approached and asked, the bank declined to release any concrete details. If they have loaned more, it’s a great opportunity for ANZ to shout about their success and how they are delivering on their promise to help small business. But if the figure is lower than $250m what obligation does ANZ have to speak up? Can ANZ just stay quiet if they don’t like the results? Where is the line between a great marketing angle and corporate integrity?

When brands make public commitments that they don’t keep, they are at risk of brand damage and the potential wildfire of ‘social media backlash’ which can be sudden and ferocious.

It would be difficult to claim that ANZ is protecting confidential information because how can you make a pledge and then keep the results secret? If the bank is trying to show that it is the good guy, its image may actually be enhanced by being totally transparent about the results – no matter what they are. Otherwise consumers may see this as just another marketing campaign.

Many companies seek to prove their ‘goodness’ by donating to worthy causes. This should be encouraged, but the impact on the brand image may be lessened if you see a supermarket featuring a $5,000 donation to a scout group spending many times more on billboard ads to crow about it. What’s the real intent here – to help worthy causes or just create another marketing angle? Obviously there is an opportunity for a brand to differentiate itself by actually donating the marketing budget it planned to promote its donations. Social media is sure to applaud this true ‘goodness’.

The Australian food and advertising industries introduced self-regulatory pledges in 2009 to discourage the advertising of unhealthy food to children but a research group at the University of Sydney found that the thresholds set by the pledges were lenient and resulted in little to no change in the extent of unhealthy foods being advertised to children.

The industry does not monitor compliance with the pledges, instead it relies on consumers to report perceived breaches. If a pledge is vague, voluntary and compliance is not monitored, why bother?

Tesco in the UK was recently accused of breaking its 1999 pledge to eliminate genetically modified ingredients from animal feed used in its products. The supermarket chain claimed its suppliers were finding it increasingly difficult to secure non-GM feeds. While this received some media coverage, Tesco largely avoided negative press by being upfront about its reasons for making the change. It’s possible to break a pledge and get away with it, but companies need to carefully explain why keeping the pledge was not possible.

FedEx is one company that takes its commitments seriously. Its Purple Promise “I will make every FedEx experience outstanding” is more than a catchphrase, it permeates the company from the CEO to the newest hire. The FedEx customer-centric culture is ingrained into new recruits via tutorials, videos and ‘Purple Promise stories’. This training is ongoing and the Purple Promise is referred to and embraced at all levels of management. FedEx is consistently rated at the top of the University of Michigan business school’s American Customer Satisfaction Index so it looks like it is working.

As the ability of consumers to access information increases, marketers would be wise to ensure that their pledges are truly ‘honest’ and ‘good’, and not just a veneer on the latest marketing campaign. Pledges need to be understood and embraced by the entire company and processes established to ensure they can be monitored and delivered. If a pledge needs to be broken, make sure there is a very good reason and it is well communicated.

Chris Noone is the co-founder of PromiseLocker.com

Encore Issue 26This story first appeared in the weekly edition of Encore available for iPad and Android tablets. Visit encore.com.au for a preview of the app or click below to download.



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