Broken Brand Promises: Three Lessons about Turning Mistakes into Opportunities

Broken Brand Promises: Three Lessons about Turning Mistakes into Opportunities

It’s a brand manager’s worst nightmare. You wake up in the morning to find your brand unexpectedly in the headlines or trending on social media – probably not good news. Unfortunately, there are plenty of examples we can point to, from the Wells Fargo fake account controversy, Chipotle’s food safety scares, or Samsung’s recall of their Galaxy Note 7 phone.  Although painful, brands can learn a great deal from the experience of breaking their brand promise with consumers. By taking the right steps, your brand can emerge stronger than ever. Here are three lessons all brands can learn from others’ missteps.

Lesson One: Avoid the Avoidable

More often than not, headline-grabbing examples of a broken brand promise are completely avoidable. Take, for example, the high-profile confrontation between United Airlines and a Kentucky doctor due to an overbooked flight.  Overbooked flights are nothing new and all airlines have procedures in place on how to handle these circumstances. However, there was a clear disconnect between United Airlines’ stated brand promise, to “fly the friendly skies,” and how their flight staff chose to deal with the situation, by enlisting airport security to physically remove the passenger, which resulted in causing him bodily harm.

An essential element of delivering on your company’s brand promise is ensuring that it’s understood by all employees, which includes monitoring employee awareness of the brand promise and training them how to bring it to life each day. Perhaps United Airlines needed to be more proactive in training their staff on how to handle difficult overbooking situations while still empowering them to live up to the “friendly skies” promise. The recent incident may not have escalated to the point where airport security officers actually dragged the passenger from the plane, if United Airlines employees had been better equipped to handle difficult customer service issues like this one. Instead, millions of people witnessed this via social media, turning it into national news, leading to a costly legal settlement and serious damage to their brand reputation – all potentially avoidable outcomes.

Lesson Two: When Life Gives You Lemons, Make Lemonade

Responding to the PR disaster of a broken brand promise going viral can be a key brand-building opportunity. How you respond not only gives you a chance to repair and regain consumer trust, it showcases your brand promise.

In 2009, Domino’s Pizza was facing lackluster sales.  Although the brand was a leader in terms of fast delivery, according to a national research survey, consumers ranked the pizza’s taste in last place, tied with Chuck E. Cheese.  In their case, Domino’s stated brand promise to deliver pizza “in 30 minutes or less” was being honored, but it had become a promise that was no longer as meaningful to consumers.  Quick delivery was important, but providing great tasting pizza needed to be part of the equation.

The brand reacted in a bold way.  They conducted quantitative consumer research that specifically identified what consumers disliked about their pizza’s product quality. Next, the company revamped their recipes and introduced a new menu in late 2009.  A 2010 marketing campaign positioned the brand as honest and forthright.  They openly acknowledged their quality shortcomings, announced their new recipes, and asked consumers to try their pizza with a promise to deliver on high-quality ingredients and better taste.

These actions paid off in a big way.  Same-store sales posted a record 14.3% increase in Q1 2010 over Q1 2009. Today, Domino’s market share is second only to Pizza Hut’s and is predicted to overtake the category leader by the end of 2017.  By listening to their consumers and galvanizing their employees and franchise owners to make major changes, Domino’s was able to turn a lagging brand back into a category leader.

Lesson Three: Stay Ahead of the Curve

Not all companies have the resources of a Domino’s to execute a product quality overhaul and national ad campaign. In the best case scenario, staying ahead of the curve by proactively monitoring your brand’s customer experience (CX) and employee engagement will help ensure your brand promise is meaningful, relevant, and being delivered on a continuous basis.  Here are three key ways to make that happen:

  • Invite Customer Co-Creation: Treat your customers as partners in creating your brand. Conduct research to continually understand their evolving perceptions of your brand and products.
  • Create a 360° Feedback Loop: Gather data from multiple sources to gain a holistic understanding of your customers’ experience. Solicit feedback from front line employees. Conduct formal CX research along with keeping your ear to the ground with social media listening.  Then provide timely insights to brand managers giving them the intelligence they need to make sound business decisions.
  • Foster a CX-Centric Culture. It may sound obvious, but creating a CX-centric culture is critical to building a long-lasting sustainable brand. Share your knowledge about your customers’ needs, perceptions, and experiences throughout your organization. Train and empower employees to keep your brand promise at the center of all they do.  Demonstrate your commitment to CX through both internal and external communications.

You spend great effort in building and nurturing your brand. Fostering a strong brand promise takes time, damaging one can happen overnight.  If and when that happens, remember to put the customer first in all you do, including regularly listening to and learning from their brand experiences. In that way, you’ll be ready to minimize damage and emerge even stronger than before.


Three Things All Strong Brands Have in Common