Roger Martin explains the evolution of the thinking behind the Promise ot the Customer white paper presented in Cannes. 

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Taken from the recent whitepaper, “Making a Promise to the Customer: How to give campaigns a competitive edge” by WARC, The B2B Institute at LinkedIn and Roger Martin.

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I have been helping companies build brands as an integral part of their strategies for four decades, from P&G to Thomson-Reuters to Lego to Verizon and many more.

Over time, some of the principles became clear. Make sure you focus on a memorable benefit. Create a compelling right-to-believe. But the results for the brand building companies were still too variable for my liking. Per the famous John Wanamaker quote, it seemed that too much advertising spending was still being wasted – or at least wasn’t producing obvious effectiveness.

What was missing? Over time I came to wonder about the relationship between the company and the customer – and actually I focused a lot of my thinking on the B2B customer because the relationship is typically so much more personal, often between a user in the customer company and a salesperson at the supplier. For there to be a brand, that user had to have a high level of trust. And that seemed to happen only over a considerable period of time; with lots of reps.

But I work on lots of things, and for a while, I didn’t advance my thinking on this front. I have found over my career that often I need an excuse to focus my attention on a given subject sufficiently to get to a point of clarity. Strategy work with P&G in the mid-1990s was the excuse that led to pushing my strategy thinking to the point that created the frameworks found in “Playing to Win”. A big design project with David Kelley, Patrick Whitney and Claudia Kotchka was the excuse that pushed my thinking on the intersection of strategy and design resulting in “The Design of Business”.

In this case, the excuse came in the form of Jann Schwarz who asked me to work with him at the LinkedIn B2B Institute. As we worked on B2B branding, which I have always believed is more similar to, than different from, B2C branding, we pushed the thinking on trust to promise. That customer trust is built through successive cycles of making and fulfilling a Promise to the Customer.

A brand is nothing more or less than a promise that is made and fulfilled consistently and repeatedly to the point that the customer has complete confidence it will be fulfilled the next time. But we had to test that hypothesis and that is where the next teammates came aboard. Mimi Turner from LinkedIn had started working with us on the journey and had the idea of testing the hypothesis with the good folks from WARC, who had the perfect database of campaigns for this work.

Thankfully, WARC was equally keen on the project and between their folks and Mimi, we were able to crunch the data and the results were even more extreme than I imagined.

It is no exaggeration to say that in the four decades I have been working on strategy and branding, this Promise to the Customer finding is the single most exciting discovery with which I have been involved.

Use it and prosper!

To find out more, see “Making a Promise to the Customer: How to give campaigns a competitive edge” by WARC, The B2B Institute at LinkedIn and Roger Martin.