Keeping Your Promise Is Important

Ed Burghard“Magic trick: to make people disappear, ask them to fulfill their promises.”

Mason Cooley

If you make a promise, then keep it.  Everybody learns this as a child.  When promises are broken, your reputation is damaged.  You become less trustworthy.  And, as Stephen Covey says “One of the greatest losses we feel is broken trust.”

A Brand is a Promise

I define a place brand as “A promise. It sets an expectation of what a capital investor will experience if he/she selects your location to start, build or expand their business.” I identify 5 key conditions required for a successful place brand – 1) relevancy, 2) competitiveness, 3) authenticity, 4) clarity and 5) benefit focus.

In place branding, one of the most challenging aspects is ensuring the promise you make is consistently realized across a very complex delivery system.  That makes it imperative for you to understand the key touch points where current and potential capital investors experience your community [or place], and that you have purposeful initiatives to ensure the experience is consistent with your promise.

This is admittedly tough work and we don’t always get it right.  But, it is extremely important work and continually improving the delivery system so the promise is delivered more often than not should be a top priority.

I want to share the following story to illustrate the importance of ensuring alignment between the experience realized and the promise made for Brand America.  This is an article describing one man’s experience at Dulles International Airport.  Customs and Immigration are a high profile touch point for international travelers.  According to the Dulles International Airport website, in 2007 it is estimated that over 6 million passengers a year enter the United States through their facility.  A significant percent are foreign nationals, and many of those are business people.  This “security experience” has a huge impact on the perception of people visiting our country.  The key question is whether the experience is consistent with the promise of Brand America or not.

Security Experience Story

Let’s play ‘Guess where I am?’

By Tyler Brûlé

Published: September 17 2010 22:22

It’s been a while since we played Saturday morning quiz on this page so, in the spirit of back to school and sharpening one’s wits, let’s play a round of “Guess where I am?” I’ll start by giving you a clue.

I’ve just come off an airliner and it’s absolute pandemonium. There are gate agents screaming for transfer passengers, there are sniffer dogs, there are loads of immigration officers and there’s a general sense of disorganisation. My fellow passengers look bewildered and flustered after their eight-hour, 45-minute flight from Frankfurt, and there’s a lot of huffing and puffing as we’re divided up into groups of arriving passengers and “connectors”.

The holding pen where we’ve been told to wait is too small to accommodate a full jumbo-load of passengers and those of us at the front of this mass are scolded by security staff and told to move back until our bus arrives to take us to the main terminal. At the same moment, a special bus on stilts pulls up in front of us and, just as we’re about to board, a delegation from an obscure German state is ushered in front and boards the bus first. At first it looks like we’re going be able join the junior ministers in their socks and sandals and saggy French-fry style moustaches, but the doors abruptly close and the delegation rolls away across the tarmac to the distant terminal. Any guesses where I am yet? OK, here’s your second clue.

When our shuttle bus finally arrives, we all board a vehicle that has long benches down either side but no one wants to sit on them. It’s clear that many passengers know the drill, so they stand at the entrance, slowing the boarding process and ignoring the calls for them to move down the vehicle and take their seats. This causes considerable grumbling, and in the process a sweet German granny takes a tumble over a wheely-case and this gives way to a lecture about inconsiderate businessmen. When we finally pull away from the terminal, we pass aircraft from South African Airways, Scandinavian, Qatar Airways and Air France. Care to guess where this is? No? All right, here’s the final clue.

In the immigration hall there’s a corral for citizens of the country I’ve just arrived in and a much larger maze for everyone else. The citizens’ line has about 200 people waiting to be processed, while the other pen has more than 1,000 passengers waiting to be interrogated.I reluctantly join the latter queue and try to gauge how long it will take to reach the processing point. I study the scene for about five minutes and reckon I’m in for at least an hour’s wait. When passengers from a Jeddah flight are escorted to the front of the queue, I quickly revise my estimate to 90 minutes.

As the line inches along, I pass a screen showing that flights have just touched down from Copenhagen, Doha, Paris, London and Geneva. On the wall there’s an annoying poster full of smiling faces and a cacophony of typography welcoming us in various languages but – as most of us have now been in line for close to an hour and a half – no one’s feeling particularly welcome.

When I finally reach the front and am told what booth to stand in front of, I have to remind myself not to say anything smart as I’m likely to be thrown into detention and escorted back to my Lufthansa aircraft. OK, it’s time to make your guess. Where in the world am I?

You might think I’ve rocked up in some shambolic banana republic or poorly managed police state, but I’m actually at Washington DC’s Dulles Airport late on a Sunday afternoon. As I’m about to walk up to the booth for inspection, a voice booms over the public address system with an urgent bulletin – “Attention all officers, attention all officers, anyone who has not signed up for overtime today, I repeat, anyone who did not sign up for overtime can now leave their post”. In a flash a series of officers pack up their stamps and take their super-size slurpy cups and waddle off duty. The 1,000-plus people in line just stare in amazement.

As I approach the desk, I feel like giving the young gentleman a lecture about how bad this whole performance is for Brand USA – particularly on top of a whole week of television reports about the new fee that visitors will have to pay to get a visa and how these funds will be used to create a campaign to encourage more tourism to the US. I want to ask him if he (and his bosses not far away in the District of Columbia) think a 90-minute wait in a dumpy airport is any way to welcome the world and if his department is really that interested in having people visit the US.

I’m all ready to vent but I hold my tongue because I don’t want to be carted off to the naughty room (a place I know very well) and given the third degree because I’m a journalist travelling without a special visa (a requirement for all of my sort visiting the US). I smile at the officer. He nods and asks the purpose of my visit. I tell him I’m in town for a party. “Well, you’ve come to the right place,” he says. Clearly.

You can read the original article here.  I appreciate it is easy to discount the experience as a one off exception.  But, I think that would be a mistake.

My Experience

As a confirming example, I used to work in Toronto, Ontario and would periodically make the drive to Procter & Gamble headquarters in Cincinnati.  I would cross the border via the Ambassador Bridge to Interstate 75 South.  I remember always thinking that the image afforded by the blighted landscape in that particular section of Detroit was an unfortunate visual introduction for anybody visiting the United States for the first time.  In my opinion it did not reflect well on the promise of Brand America.  I haven’t traveled that route in a number of years, so I apologize to the community if it has undergone a renaissance since my last Toronto visit.

First impressions matter, and managing the Brand America experience across the myriad of touch points it is realized is certainly a difficult challenge.  But, it is also mission critical work.

Discussion

Please share your thoughts and stories highlighting important touch points for Brand America and the impact (positive or negative) the realized experience has on the perception of authenticity of Brand America’s promise.  To reprise Stephen Covey’s words – Where are we keeping and where are we breaking the trust in Brand America’s promise?

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5 Comments so far

  1. Rob Wolfe

    October 1, 2010

    An excellent point. I think ‘keeping the promise’ is critical for building and maintaining any (product) brand, but is often overlooked or or very difficult to manage for place/destination branding. With each resident, organization, publication, community, and entity being a touchpoint in the branding of a nation, the greatest challenge comes in consistently marketing the USA brand, both internally and to the rest of the world. Your Dulles airport story is a great example of how difficult keeping the promise of the brand can be in place branding. Thanks for sharing this.

  2. Tom Smith

    October 4, 2010

    I have two thoughts on your article:
    First, it seems that the brand promise of America is changing, from “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe fee….” to “We really don’t want you here”. America has changed and this experience at Dulles is very keen in telling us how America now views other countries and our visitors. Is this the brand we really want?

    Second, keeping the brand promise is exactly what is required to warrant the highly coveted customer review. In today’s commerce, buying decisions are based on customer reviews. Receive a low review and you will lose potential business, and conversely, a great review will go far and will ultimately help “win” future business. Keeping brand promises is definitely essential and it will distinguish your brand from others.

  3. Susan P.

    October 18, 2010

    Two members of my family have just spent 5 weeks in the U.S. traveling and one of them visits the U.S. at least once a year on business. They generally travel to San Fran and New York and have also used LAX fairly regularly.

    A couple of issues have consistently surprised them e.g. not being able to buy independent/individual sim cards, however, in the main, they have found service excellent. Certainly, yes, at times airports are chaotic but the anecdotal story hasn’t been their experience as such. (I was stunned at the overtime issues coming over the tannoy and people walking off!).

    Indeed, on this recent visit they went to New Orleans and had the most amazing airboat ride and the gent who took them was so knowledgeable and helpful that it really stood out and they were thrilled with elements like this that exceeded expectation.

    At the same time, one issue IS changing and to the detriment of brand America.

    Tips or bribes?

    I actually came across an excellent article about this yesterday, but, across say the last 3 years my family have always commented on the excellence of service in the past and being content to follow the tipping process.

    However, and perhaps as a result of the economic stress many have faced, all of a sudden tipping isn’t tipping, it’s becoming more and more a bribe to obtain basic service. THIS is something I recommend brand America looks at immediately.

    Consumers should NOT have to bribe staff to receive service. Period.

    And I recommend a drastic change to this and awareness raising because where people used to say…”Wow, the service I received in America was fabulous!”.. they will start saying… ‘What a rip-off…I had to pay all the time just to get service.” And this isn’t a small matter when international exchange rates often disservice international visitors to the U.S. For us, until very recently, it has been expensive enough without now needing to account for bribe money. That is too akin to – forgive me – third world ways of being to be allowed to become acceptable. And it’s certainly not about quality…it’s more about taking what you can get via negative means.

  4. […] A brand is a promise. It sets an expectation of an experience. It answers the question – What’s in it for me? To be effective, the promise must be relevant, competitive and authentic. […]

  5. […]   […]

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