What comes to mind when you think of Volvo? Most people posed with this question would answer, “Safety.” Safety is the definitive value on which the Volvo brand has hung its hat for decades. And it’s suited them well. Few brands are so readily associated with such a profound value proposition. But there’s something else about Volvo’s relationship to safety that has made it such an indispensible tenet for the brand.

A Brand Promise is More Than Just a Tagline

Safety has worked so well for Volvo because it’s more than just a tagline, it’s a promise. Safety is the brand promise that Volvo has made to its customers, a promise its customers know the brand will keep. Specifically, Volvo’s pledge is that its cars give you a better chance of surviving an accident than any other model. And time and again this is proven true. Even as advances in engineering and technology allowed other automotive manufacturers to close the gap in safety ratings, Volvo continues to amass impressive marks both domestically and abroad. Its consistency in delivering on its brand promise has allowed Volvo to take ownership over the concept of safety—even beyond the automotive industry. I could pose the opening question in reverse—which brand comes to mind when you think of “safety”?—and a considerable majority of consumers would answer, “Volvo.” Take a look at a few other notable brand promises that have come to define the company’s behind them:

  • FedEx: “When it absolutely, positively has to get there overnight.”
  • BMW: “The Ultimate Driving Machine”
  • Walmart: “Save money. Live better.”
  • Nike: “To bring inspiration and innovation to every athlete in the world.”

Your Brand Promise is a Commitment to Your Customer

The reason safety is such a strong brand promise is that it connects Volvo to its target audience in a succinct and compelling way. A good brand promise is the visceral link between your brand strategy and your customers. It’s great to have a brand strategy defined by artfully crafted messaging, but until you make a profound commitment to your customers, you haven’t made that final, most vital connection. This commitment is expressed in many forms — taglines, messaging, advertisements, social media, and beyond. It can be explicitly stated or subtly implied. An explicit brand promise is more immediate than an implicit one, but it’s important to keep in mind: the more explicit your promise, the higher the expectations that you will deliver on it.

The Qualities of a Strong Brand Promise

Whether explicit or implicit, the strength of any brand promise can be measured by the same set of qualities. A strong brand promise is:

Authentic

Customers know a genuine promise when they hear one. Your brand promise should be borne from your brand’s purpose, true to its values, and inspired by its mission and vision.

Compelling

Your brand promise must pledge something that the matters to your customer. It should solve your customer’s problem in an unexpected way.

Unique

For a brand promise to be effective, it must be distinct. It should reinforce your brand’s position by distinguishing you as the only provider of a uniquely effective solution.

Memorable

A good brand promise is something that stays with your customer. Something they will be reminded of when they encounter the unique problem your brand proposes to solve.

Believable

Customers must believe that your brand is capable of following through on its promise. One thing that lends to believability is measurability. If your brand’s delivery on its promise can somehow be measured in tangible results, it makes the promise more believable.

Clear

Your brand promise must be plainly articulated and easily understood. Even implicit brand promises should be well-defined and mutually understood by the company and its customers.

The Final, Most Important Part of Every Brand Promise

Accounting for the six essential qualities above will ensure that your brand promise is strong enough to serve as an agreement between your company and your customers. But there’s one final metric that every brand promise must meet for it to be truly effective. The most important measure of an effective brand promise is that it is kept—every time. A promise, as we all know, is only good if it is consistently delivered on. Brands who keep their promises strengthen both the promise itself and the customer loyalty it engenders.

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A prolific blogger, speaker, and columnist, Brian has more than a decade of experience in design and branding. He’s written for publications including Forbes, Huffington Post, and Brand Quarterly.