The Risk of Making a Brand Promise You Can’t Keep

One of the great truths about delivering on a brand promise is that it is much easier said than done, and buyers have a right to expect that a brand will do what it claims it will do. Unfortunately, too many companies feel pressured to make bold claims about their brands to make their competitors seem less relevant, even though the claims are not entirely true or cannot always be delivered.

Any claim about your brand, especially those that are bold, will require you to have the resources and the culture to be able to deliver on your claims time and time again – no excuses. The reason is because as soon as a brand fails to deliver on what it claims, its credibility suffers and it soon becomes a brand that is untrustworthy. For example, if you manufacture gear drives that boast “maximum uptime” and yet they fail often, your claim of maximum uptime (your brand) will be on its way to becoming a mockery.

I was inspired to write about this topic because Cisco is now branding itself as the “global networking leader and technology visionary of tomorrow.” It’s bold. It’s courageous. It sets the bar at the maximum height because any company branding itself as a leader must be able to back it up with evidence of performance, and can never lag behind a competitor. It’s also a risky claim to make about their brand because the word “leader” is one that is overused by a lot of companies in just about every industry. Another issue with such a strong claim is that it must be defined. What does “leader” mean? What does it look like? How does Cisco lead exactly? What metric is being used to define “lead?” Innovation? Quality? Performance? User experience? Cost of ownership?

Cisco is a huge company with a strong reputation and brand. I have no doubt they will be able to deliver. However, there are also many other networking companies that are quite large with strong reputations and brands, such as Microsoft, Citrix, Google, Juniper, AT&T, Apple, Amazon, and others that are gaining a lot of traction in the networking space. In the heat of competition, you can expect that Cisco’s competitors will proudly explain how and why they lead, and how Cisco is, at best, only second best.

Can Cisco pull this new brand off? Time will tell, and so will twenty or more other companies preparing to battle for first place.