Expectations. That’s really what it’s all about. As consumers, as people, as humans on this Earth, we have expectations about everything and anything. We live in a world where brands continue to surprise and delight us, thus continuing to raise the bar, thus raising our expectations. Think Zappos, “powered by service.” The first company to stake their brand promise on service. No one had ever done free shipping and free returns. They trained us to expect it and now, when we shop at any other retailer, we expect the same service, the same perks, the same next day delivery. It forced other online retailers to have to find a way to meet this new customer demand and meet these rising expectations or lose business to Zappos. Zappos continues to surprise and delight, free shipping and free returns paved the way as the new norm and consumers everywhere are happy. They crafted their brand promise, continue to deliver on it and all is good in the world.

But what happens when your brand promise stops delivering?

Let’s talk about JetBlue, a brand that has sadly lost the plot. There is that fine line we marketers need to know between what is aspirational and what is reality. Brands should feel aspirational. You should aspire to buy them, use them, benefit from them, take them into your home, make them part of who you are. Simple words in a tagline tell the world – hey, this is what we’re going to do for you. This is how we are going to delight and surprise you. This is why we exist. For Jetblue, that tagline is: “You above all.” You can just see it, can’t you? A bunch of agency guys huddled around a hip conference room table in a war room brainstorming clever taglines to differentiate yet another airline. In a commodity business like airline travel, all the little things you do to make it different and better for customers are what stand out and will make people chose to fly with you versus someone else. So these agency guys come up with a great tagline for the business – You above all. The marketer in me loves this. Brilliant play on words, short and sweet, says how they are different, shows they put the customer first. Then, the consumer in me starts to believe this promise. It is ME above all. And, I am feeling really good about this. I have been a JetBlue fan for many years and it has always been my airline of choice. Back when personal seat-back TVs were the big buzz, they had it. Great on-board food options, they had it. No checked bag fees, they didn’t do it. Simple, customer-focused airline travel, they did it the best. Mosiac, I earned it. Boom.

Then, things started to change. Last year, they launched this Even More Space/Speed program and things started to unravel. You can read my letter to the CEO of JetBlue here, which was sadly responded to not by him, as I would have expected, but by some service person who really didn’t care and just credited me back for the flight. My rant wasn’t about the money. It was about the point. Trying to help the CEO see that his brand had lost it’s way. But, instead it just confirmed what I suspected. They have lost their passion for making airline travel all about ME. They have made it all about the profits and the process and it’s now not about me at all. Actually, I am not part of their brand anymore. I don’t feel the love and the loyalty I once did. They are not my first choice any more and I’m not sure how they can earn that back.

My point here, friends, is that when you tell a customer what you stand for, you must commit to making it reality. Every day, through all you do, through every interaction. No matter what. A brand is just a bunch of meaningless words unless it stands for something important AND builds an emotional connection with people.The emotional connection you build with your customer is about authenticity, trust, loyalty, value and, the holy grail of brand love. As you kick-off 2015, take the time to look at your tag lines, positioning statements, copy decks and brand guides. Is your entire company committed to fulfilling these statements and promises every day through everything they do? If not, it’s time to question what your company stands for. It’s okay to pivot. Pivots happen all the time and brands need to live and evolve.

Here are the Top 5 ways to make sure your brand promise delivers:

1. Be clear about what your brand stands for and why – Does your brand clearly articulate your Big Idea? It’s about the WHY not the what. To learn more, read this: http://www.slideshare.net/michelleaheath/defining-your-brands-big-idea-wheres-the-beef

2. Build an ongoing conversation and emotional connection with your customers – Conversation is the holy grail of engagement. The emotional connection you build with your customers is the foundation of that conversation. It is about knowing why your customers buy your product and building that goodness into your conversations with them. It is a game-changer for your campaigns and marketing tactics and, when done right, leads to brand love.

3. Use human-speak, not buzz words – You lost me at “big data, cross-platform, 1st party,” it’s too confusing for people looking quickly at your app or website. They want to know what are you going to DO for them. Skip the jargon and focus on the value to the customer.

4. Review & update your positioning, tag lines, copy decks and brand guides – I can’t stress this enough. I watch way too many companies build a brand and shelve it because it is “done.” It’s never done, my friends. Your brand needs to evolve and change as your business does. As your customers and prospects change, as your market changes. Your marketing team needs to own the evolution of your brand and starting 2015 with updating your messaging and positioning to reflect where you are in the market is an activity that will drive revenue for the company. Trust me.

5. Be honest about what you’re committing to delivering – Don’t pull a JetBlue. Know why you are doing what you do and how you want that to manifest itself for your customers. Be honest with yourself, your employees and your customers with what you can deliver. Big bold statements are awesome but when you can’t deliver on them, they fall flat and can crush your business and employee morale. Know what you can commit to delivering and then do it.

Here’s to a prosperous 2015 and to building your brand to deliver on your promises.

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