Does your brand live up to its underlying promise?

Consumers are no longer willing to settle for vague brand promises. Now it's up to marketers to be more precise and concrete about the connections between their products and the happiness of the customer

Every good brand promises to make its customers happy. Perhaps it speaks of being calm or successful, popular or energetic, environmental or luxurious – whatever it may be, in some way it’s pointing us to how we might improve our lives and reach a higher level of fulfilment.

Traditionally, brands have left the precise connection between their products and services and their promises of happiness a little vague. They don’t spell out exactly how or why breakfast cereal might render family life more harmonious or what the relationship between a 4x4 and adventure truly is.

Nowadays, though, consumers have grown more psychologically minded than ever before. They want to purchase, but are also readier to ask big questions about the good life. They want to know how to achieve calm, what the foundations of a good relationship might be or what kind of success is worth striving for.

The business of good ideas

The School of Life is an organisation devoted to fulfilment. Through the use of philosophy and psychology, we look at how human beings tick - and try to find answers to the big questions with the help of insights from the history of culture. We’re made up of a top-level faculty of philoso­phers, psychologists, thinkers and thought-leaders and are in the business of giving people good ideas about improving their quality of life: from coping with anxiety to managing relationships to getting a better handle on their work.

For several years, we’ve been working with brands to tighten the connections they make between fulfilment and the products and services they offer – helping to turn vague promises into some­thing more concrete and usable, charming and engaging. In this way, we help brands to make interventions that deepen customer engagement. It might be that we produce a book or a brochure, a film or an object, but the goal is always the same: to tease out the genuinely helpful aspect of a given brand and help a consumer live more intensely and wisely alongside it.

We’ve been working with brands to turn their vague promises into something more usable, charming and engaging

In some cases, that means providing tangible evidence of the brand promise. US chain Morgans Hotel Group provides beauti­ful, stylish rooms that promise calm and the deepest sorts of relaxation. But as we spent time studying its brand promise, we realised that it wasn’t directly tackling some of the reasons why people are beset by anxiety and stress when they check in to one of its properties. That led, over a period of months, to the development of an exciting product – what we termed ‘a minibar for the mind,’ a box to go in every one of their rooms that contained practical advice about calm, relaxation and mindfulness. It was a small gesture, but it helped to spell out the brand promise – and attracted a raft of attention from media around the world.

Dig deeper

In other cases, it’s about digging deeper; uncover­ing the underlying message behind a brand’s offering. We recently worked with Vestra Wealth, a wealth-management firm, to help reveal, in a novel way, the promise that there is more to wealth management than just investment. Although the company has strong investment capabilities, we realised that the ultimate promise it was making was about trying to help clients to live well with money. To sharpen this proposition, we put together ‘A Portfolio of Thoughts’, a collection of books for clients on such themes as legacy, value, trust and family. In a competitive field, we’ve given the company a vital tool to deepen the bond between manager and client.

Other brands must necessarily deal with bigger issues – and should tackle them head-on. We’ve worked with The Co-operative Legal Services, which provides practical services people need when someone gets married, has died or is looking to structure a will. We recognised that this places the brand at the heart of some huge questi­ons that deserve greater attention. That’s why we created films and articles for it that look at things like how to have a ‘good death’, dealing with injury and how to have a happier divorce. The tone was alternately funny, wise and true – and, again, helped to bring a lot of the best sort of attention to the brand.

Most brands do a fantastic job at creating an atmosphere around their products, but for a section of consumers, there’s a need to go a little further and offer thought-provoking material that will lead to a deeper, more long-term relationship with the brand.

We will talk more about our approach to business, and what it could do for you, at our conference, Business Wise, Meaning, Culture and Value, at the Southbank Centre in London on 4 June.

For more information, please visit: Business Wise or call us on 020 7278 7826.


Alain de Botton, Founder and chairman of The School of Life