TBA PicThis is a great time of year to renew your brand promise. Just like renewing vows in marriage, you recommit yourself to your brand promise. But unlike marriage vows, the promises are not yours. They’re the sum of your customers’ perceptions, expectations and beliefs about your brand.

Customers “own” your brand and your brand promise, not you, and certainly not your marketing and production people. And, customer perception may change from year to year. It may be based on historical performance or even what they perceive your brand doesn’t do. Since the customer is king, it’s good to check in at least once a year to make sure you are still living up to that royal expectation.

So before you renew your brand promise, take inventory. It essential that you discover what your customer thinks your brand promise is, not what you think it is. You may be surprised!

1. State of the Brand Promise. What is the current view your customers hold of your brand? Is it still relevant, or are their expectations changing because new brands in your category offer more and now they expect more from your brand? Has your marketing department strayed from the customers’ expectation by removing quality queues to “save money?” Has your production department simplified or standardized a brand that originally stood for its distinctive qualities? Have you introduced new products or services that are outside your customers’ expectation of the brand? Have you exceeded the “brand” width with too many options? Oh, and who’s going to give you the answers to all these questions? Your sales and customer service teams of course – the only people in your organization wh talk directly to the customer every day. So, ask, listen and take copious notes!

2. State of the Customer. Do you have the same customers this year as you did last year? Have they aged, become more educated, sophisticated, or budget-minded? Or do they have different needs now? Are they looking at the market in your category the same way as they did last year? Or have outside market forces like technology, new terminology, and repositioning changed their outlook? Is the market for your brand expanding or shrinking? How are you attracting new customers and is your brand giving them what they want? For every one person who takes the time to complain, a thousand others just choose another more relevant and dependable brand. So ask your customer service people what they’ve heard. They are not just “complaint resolution” anymore, but your very lifeline when it comes to relevancy!

3. State of the Distribution Channel. We continue to admonish brand builders, “They can’t buy it if it ain’t there!” and “Your brand is only as good as the product it represents!” If your customer expects your brand to be available and it’s suddenly out of stock, you’ve broken the brand promise –even if it wasn’t your fault. Customers will view your brand as “undependable” and “hard to get.” If your shelf price changes significantly, your brand will be blamed, not your distributor or the retailer. Make it your business to understand what has happened with your distribution system during the past year, in every territory and every outlet. Look up and down the line for fluctuations in price and availability.

Make getting answers to these questions the first order of business for the New Year. They will help you deliver on your brand promise and keep your brand fresh and relevant. Schedule a meeting now with your sales and customer service people. Prepare to have a great New Year!