Business Advice

Keeping your promises starts with how you make them

Michel Hogan /

Over the coming few weeks I’ll be writing about the least explored and often overlooked element of my brand equation — promises.

Michel Hogan brand equation

To kick things off, let’s start with the promise, “I’ll meet you at 9.00am for a coffee in the city”, which, judging by the number of times people are late for appointments, is more challenging to keep than people expect.

And that’s because to keep it I’ve got to make sure I have time on my plate to take the appointment. What trade am I making by using my time for the meeting? Then I need to make sure I get up to leave in time, set my alarm, think about the place we’re meeting — will it be better to drive or catch public transportation? I need to consider delayed trains or lousy traffic on the way, check I’ve got the person’s phone number with me and if I need to allow time to get petrol. And dozens of other things.

So if keeping my 9.00am appointment promise has such a litany of considerations, imagine what it will take to keep the more significant promises organisations make.

Let’s imagine using part of Patagonia’s mission statement as an example. The full statement is: “to build the best product, cause no unnecessary harm, use business to inspire and implement solutions to the environmental crisis”.

For my purpose today I’m focusing on the central promise to “cause no unnecessary harm.”

Right from the start, Patagonia take pains to note that harm is inevitable in what they do (make outdoor apparel). So by saying “cause no unnecessary harm” their promise is pragmatic, acknowledging the business they are in.

Hype or desire often overcomes good sense and renders a promise impossible to keep (which would be the case if they said: “cause no harm”).

To learn why you should avoid hype, click here.

Patagonia manufactures goods and transports them. Both activities that invariably cause some “harm”. Careful selection and monitoring of materials, locations and conditions of manufacturing are all considerations of the promise.

The company goes to some lengths to make those things they consider visible, understanding it’s not off the hook even though it involves third-parties. The bigger the promise, the more aspects of your operations you will need to consider if you want to keep it.

Patagonia also views its products as a critical part of the promise. What they are, how well they last, how they are used and reused. Recently it launched Worn Wear, encouraging people to repair their old gear or trade it in to be reused or recycled, earning points they can use for other purchases.

Patagonia is a robust illustration of how to think about your promises, and still, I’ve barely scratched the surface of all the things it looks at and considers as part of the promise to “cause no unnecessary harm”.

All organisations that make promises they keep, take time to think through the myriad of considerations before making them. Join their ranks and make yours deliberately and consciously. Think about them fully. The resulting brand will be one that people care about and come back to over and over again.

Over the coming weeks, I’ll be delving into the anatomy of a promise. What are the things you need to fully consider so the future you intend is the one your experience delivers? Check back next week for part one.

See you next week.

NOW READ: Three scenarios that show businesses should sweat the small stuff

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Michel Hogan

Michel Hogan is an independent brand thinker and adviser dedicated to helping you make promises you can keep and keep the promises you make — with a strong, resilient organisation and brand as the result. You can find Michel at michelhogan.com.

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