Implicit versus explicit promises

There’s a slight change of plan for this week. I am still putting together more detailed analysis of the “Brands that I like” from last week, so that will now be on the agenda for my next blog.

I don’t like breaking a promise, but likewise I don’t like doing something halfway in order to keep the letter of a promise while trading on the spirit – so whenever possible I’d rather reset the attached expectation.

And that brings me perfectly to the topic of this week: Implicit versus explicit promises.

Starting with a quick definition from the Australian Oxford Dictionary:

  • Explicit: adj – stated in detail; leaving nothing merely implied.
  • Implicit: adj – implied though not plainly expressed; virtually contained (in).

So for the purposes of this blog – explicit promises are those where the promise is clearly stated in its own right and implicit promises are those that are implied and may be contained in other things.

Explicit promises are easy. They are the ones that we all see and recognise. “We will do X”, “We will give you Y”, etc. Note that easy to recognise doesn’t mean easy to keep. Any promise made in haste, or without thinking through the ripples can be as hard to keep as something not immediately presented as one in the first place.

Implicit promises are by nature harder. We often don’t recognise them as a promise until they are broken or run counter to the explicit one. They are often carelessly embedded in operations, policies, processes and the language used to describe them. Rarely do we think in a deliberate and conscious way about what those things are promising.

And to complicate the picture, often our implicit promises run counter to our explicit promises.

We’ve all seen this play out with explicit promise of helpful customer service, made a mockery by implicit promise of impossible to navigate call-in systems.

In the explicit promise of quality products, undermined by the implicit promise held in weak or no better than the other guy guarantees.

I am sure you can think of your own examples, maybe even in your own companies.

I talk about misalignment a lot. And the misalignment between explicit and implicit lies at the heart of many a failed organisation.

What’s all this got to do with brand?

Much of the focus of “branding” is on “creating” explicit promises. So don’t be seduced into trading that at the cost of clarity and alignment around your implicit promises – that’s where the true work of building your brand lives.

See you next week more about the brands that I like.

Michel is an independent Brand advocate dedicated to helping organisations make promises they can keep and keep the promises they make – with a strong, resilient organisation as the result. She also publishes a blog at You can follow Michel on Twitter @michelhogan.


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