Is your brand a broken guitar?

Is your brand a broken guitar?

This week’s reader question from my friend Richard Keeves is a doozy.

If brand is the result of the promises you keep, isn’t it also the result of the promises you don’t keep? For example, United Airlines breaks guitars. They didn’t promise to break a guitar. They probably promised to look after the luggage of their passengers. But all I ever think of when I think of United Airlines is that they break guitars. To me, this is their brand.

I love this question because it gets to the heart of how you can inadvertently destroy the brand you are trying to build.

Of course by virtue of brand being the result of promises you keep, it will also be subject to the ones you don’t keep, which in effect become the ones you do. This is why it is so important to be deliberate and conscious about the promises you make so you don’t end up accidentally breaking guitars.

Behind every promise should be a deep understanding of the capability and capacity of the organisation. A strong alignment with their purpose and values. And an ability to deliver consistently on whatever expectations are set and promises made.

To use the United example, I doubt United deliberately set out to break guitars. However, by not having rigorous discipline around handling luggage that was transferred down through the organisation from the top to the people on the tarmac, they left open the potential that the promise of getting you and your luggage there safely could be broken (and it was).

Let’s just imagine that instead United had built discipline around treating every piece of luggage as if it were your own, taking action when that didn’t happen, and adequately training people in the handling of luggage. Then they made the promise that your luggage would arrive safely. The likelihood that the broken guitar incident would have happened, or if it did that it would be handled so badly by others at United would be slim.

Keeping your promises is the end point of a chain that begins with your purpose. In between is a world of actions and decisions necessary so your brand doesn’t become a broken guitar.

And as an aside it’s worth noting that Dave Carroll, who owned the famous guitar hasn’t done too badly out of the whole thing – turning his guitar’s misfortune into a song that went viral, authored a book and now hits the speaking circuit talking about social media’s impact on customer service.

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Don’t miss the opportunity to get your brand questions answered by posting them on twitter @michelhogan or emailing me at [email protected].

See you next week with (your question here).

Michel is an independent brand analyst 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


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