Developing a brand promise

November 10, 2010

For those of you who have been following my series on building a brand, this is the last post – developing the brand promise.  My most recent post covered the building blocks of a brand in great detail, and it is by using these components that an organization can build a brand promise.

The brand promise is the sentence or phrase that states the primary benefit that the brand provides to its target customers.  It is a “promise” to its target customers because the benefit is what the brand must deliver every time, at every touch point.  The brand promise explains the brand’s core essence, in a manner that is in alignment with the brand’s character.

In the brand development process, the brand promise is developed after the core essence, benefits, character, and reasons to believe are finalized.  The team that developed the brand components should also be responsible for crafting and word-smithing the brand promise.[1]

I often get asked if a brand promise is the same as a tagline.  A brand promise, in some cases, may be a tagline, but this is very rare.  A tagline is typically tied to a campaign that changes over time.  A brand promise, like a core essence, is timeless.  It should not change often, if at all, since the brand is built on the benefits that it consistently delivers.  Additionally, while a brand promise explains what the brand delivers to its target customers, it is rarely articulated to them.  Target customers most likely will never hear a brand’s exact brand promise.

The real audience of the brand promise is the internal stakeholders (employees, leaders, volunteers, etc.) of an organization.  The brand promise serves the purpose of aligning the organization so that everyone understands what benefits the brand should be delivering and how these benefits should be delivered.  It is the ultimate compass for an organization.  If everyone in an organization understands exactly what the brand has promised to deliver (its benefits) and in what way it will deliver its benefits (character and reasons to believe), the organization has a much better chance of consistently and clearly communicating and delivering its benefits to its target customer.

With this in mind, once the brand promise is carefully crafted, it must be effectively communicated throughout the organization.  Some organizations go through a significant internal brand launch to communicate the promise with a brand orientation and presentation.  Others communicate the brand promise by creating “brand books” and distribute them to all internal stakeholders.  These presentations and books tell the story of the brand, highlight each of the building blocks of the brand identity, and communicate and explain the brand promise.  It doesn’t really matter how the brand promise is communicated, the key is that it is clearly and consistently cascaded throughout the organization so that every internal stakeholder can understand, state, and explain the brand promise.  If every member of an organization can do this, the stronger the brand will be communicated and delivered to the target customer.



This post wraps up my series on a step by step approach to building a brand identity.  I hope that there are some ideas in this series that are helpful.  If you follow this approach for your own brand or organization, please let me know how the process goes!  I’d love to hear about it!

[1] Depending on the number of participants in the brand development process, it may make sense for a subset of participants to develop the brand promise together and then present it back to the rest of the participants.  Otherwise, the process of writing the promise can get tedious with too many writers.



The building blocks of the brand identity

October 11, 2010

It has now been several months since I kicked off my series of posts on building a brand identity.  I realize that those of you who read the first 2 posts might be wondering when this next post would arrive…It has been a bit delayed as a result of a new role that I have taken on in the last few weeks- motherhood.  My new boss (my 7 week old son) doesn’t give me much free time to work on posts these days, and so future posts might be a bit less frequent.

Since it has been quite a while since my last post, here is a quick recap of what I covered previously in this series.  The first post introduced the topic of why some organizations embark on the process of building a brand identity.  The next post focused on the key inputs to the process of successfully building a brand identity.  This post discusses the pieces of the brand identity that the development process should address.  These pieces, or building blocks, of the brand are the brand essence, benefits, character, and reasons to believe.  If an organization is going through a brand development process to build its brand identity, the participants of the process should brainstorm each of these pieces and then align to a final set that the organization will consistently use in the future.

Brand Essence: The brand’s essence is the word that the brand ultimately stands for/delivers in the minds of its target customers.  The essence should be stable over time.  Even as campaigns or positionings evolve, the core essence that the brand delivers should be consistent.  Brands that have strong core essences have one word that ‘pops’ into their target customer’s mind when they think of the brand.  For instance, many people think ‘safety’ when they think of Volvo.  People typically think ‘innovation’ when they think of 3M.  A strong brand has a clear essence that is demonstrated by all that the brand does for and communicates to its target customers.

Benefits: The brand’s benefits are either what the brand does for its target customers (these are functional benefits) or how it makes the target customers feel (emotional benefits).  Many brands have several benefits — some of them are functional and some of them are emotional.  For instance, Sure antiperspirant’s functional benefit is that it keeps you dry.  Its emotional benefit is that it makes you feel confident in yourself and not self conscious so that you can be your best.

Character: The brand’s character is the personality behind the brand. The character helps guide how the brand looks, feels, and gets communicated to its target customers.  For instance, Pepsi and Coca Cola — while they both are brands of dark cola beverages — are highly differentiated by their various brand characters.  They have very different personalities.  In the brand development process, a great exercise for getting to a brand’s character is to identify a celebrity who is a good representation of the brand (i.e. answering the question, if our brand was a person, who would it be?).  Once some celebrities are identified in the brand development process, key common characteristics/personality traits can be identified to help develop the brand character.  Personality characteristics (i.e. ways you would describe a person) are ultimately the types of words that you would be seeking in this exercise.

Reasons to Believe: A brand’s reasons to believe are the “facts” about the brand that support how a brand is able to deliver its benefits to its target customer.  These “facts” can be product related (design, formulations, features), people related (founder, endorsements), or experience related (proprietary information, research).  The reasons to believe further differentiate a brand from any others that might provide similar benefits.  Strong reasons to believe make a brand that much more compelling in its message of the benefits that it delivers.

The building blocks of the brand is one of the critical outcomes of the brand development process.  Once these are identified, the process is nearly complete.  The final stage of the development process is to use the building blocks to create a brand promise that can be communicated both internally throughout the organization as well as externally to target customers.  My next post will discuss developing a brand promise and cascading it consistently throughout the organization.