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.

 

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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.

 

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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.


Getting Started: 3 Inputs to Building a Brand Identity

September 3, 2010

In my most recent post, I kicked off a multi-post series on a step by step approach to building a brand identity.  The introductory post focused on why an organization might consider pursuing a process to build or revisit its brand identity and gave some examples of how this can be done.  This post focuses on the inputs to starting the brand identity development process.

Input #1:  People

Most brand development processes are officially kicked off with one or a series of face to face meetings.  The most important input into the process is the people who participate in these meetings.  All functional areas of the organization that have any influence on the brand should be represented.

For example, in a business, not only would the brand management/marketing team (including the market research team if applicable) be represented in the session, but product development/R&D, sales, customer service, and operations should also have representation, at the very least.  Any area that has an impact on how the brand experience is delivered to the target customers or any area that has regular contact with the target customers should be included.  For these reasons, many organizations also include outside agency and strategic alliance partners in their sessions.

For a not for profit organization, a selection of board members, volunteers, customer facing staff, strategic alliance partners and donors should be participants in the process.

There is no specific number of participants who should be involved in the process, however I prefer to work with groups ranging in size from 8 to 20 people.  Fewer than 8 can make brainstorming difficult.  More than 20 typically results in not everyone having an opportunity to share his/her perspectives in the session.

Input #2:  Customer Insights

While having the perspective of the people who influence the delivery of the brand experience is critical in a successful brand identity development process, it is actually more critical that the participants have an accurate understanding of the target customer.  After all, the American Marketing Association defines a brand as an “asset that resides in the mind of the target customer”.  For this reason, it is important to have individuals who are customer-facing to be participants in the process.  If possible, I also recommend that the organization conduct customer research in advance of the session and distribute its findings to all of the participants in advance so that everyone has some understanding of who the target customer is and his/her needs and perspectives.  For some organizations that regularly conduct research, this may just mean assembling and distributing recent research reports.  For others who do not have this information readily available, this might require fielding some quick surveys or hosting some interviews or focus groups with customers.  One of my previous posts provides some questions to consider including in such research.

Input #3:  Clear Objectives of the Process

As the people are identified to participate in the process and given the appropriate background on who the target customers are, they should also be given details on the specific objectives of the process.  More specifically, they should be briefed on the reasons why the organization has decided to focus on developing a brand identity, the specific objectives and goals it hopes to achieve as a result of developing a new brand identity, and how achieving these goals will impact each participant’s role in the organization.  Communicating all of this at the beginning, before the process officially starts is very important because without it, participants can easily be sidetracked from what they are supposed to accomplish once the process begins. A session can become derailed when the overarching objectives are not introduced and then reiterated clearly throughout the process from beginning to end.

As a quick side note on this topic, in some cases, it is not as simple as communicating the goals and objectives to all of the participants and assuming everyone is on board and aligned to them.  Some organizations have to go through an alignment process prior to beginning the brand development process so that the right objectives and goals are identified for the initiative.  This is fine — it is better to hash out and gain final alignment to the objectives prior to starting the session as opposed to discovering in the middle of the process that not everyone is clear as to what they are trying to accomplish.

These three inputs provide a great foundation to kicking off a successful brand identity development process.  The next step is to leverage these inputs and dive into developing each component of the brand.  Stay tuned for the next post that will discuss this in more detail.


Intro to a Step By Step Approach to Building a Brand Identity

August 10, 2010

In my most recent post, I mentioned that one of my most favorite facets of marketing is market research.  A very close second favorite to market research is building a brand identity — using the understanding an organization has about its target customers to craft a unique and meaningful brand and message.  I love bringing the two puzzle pieces of customer understanding and brand positioning together and making them fit.

This year, out of all of the organizations with which I have worked, I’ve had the pleasure of working with three different organizations (two non-profits and one large private company) to help the brand puzzles fit together.  I’ve done this by facilitating some in depth brand strategy sessions for each organization.  Each strategy session has looked a bit different from the others to meet the specific needs of each organization (for instance I’ve facilitated sessions that have lasted a half day, and a process that consisted of hour long meetings every two weeks for 6 months).  Despite these differences, the key topics and brand components that we have discussed are the same.

For all three brands, each one was well-established in its field, and the youngest brand was over ten years old. While each organization had specific challenges that caused it to revisit its brand identity, there were a few common challenges each faced:

  1. Each brand was struggling to be more relevant and top of mind with its target customers
  2. Within each organization, there was some confusion as to what the brand really stood for
  3. Each organization lacked the language to communicate what the brand was about and what it provided to its target customers (the Brand Promise)

The sessions that I facilitated for each organization resulted in resolving these challenges by analyzing and rebuilding their brands one component at a time.  This process, one in which all of the key internal stakeholders participated, led to the development of a new brand identity for each organization that was fully embraced.

Because I have gotten such great feedback from the organizations for whom I have facilitated this process, I thought it might be useful to document this process over the course of the next few posts — just in case anyone else might find this process helpful in solving an brand identity challenges that their organization faces.

With that in mind, this post is my introduction to the series:  A Step By Step Approach to Building a Brand Identity.  The subsequent posts in this series will cover the following topics:

  • Getting Started:  Assembling the right people and target customer research to leverage in the process
  • Establishing the Guidelines:  Aligning to the objectives of the process
  • Diving Into the Brand:  Building the brand essence, benefits, character, and reasons to believe
  • Pulling It All Together:  Developing the Brand Promise

I hope that you find this new series of posts to be interesting and helpful, and as always, if you have any questions or comments along the way, please let me know.  I’d love to hear from you.


The next best thing to customer market research…

July 28, 2010

Market research has always been my favorite part of marketing.  The idea of using research to uncover what is in the minds of your target customers — their beliefs, their needs, their ways of thinking — to create better products or stronger messages really excites me.  I’ve always viewed research as the key to solving a complex puzzle of customer needs and a brand’s benefits.

With this perspective, it is probably no surprise that I am often recommending to my clients that they conduct customer research when they are facing marketing challenges or decisions.  Research, when done well, will typically help them find the answers they are seeking.  Most of my clients agree with my recommendation, but budgets or timing tend to get in the way for some clients and prevent the research from taking place.

In those cases, I often help my clients search for the next best source of information and ask, “Well, what do the rest of your employees believe?  What does your employee research tell you?”  And, most of the time, I get a blank stare and a reply something along the lines of “I don’t know.  We’ve never asked them.”

In theory, this response surprises me.  It would seem so easy for organizations to leverage their employees to understand their perspectives on the organization’s brand, products/services, messages, and positioning since the employees work with customers and understand the business.  However, in practice, I can’t say that this is unexpected.  After many years working in marketing for a variety of companies, I don’t think I ever completed or fielded brand market research as an employee.  The fact that conducting employee market research is a rare practice should not imply that it isn’t valid or valuable.  For organizations that are unable to complete customer research to inform their marketing decisions, employee research is the next best option because it can be done very quickly, inexpensively, and it can provide real insights.

Two arguments for not conducting employee market research are:

  1. The employees are biased because they are so close to the business.
  2. The employees may not be honest in the research for fear that their comments will impact their jobs.

However, I believe that the biggest reason why organizations don’t conduct employee research is that they simply do not think of it.  As for the two arguments listed above, they can be address with the following:

  1. While employees do have a unique and perhaps biased perspective, those who deal with customers regularly most likely have a good understand of what customers are thinking and what they need.  This perspective is valuable to understand.
  2. Creating an anonymous or “safe” process to conduct research with employees so that they feel comfortable providing their thoughts does not have to be complex.  Anonymous surveys through online tools such as Zoomerang or SurveyMonkey or the use of external moderators are simple and budget friendly ways to ensure employees feel enabled to share their true thoughts and feelings.

With all of this in mind, I would even recommend that organizations that do conduct customer market research regularly also consider conducting employee research periodically.  The two pieces of research together will yield very powerful findings that will likely lead to better recommendations and decisions overall than if just one form of research was completed.

Employee research is certainly no perfect substitute for customer market research, but it nevertheless is a very important tool that organizations can easily and should employ to help them make better marketing decisions.  Especially in cases where an organization is deciding between employee research or no research at all, the organization should leverage employee research.  In the absence of customer market research, the cost of not leveraging the employees’ perspective will likely exceed the basic costs of conducting the in-house employee research.


A marketing analysis of LeBron’s decision

July 12, 2010

I feel that I should state up front that this post will be a bit different from the typical posts that I write for this blog.  Most of the time, I try to write posts that give some hints and tips to help marketers improve their brand management and marketing.  This post doesn’t follow this pattern.  Being an Akron, Ohio native, and a devoted Cleveland sports fan, I can’t help but comment on LeBron’s “decision” this week to leave the Cleveland Cavaliers after 7 years and join the Miami Heat.  I know that there have been many analyses, articles, and posts over the last four days regarding LeBron’s decision (and it seems most of these have not been in favor of the decision), but I would like to think that my perspectives on his decision will be a little bit different.  I am not going to analyze if his decision was a good one for his career in terms of his chances of winning a championship, ever being an MVP again, or being considered one of basketball’s greatest stars in the long run.  I know that there are a lot of opinions already published regarding these topics.  Instead, I’d like to offer my opinions on his decision from a marketing perspective, both for the LeBron James “brand” and for his many sponsors.  Given my ties to Cleveland, I’ll admit that my analysis isn’t entirely objective, so feel free to take it with a grain or two of salt.

For the LeBron James brand, I’m afraid that his decision to leave the Cavaliers and join the Miami Heat has significantly destroyed its value. Unfortunately for LeBron, I don’t think that he received much counsel in terms of protecting his personal brand while he was weighing his options (I wish I could have had a chance to talk with him about this!). The backlash against LeBron that has come from all areas of the country (not just Cleveland, Chicago, and New York), with the exception of Miami, has been staggering — and not just among sports fans.  It seems that the general sentiment towards LeBron and his decision is one of disgust.  I believe that there are two issues that have caused this reaction:

  1. People are angered that he didn’t stay loyal to his hometown team and that he chose to embarrass Cleveland so publicly on a special ESPN program.
  2. They are shocked that he did not choose to try to become a legend and win a championship on his own.  Instead, he chose to try to win one with the help of his “buddies” in South Beach.  Because of his choice to join forces with two other great players, his unique talent will no longer be center stage – it will be diluted as he becomes one of three key players on the Heat.

One week ago, LeBron was arguably one of the most loved and respected athletes in the U.S.  Today, he is mocked for his immaturity and despised.  This is such a sudden and dramatic shift in sentiment — and one that I do not think LeBron will be able to ever entirely overcome.  No matter how well he plays in the future, he will never have the brand power that he had before 9pm EST on June 8th, and I believe he significantly curtailed his future sponsorship opportunities as a result of his brand value destruction this past week.  I know that people are arguing that it is good that LeBron didn’t make his decisions based on money, but I wonder if he thought about how much he might be limiting his future earning potential for additional sponsorships, based on his decision to “take his talents to South Beach”.

With respect to LeBron’s existing sponsors like Nike and Coca-Cola (who owns Vitaminwater), I am very curious to know their overall reactions to LeBron’s decision is at this time.  If I were a brand manager for any of LeBron’s existing sponsors at the moment, I would be having emergency meetings with my advertising and PR partners to determine my strategy moving forward.  Given that the general public’s sentiment toward LeBron has completely reversed so quickly, I would be very extremely hesitant to continue or launch any significant campaigns featuring LeBron at this time.  Associating my brand with his devalued brand would not be something I would be focusing on.  I am very interested to see if LeBron is de-emphasized from his current sponsors’ campaigns and if, over time, these existing sponsorship deals are not renewed quietly.  I suppose only time will tell, but I have a hunch that there are a lot of LeBron’s sponsors out there who are not very happy with his decision or with the way he decided to announce it.

So those are my two cents on why LeBron’s decision might not have been the best one from a brand and sponsorship perspective.  Again, I admit that I might not be the most objective person to analyze the situation given my roots — so I’d love to hear your perspectives if you have any.  From a marketing perspective, do you think LeBron’s decision was a good one?


Does your marketing message have “getability”?

July 7, 2010

About two weeks ago, I read Rohit Bhargava’s post “How Hanes & Dyson Are Winning By Naming The Problems They Solve” and it really resonated with me.[1] The post highlights two brands that are doing an exceptionally good job of explaining (through naming) the problems that their products solve.  Bhargava comments that this practice helps these brands with their “getability” – or how easy it is for their consumers to understand the problems they solve without a lot of explanation.  Bhargava explains, “When your marketing has getability, it means that it is simple, clear, and memorable.”

I personally began to understand the importance of getability over the course of this past year when I started my strategic brand and marketing consultancy.  It took some time for me to determine how I could simply and clearly explain what it is that I do and the problems that I solve (brand strategy isn’t an easy concept to explain).  For me, part of my challenge in achieving getability was my message, but most of it was identifying and understanding who I really needed to “get” me.  For me, achieving getability relied on focusing on two very specific target customer segments (mid-sized companies with existing marketing departments or creative agencies offering brand strategy services).

Currently, I am working with two clients who are also experiencing challenges with the getability of their marketing.  In both cases, these clients have been able to build their businesses over time, but they realized that they had the untapped potential to grow so much more.  Through my analysis of their marketing and their customers, it became apparent that their biggest barrier to unlocking their growth potential has been the poor getability of their marketing messages.  For several years, both companies have been touting very technical, complicated benefits that the majority of their target customers simply did not understand and therefore could not value.  Neither of these companies effectively articulated the problems that they solved in a language that was simple and clear for their target customers to understand.  Their confusing marketing messages were significantly limiting their growth potential.

Because both of these companies had experienced some success, they did not realize that their marketing getability was an issue.  Their limited success masked a significant marketing message problem.  It was only when each company started talking with their current and potential customers about their experiences with the brand and their interpretation of the marketing messages that the lack of getability was uncovered.

Since the getability of their marketing was not an obvious challenge to either of these companies for so long, I thought it would be worth posing some questions to the rest of us as marketers:

  • Does your marketing have getability?  How do you know if it does or not?
  • Have you recently conducted research (or just asked your customers some pointed questions) to assess your message?
    • Have you conversed with trusted customers and partners to ensure you are explaining the problems that you solve in a meaningful and easy to understand way?
    • How do your customers describe the problems that you solve? Are you using their language to communicate what you do to solve their problems?

It doesn’t require a lengthy research project to answer these questions.  A series of informal interviews can quickly uncover the answers, which may be very surprising, as it was for my two clients.

As we all strive to grow our businesses and improve our marketing, I challenge each of us to really focus on the getability of our marketing messages. Ensuring that our marketing is getable should drive powerful results.


[1] If you don’t already subscribe to the Influential Marketing Blog, I highly recommend it.