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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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.


Why Should I Believe You? The case for Reasons to Believe.

April 5, 2010

A couple of weeks ago, I received my qualitative research moderator certification from the Burke Institute in Cincinnati.  The Burke Institute is a renowned market research education institution, and its qualitative research certification process includes participating in two week-long intensive (and not inexpensive) courses.

While I enjoyed the courses thoroughly, the primary reason I attended the courses was to be able to say that I am a certified focus group moderator.  Prior to attending the certification courses, I had quite a bit of experience moderating focus groups and using the results from focus groups to inform decisions for my brands, but I did not have very much “proof” of my skill sets outside of some client referrals.  I knew that if I wanted to augment the qualitative research part of my business, I needed to provide my prospective clients with some proof or a “reason to believe” that supported my claim that I could deliver objective and insightful research results.  The fact that I am now a certified qualitative research moderator provides my brand stronger credibility that I can deliver the benefits of well-executed qualitative research.

Just as having a set of compelling brand benefits and a brand character are critical components to a well-defined brand, having reasons for your target customers to believe that your brand can deliver its benefits is equally important.  Reasons to believe are facts that provide credibility to your brand as they explain how or why your brand delivers its benefits.  Therefore, every brand benefit should have a corresponding reason to believe to support it.  Additionally, as with all other brand building components, reasons to believe are strongest when they are relevant to the target customer in some way.  Here is where customer research and understanding continue to be a key input into the brand development process.

Aside from providing believability and authenticity to your brand, reasons to believe differentiate your brand from competitors.  Most brands that have similar benefits do not have the same reasons to believe, and even if they do share some proof points, the total package of reasons to believe for each brand is sure to be unique.

With all of this said, I find it intriguing that many organizations fail to focus on or communicate their reasons to believe to their target customers.  Many brands have strong supporting evidence of their benefits such as a dedicated history in the industry or an unmatched emphasis on quality, but they do not communicate it.  Other brands need to invest in creating proof to support their benefits such as utilizing spokespeople or attaining some form of accreditation/endorsement.  In either case, leaders of brands should spend some time thinking through their brand’s reasons to believe and how to effectively communicate them as emphasizing a brand’s reasons to believe will lead to a more credible and differentiated story for selling the brand’s benefits.


Marketing & Branding Mistake to Avoid #2: No well-defined brand vision

November 24, 2009

One of the first questions I ask organizations that I work with is “What is your brand’s vision?”  I ask this question because if the organization has a vision for its brand, then I can begin to understand where and how I can help them. Unfortunately, most of the time, I get a blank stare in response to my question, or something along the lines of “Well, we aren’t really sure.”

Not having a brand vision but trying to do marketing and brand building is like jumping into a car and driving to go somewhere without knowing what or where the destination is.  How do you know if you are headed in the right direction?  If you don’t know where you are going, how do you even know that a car can get you there?

Before an organization can start to tackle challenges like growing a brand with existing customers, extending a brand into new categories or driving awareness and interest with new customers, it needs to be clear on its long-term brand vision. The brand vision is the destination for the brand that the organization should be striving to reach.  As a result, a well-defined vision helps the organization narrow its focus to the critical objectives, strategies, and tactics that will ultimately help the organization achieve what it is trying to accomplish.  Additionally, when it is communicated, embraced, and reinforced in the organization, it is a valuable tool that aligns all of the brand stakeholders to working towards the same goals.

The components of a brand vision are in theory straightforward, but can be very challenging to formulate and assemble into a complete brand vision.  The components are:

  1. The brand’s core essence.  This is what the brand ultimately stands for or its ‘reason for being’
  2. The key functional and emotional benefits that the brand provides.  (For more detail on benefits, check out Marketing & Branding Mistake to Avoid #1: Communicating Features Instead of Benefits)
  3. What the brand will be known for in the future.  This is also where critical goals and metrics should be incorporated such as, “Brand X will be a Million Dollar brand by 2015”, or “Brand Y will be present in half of the households in the U.S. by 2020”.
  4. The brand character.  This is the personality of the brand.

The components are challenging to develop because ideally an organization should designate a group of internal brand stakeholders (a brand team) to devote a great deal of time, thought, and discussion to make the vision as strong as possible.  Typically organizations do not prioritize brand vision development for these reasons.  However, if an organization can devote resources to and prioritize the development of a vision, it will be in a much stronger, more productive, and successful position moving forward.  The resulting brand vision becomes a powerful guide post that aligns the organization, making the marketing decisions and challenges it faces much easier to navigate because the organization knows where it wants to go.


Common Marketing and Branding Mistakes to Avoid: #1 Communicating Features instead of Benefits

November 12, 2009

Introduction to New Series:  Common Marketing & Branding Mistakes to Avoid

One of the things that I enjoy most about being a marketing and branding consultant is helping others solve their marketing questions.  When I was working as a full-time marketer for other companies, I didn’t find many people outside of my place of employment asking me for marketing guidance.  As one would expect, now that I am a consultant, I am finding that I get asked a lot more questions and receive a lot more requests for help from a wide variety of businesses and not for profit organizations.

A lot of the questions that I answer or challenges that I help solve are ones that I think a lot of brands and businesses face.  As a result, I’ve decided to start a blog post series that addresses some of the mistakes or pitfalls that I am seeing, and I try to suggest ways that each can be avoided or corrected.  This post is the very first of the series.

Mistake #1  Communicating Features instead of Benefits

One very common, but critical problem that marketers can face is understanding the difference between a feature (also known as an attribute) and a benefit.  As a result, marketers can fall into the trap of promoting features to their target customer instead of benefits.  This is a big mistake that can ultimately impact a brand’s success. As Phil Kotler and Gary Armstrong, renowned marketing gurus, state in their book Principles of Marketing, “Consumers do not buy attributes, they buy benefits.”

So to help clear up this problem, let me distinguish the difference between a feature and a benefit.  A feature or attribute is a characteristic of a product or service.  Examples of features are:  high quality, durable, well-built, etc. Features don’t do things for the target customer or make him feel a certain way.  Features don’t fulfill a customer’s needs.

However, features can be translated into benefits that are meaningful to the target customer.  Benefits fulfill the target customer’s needs or desires.  Benefits are the reasons why a customer chooses a brand and buys a product or service. Examples of benefits are: ‘makes me look like I have good taste’ or ‘won’t break so that I won’t have to buy another soon’.  Benefits can be functional (what the product/service does for the target customer) or emotional (how the product/service makes the target customer feel).

The key to translating a product or service’s features into benefits is understanding the target customer’s needs.  By understanding these needs, a marketer can identify the relevant benefits that fulfill the needs.  The benefits are based on the product or service’s features/attributes.

So with all of that said, marketers should look at the messages that they are using to grow their brand and promote their products or services.  Are the messages communicating the benefits to the target customer?  Or are they really just communicating the features?  Benefits are much more meaningful and impactful than features, so if features are being communicated, the brand is not realizing its full potential.  Marketers can stop making this mistake by translating the features into benefits for their target customer.


New product assessment of Starbucks Via: 5 things to consider when launching a new product

October 1, 2009

Over the past couple of days, there has been a lot of buzz surrounding the new product launch from Starbucks known as Via Ready Brew (instant coffee).  Much of the buzz is being generated by Starbucks itself, but there is also a lot of chatter coming from people (customers, analysts, competitors, marketers, etc.), and many of them are questioning Starbuck’s rationale for launching the product.

Since I am a passionate brand supporter and former Starbucks marketing manager, I thought that this well loved brand and highly publicized launch would be a great example to illustrate some key questions marketers should consider when they are thinking about a new product introduction.  Below is my checklist of questions that any marketer can use when considering a new product or service launch, applied to Starbucks Via.

New product idea assessment checklist

  1. Does the product meet an unmet need? In my experience with product launches, this is the most fundamental question to consider.  New products that address and fulfill an otherwise unmet need for their target customer have a great chance of bringing more customers into the category and revolutionizing the category’s segmentation.  In Starbucks’ case, it claims that Via is meeting two needs:  portability & value.  I have to admit I am not sure that both of these really are significant unmet needs of their customer targets.  I am assuming that Starbucks has two target customers for this product:  existing Starbucks customers and ‘instant’ coffee drinkers.   With that in mind, from my previous experience working in the coffee category, I don’t recall ‘portability’ of coffee being something with which customers struggled (in fact they generally seemed to think Starbucks had become ubiquitous).  As for value, there probably is a need for a more ‘value priced’ coffee that is still high quality. My biggest concern with this, however, is that Via costs about $1 per serving.  This still seems a bit pricey for a cup of coffee to be considered a real value offering, especially among current instant coffee drinkers.
  2. Is the unmet need large enough to sustain the new product? Sometimes, even when a product does a great job of meeting an unmet need, the market size of the need is too small to really pursue.  At Campbell Soup, we used to joke that if we were considering a product launch that would perfectly meet the needs of campers, then the product shouldn’t move forward (because the market was too small to support the investment that a company the size of Campbell would make to launch the product).  With that in mind, I couldn’t help but cringe when I read that Starbucks was selling Via in REI.  Aside from that, my other concern for Starbucks is the size of the need for premium but good value instant coffee.  I am sure there are people who would really like this, but I am concerned about how many of them are out there who will become sustained customers.
  3. How differentiated is the new product from alternatives? For many unmet needs, a lot of customers find alternatives or ‘work arounds’ to try to fulfill what they are lacking.  A new product that is truly differentiated from and performs better than these alternatives has a tremendous chance for success.  This is one of the areas where Via is strong.  It is truly differentiated from every other coffee ‘solution’ out there.  It definitely provides a unique set of benefits.
  4. How much incremental sales will the new product generate? This question is always a hard one to estimate, and it often is the one that stops new products from getting to market.  New products can often make existing products obsolete, or at least considerably cannibalize existing sales if the new products do not appeal to a wider set of customers overall.  This is the issue I am most concerned about for Via.  Because it is a good value alternative to Starbucks coffee, and because it is being sold to customers who have already made the decision to go into a Starbucks store, it could significantly cannibalize the sales of both the beans and the beverages in the store.  To try to counteract this, I would suggest that Starbucks not target its existing customer base by selling Via in its store, but focus more on appealing to the instant coffee drinkers and focus distribution only in grocery stores and other retail venues where Via will not compete ‘head to head’ with Starbucks’ existing products.
  5. Do the product’s benefits fit with the core essence of the brand? This question is critical to ensure that the product continues to be brand building with its customers.  If the new product doesn’t fit with the brand’s core essence (what the brand ultimately stands for), this will hurt both the new product and the existing brand by confusing (or perhaps even disappointing) customers.  In Starbucks’ case, the core essence is about providing an excellent coffee experience.  Via’s benefits fit with this core essence, and so the launch of Via makes sense from this standpoint.

Based on this quick assessment of Starbucks Via against these questions, it appears that the new product has some key strengths, but its prospects aren’t entirely clear.  There are a few things that Starbucks might consider changing to increase its chances of success such as pricing the product at an even greater value to really make the benefit more meaningful and selling the product only in grocery and other retail channels (not its own stores).  Of course, the launch of successful new products is as much an art as it is a science, and so despite some weaknesses, the product may be a home run.

Hopefully these questions spark some thoughts for those of you who are currently considering new product ideas.  This list isn’t exhaustive, but it gives some good  ones to consider.   Are there others you might also add to this list?  Let me know and also how Starbucks Via would stack up against them.


Q. Why isn’t anyone buying? A. Check the value (Part 2)

May 21, 2009

Last week, I started to address a two-post topic about first checking the value proposition of a product or service when no one is buying.  Generally, people are motivated to buy when they will capture value from a product or service.

VALUE = Consumer Perceived Benefits – Consumer Perceived Costs

I used the case of nohome.org to illustrate some factors that should be considered when trying to increase the consumer perceived benefits of the value proposition.  In this post, I will continue to use nohome.org as my case study to address the second part of value:  the consumer perceived costs.

The case of nohome.org:

Jerome Greene is the CEO of nohome.org, a service that offers ‘humanitarian web hosting’.  For every dollar earned, one dollar will be used to build homes for refugees entering Indiana each year.  nohome.org offers 3 plans, the lowest starting at $19.95 per month.  A week ago, Jerome asked the question:  Why isn’t anyone buying?

Part 2 of the analysis:

To help Jerome and nohome.org minimize the consumer perceived costs, I asked a couple more questions.

Question 1:  How does the price of $19.95 per month compare to the best web hosting alternatives out there?

I will be the first to admit that I don’t have a lot of experience with web hosting services, but in doing a quick search of other offerings, it seems that there are lower priced alternatives available.  These alternatives do not offer the humanitarian benefit that nohome.org provides, but they do set a reference point for consumers for web hosting without humanitarian benefits.  This reference point is important because it impacts the consumer perceived price.  With a little subtraction, consumers can figure out what nohome.org is suggesting the value of the added humanitarian benefit is.  If they don’t agree with this suggested value, then there is a problem.  Either the price is too high, or they don’t fully understand the added benefit.  Lowering price is always an action of last resort, so I suggest Jerome first revisit how he can amplify his benefit.  Alternatively, he might consider suggesting to consumers a different alternative that they use for their reference point.  I used godaddy.com as my reference point — but maybe that was not the right one.  Perhaps Jerome could tell consumers, “Compare nohome.org to XYZ” and suggest an alternative that will be a better reference point and lower the perceived price of nohome.org.

Before I move off this question, I would like to add that the issue of reference points might be a larger factor in the consumer perceived cost today than it was a few years ago.  It is my hypothesis that in the tough economic climate, consumers are making an extra effort to search for alternatives to find the best value, and so they have more reference points.  This may be further impacting the perceived price of nohome.org.  It might also be impacting how much a humanitarian benefit is worth to consumers.  So a price of $19.95 for services from nohome.org might have been acceptable for consumers three years ago, but it might not be at this point in time.

Question 2:  Is there a way to further minimize the risk cost of buying from nohome.org?

Perceived price is only one component to the total perceived cost to consumers.  The others are risk cost, transaction cost (cost to consumers of transacting), and production cost (the cost to consumers of producing the benefits).  I assume that the production and transaction costs for nohome.org are low (but Jerome should verify this).  However, I do think that the risk cost could be high.  If nohome.org is a relatively new brand and service, consumers might be questioning its reliability and performance.  This means that nohome.org might appear to be a riskier choice, and therefore have higher consumer perceived costs.  Jerome should try to find ways to increase nohome.org’s credibility to reduce risk.  He might consider doing this by posting a list of his current clients on his website.  He could include their testimonials.  He might also find a spokesperson or endorser.  Anything he can do to increase consumer confidence in his service and reduce risk will increase his overall value proposition.

In conclusion…

The question of “Why isn’t anyone buying” is a critical question that many of us have faced.  I don’t want to present this two-part blog as the complete answer as to how to fix this problem.  My goal with this series of posts is only to help identify some of the factors that might be contributing to the problem.  Think of these questions as seeds to help the value proposition grow as big as it can be.  If anyone has any other suggestions of factors to consider when it comes to the value proposition, please submit a comment!  I would love to hear it.