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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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.


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.


9 Questions Every Brand Should Ask Its Customers Regularly

May 18, 2010

In my experience with organizations of various sizes and types, market research is most commonly used when the organization has a specific question to answer.  The specific question can vary significantly, but some of the more common ones deal with the appeal of a new product idea or the interest in a new positioning or in a new creative marketing message.

While it is absolutely correct to field research to help answer these specific questions, organizations would benefit from performing market research on a more regular, ongoing basis to answer some brand questions repeatedly, over time. This would help to monitor customer perceptions and behaviors consistently — not just when a specific marketing project question arises.  If organizations only complete research when they have specific initiative-based questions, they run the risks of missing shifts in customer perceptions of their brand, failing to spot new trends in how their product/service is being used, or even misdiagnosing who their customers really are.

I should note that many organizations do routinely field customer satisfaction or product/service performance surveys, and while these are very important, this isn’t the type of research to which I am referring.  I am suggesting that organizations also implement a program to regularly understand how customers are thinking about the brand, based on the collection of all of their experiences with the brand over time.

The implementation of ongoing brand research does not have to be complex or expensive.  Some organizations make a significant investment in brand tracking, and it becomes a major initiative. However, for most others, it can be as simple as fielding a few customer focus groups or interviews every six months or even distributing an online survey among their customer base regularly.  The method of research can vary depending on the size of the organization, its customer base, and the category/industry of the organization.  Most importantly this research should be done frequently (at the very least annually), consistently, the results should be reviewed and tracked over time, the organization must be willing to adapt its marketing strategies based on the results, and the questions should focus on the target customers and their brand perceptions.

With all of this in mind, for those of you interested in initiating a brand research program for your organization, I’ve developed a general list of questions for you to incorporate into your research among your target customers. Listening to how your customers respond and tracking how these responses change over time will unearth some significant opportunities for better understanding who your customers are and what motivates them, adjusting your marketing messages to your customers, and strengthening your brand in the minds of your customers.

Here is the list of 9 questions that every organization should consistently ask its customers about its brand:

  1. When you think of the brand (insert brand name here), what are the first words that come to mind?
  2. When and why did you first become a customer of the brand?
  3. Why do you continue to be a customer of the brand?
  4. Who do you consider to be competitors of the brand?
  5. How is the brand different from its competitors (in terms of being both better and worse)?
  6. How is the brand the same as its competitors?
  7. How can the customer experience of the brand be improved?
  8. Do you anticipate that you will be a customer of the brand in the future?
  9. If you were describing the brand to others, what would you say, and would you recommend it?

For those of you who already ask your target customers about their perceptions of your organization’s brand regularly, are their other general questions that you always ask?  Let me know!  I’d like to incorporate them into the list.


Defining brand and marketing strategy

April 20, 2010

This past week, I attended my local American Marketing Association chapter monthly event, and I was struck by a very simple explanation on how brand and marketing strategy fit together.  The explanation came from Tony Fannin, President of BE Branded.  I thought that Tony’s explanation would be worth repeating in this post, because I know that there are many smart and successful organizations that struggle with the difference between these two concepts.  This could be because traditionally trained marketers sometimes take understanding these concepts for granted and therefore do not always ensure that their audiences know exactly what they mean when they refer to either concept.  As a result, business leaders and managers who might not be as familiar with these concepts could find them to be vague, confusing, or even perhaps interchangeable.  So for any of you who might fall into one of these two camps and who may not be articulating how brand and marketing strategy fit together as eloquently, clearly, or succinctly as you might like, perhaps this explanation is worth a try:

The marketing strategy is the bridge between what the target customers believe and what the organization wants its brand to stand for.

Now to help give more clarity to this explanation, let me provide a few more details.  First of all, at its core, a brand is what your product/service/organization ultimately stands for or means in the minds of the target customers.  It is comprised of the feelings or perceptions that target customers have when they think of or experience a particular product or service.  Organizations typically want the brand to stand for something in particular in the minds of their target customers.  Meanwhile, the target customers may not have these exact perceptions and feelings in mind when they think of the product or service (unfortunately, this is the case most of the time).  The difference between what an organization wants its target customers to think and what the target customers actually think is a gap. Organizations can create and execute a marketing strategy to minimize the gap.  The marketing strategy is the set of planned actions that the organization undertakes to bring the two points closer together. Typically, these actions address one or more of the following:  the product (or service), the pricing, the placement (distribution or channels), and the promotion (including communication/messaging).  A well executed marketing strategy should help to move the perceptions of the target customers closer to what the organization envisions for the brand.  Additionally, it should also help organization’s idea for the brand become more attainable and believable to its target customers.

So what do you think?  Does this explanation help distinguish between the two concepts?   Let me know!  I’d love to hear if this is helpful or if you have other suggestions.