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.


How to evaluate the Super Bowl ads

February 8, 2010

Every year, during the day after the Super Bowl, there is a lot of chatter about the best and worst ads that debuted during the big game.  If you haven’t had a chance to catch up on the conversation, or if you somehow missed the game Sunday night, AdAge has all of the spots available for your viewing pleasure.  For me, I personally walked away from the TV with the overwhelming sense of having seen two types of dramatic executions over and over again:  violence and men in their underwear.

Despite these two themes, I did have a few favorite ads, however I won’t go so far to say what ads were ‘good’ or ‘bad’ in terms of their overall effectiveness.  I don’t really see how I could, given that I am not the target customer for every brand or product that advertised during the Super Bowl.  This is why I find the evaluation of the ads that takes place each year to be a little misleading.  Critics comment on and judge the ads based on what they found to be humorous, moving, or interesting.  However, since the ads are ultimately about persuading a target customer to buy or bond with a brand, isn’t it really only the target customer audience that can accurately evaluate the strength of any given ad?

With all of that said, for those of you who are still hungry to understand which ads were ‘good’ and which were ‘bad’ from this year’s Super Bowl, I present you with a few questions that you can use to help you decide for yourself.   Note as a support to my earlier point:  several of the key questions assume an understanding of and identification with the target customer.  Without this perspective and understanding, an evaluation just isn’t complete.

Questions for evaluating advertising:

  1. Is the story of the ad unique or different?
  2. Does the ad capture and keep the target customer’s attention?
  3. Does the story of the ad focus on the brand’s benefit?
  4. Is the ad meaningful to the target customer?
  5. Is the ad in line with the brand’s character?

So go ahead and think about the ads that you saw, for which you are a target customer.  Which ones were the best?


Top 10 Marketing Reading Recommendations 12/28-1/8

January 10, 2010

In case you’ve had trouble getting unburied from your emails, Google Reader, and other marketing reading from over the holiday, here are my suggestions for recent articles that you should be sure to check out.

  1. Brand Focus Leads to Power and Profits (Brand Strategy Insider).  An interesting and persuasive argument for limiting line extensions under a brand.  The post uses several examples to illustrate that brands that are highly focused have higher profit margins.
  2. Kraft Makes a Bet on At-Home Eating (Ad Age).  For any food marketers, this article is worth skimming to see where Kraft is making its bets for new products in 2010.
  3. Taco Bell Latest QSR To Promote Weight Loss Angle (MediaPost Marketing Daily).  Okay… I couldn’t help myself with this one.  Marketers are abuzz right now about Taco Bell’s latest campaign.  Subsequent articles to this one have shown that Taco Bell is taking a bit of hit with this campaign since it isn’t true to its brand core and character.  If you still aren’t sure what all the fuss is about, take a look.
  4. Is Copernicus or Aristotle Running Your Business (The Marketing Technology Blog).  A short post that has a few questions to ask yourself to make sure you are running a truly customer-centric business or brand.
  5. CSPI Charges Brands With Mislabeling in FDA Report (MediaPost Marketing Daily).  Another article for food marketers highlighting the increased attention and concern around misleading labeling claims.  My prediction: statements/claims on labels are only going to become more restricted.
  6. Tipping the Iceberg (MediaPost OMMA).  Northwestern professor Don Schultz has found that only ‘4 to 5 percent of customers account for a preponderance of a consumer product’s sales.’  Knowing this could have a significant impact on how marketers advertise and target media.
  7. ‘Imperfect’ FreshDirect Gets Close to Consumers (Ad Age).  Interesting interview of the CEO of FreshDirect highlighting that understanding its customers has been the key to FreshDirect’s success.
  8. 6 Tips for Treating Your Customers Like Friends (SmartBlog on Social Media).  Some great tips for activating your customers, using the famed Maker’s Mark Brand Ambassador program as an example.
  9. The Principles of Marketing Can Be Summarized in One Word (Ad Age).  Excellent column that is thought provoking and appropriate for all marketers to read.  You don’t want to skip this one.  I’ve already referenced it in a couple of meetings.
  10. A Campaign Linking Clean Clothes With Stylish Living (NY Times).  This article covers Tide’s new campaign that taps into the insight that ‘clean clothes are a mean to an end — expressing personal style — rather than the end itself.’  The article shows Tide’s focus in emphasizing a higher order benefit, that is more emotionally motivated, to help continue to build its category dominance.  It’s a good example of some strong marketing.

Marketing & Branding Mistake #4: Lack of Character

December 29, 2009

*A version of this post originally appeared on Kyle Lacy’s blog where I was invited to write a guest post.

If your brand were a celebrity, who would it be and why?

This is a question that is often used to define a brand’s character, which is a critical component of the overall identity of a brand.  Unfortunately, because it seems abstract, this type of question doesn’t get asked and answered enough.  As a result, many brands don’t have a real character.

Up until recently, many brands were able to grow without having a well-defined and compelling brand character.  As long as a brand provided a consistent set of meaningful, differentiated benefits to a target group of customers, it had a reasonable chance of being successful.  This was because the brand could control its messaging, as it consistently talked to its target customer.  It had its key messages, and it could stick to communicating these.

The communication framework between brands and customers is now very different.  Gone are the days of one way communication of a brand’s message to its customers.  A brand now must engage in a conversation with its customers to stay relevant to and be embraced by them.  A conversation means that a brand can’t just keep stating its key messages.  It has to respond to what customers are saying and asking, and sometimes the key messages just aren’t appropriate responses.

So in these cases, what is a brand supposed to say?  How will it know how to answer its customers’ questions and participate in unscripted dialogue?  This is where the brand’s character plays a critical role.  The brand’s character rounds out the brand into something more than just a set of benefits and key messages.  It gives the brand a life that enables it to talk with its customers without the key messages while still staying true and consistent to what the brand stands for.  It is more than just a tone that the brand uses.  It is truly the brand’s personality, defining its temperament, attitude and behaviors.  The brand’s character differentiates it from other brands with common benefits and it gives customers one more way to develop an affiliation and stronger relationship with the brand.  So while perhaps the brand character could have been an overlooked brand element in the past when differentiating benefits and messages were enough, it is now the critical component that supports conversations between a brand and its customers.  Without it, who are the customers really conversing with?

Can you identify the celebrity that personifies your brand?  If the answer doesn’t readily come to your mind (and isn’t matching what everyone else in your organization would say), perhaps you should take some time to more fully develop your brand’s character.  It will make the conversations between your brand and your customers far richer and more meaningful.


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.