A (hopefully) non wanky guide to finding your brand promise

There are no shortage of wanky words and expressions in the marketer’s lexicon, and few sit higher and prouder on that list than “brand promise”. However, despite its wooly exterior, your brand promise is arguably the most permanent and concrete asset your organisation owns. That’s assuming you get it right, of course.

Your overall brand identity is a deeply complex system of words, values and symbols, which you can move around and prioritise (reposition) depending on who you are talking to. However, your brand promise, no matter how abstract it may sound, is the one thing that cannot be changed or compromised. As long as your brand exists, this is the thing that shapes it above all else. It is the word or phrase that should guide every major strategic decision. It is a promise that you cannot go back on.

Your goal, once you have identified your promise, is to “own” the space that it represents in the minds of the consumer. It should become absolutely synonymous with your brand.

Where does it come from?

Your brand promise comes from your research into the business, audience and broader market. It is the one thing that sits at the intersection of these three simple truths:
Your business has and will always be outstanding at doing it – your business must have a history for executing on this one thing. It must be built into the very DNA of your organisation.
Your audience attaches tremendous value to it – there’s no point being brilliant at something that nobody cares about. You must have evidence that customers are willing to pay for it (ideally at a premium) and that there is no reason to think that will change any time soon.
Your competition will never be as good as you at it – there is also little point at being brilliant at something that 5 other companies are also brilliant at. In particular, there mustn’t be a brand that “owns” that one thing in the mind of the consumer, as it may take years, not to mention millions of pounds, for you to convince the consumer they are wrong and should switch allegiance.

What do you do with it?

Identifying your brand promise in itself is of little value. The value comes from then building it into every major aspect of your business:

  • Client contact – each interaction you have with the customer demands that deliver on your promise, whether it’s in person, over the phone, via email or even just in the messages you communicate on your website and social media.
  • Recruitment – with every new hire you will either strengthen or weaken your brand promise. The question is does the new employee understand the brand essence, buy into it and, ultimately, embody it themselves?
  • Culture – how do your organisational values reinforce your brand promise? Is this brand essence evident in every meeting, in every email?
  • Strategy – each strategy decision will be influenced by thousands of competing factors. However, it is absolutely critical that none of them ever take precedence over your brand promise.

Some examples of successful brand promises

Coca-Cola – “To inspire moments of optimism and uplift.” – you will notice that this has absolutely nothing to do with Coca-Cola as a drink, and everything to do with Coca-Cola as a lifestyle. The truth is that their fizzy drinks are no better or worse than anyone else’s, but what Coca-Cola are committed to doing is using their considerable marketing budgets to make the world a little brighter.

BMW – “The Ultimate Driving Machine” – with a statement like this, BMW are promising to never cut corners. Whether in aesthetic, efficiency or performance, BMW is committed to be the best in class.

Apple – “Think different” – it was this brand essence that defined possibly the greatest corporate battle of the 90’s and 2000’s. While Microsoft focused on churning out products to the masses by being as cheap and open as possible, Steve jobs obsessed over every detail and kept the Apple system completely closed. Apple products have been defined not only by their beauty, but also by their innovative nature, with disruptive products such as iTunes, iPhones and iPads. The ultimate challenger brand, Apple encouraged their audience to “think different” and switch to a better alternative to Microsoft, and in doing so became the most valuable company in the world.

Fedex – “When it absolutely, positively has to be there overnight” – this could not be a clearer promise. Whatever the circumstances, Fedex will move heaven and earth to get your package to wherever it needs to be.

Fitness First – “Whatever you’re aiming for, we’ll help you go further” – this is as much a statement to their internal staff as it is to the consumer. If you’re a trainer or gym manager at Fitness First, then you know your first priority is ensuring your members have clear targets and the support required to achieve them.

Keys to a great brand promise:

Simplicity – a brand promise that includes 6 different things is meaningless. You must be laser focused on one thing.
Clarity – it must be clear what you’re actually promising. Toyota’s “Let’s go places” says remarkably little about what the customer can expect from the brand.
Differentiation – this brand promise is the basis of your entire differentiation. If it sounds at all generic or like it could be applied to another company in your market then you have a serious problem.
Intrigue – for it to cut through and have an impact (both on the internal culture and external perception) the promise needs to be interesting and memorable.This is particularly true if you intend for it to become a strap line.

Where to begin?

As already covered, your brand promise comes from understanding what it is that you do brilliantly, that is of huge value to your audience and you believe is largely neglected by your competition.

That’s one way of looking at it. Another way, is to ask WHY you do what you do. Not what. Now how. But why.

Very few companies can answer this question, but if you can then you’re immediately unlocking the very thing that makes you you. It’s your purpose. Your belief that led you to start the business in the first place.

I would keep explaining but you’re better off watching this short video from Simon Sinek…

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