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How to Develop a Brand Promise

02.18.2011 / Posted in Articles, Branding

Note: This is the second article in a series on brand strategy from FrogDog. To read the first article, click here.

So a company’s brand is a promise—it’s what the company promises to the people who interact with it. And companies that deliver on their brand promises create real brand value.

Then how does a company create a brand promise in the first place?

Making the Brand Promise

The questions a company must ask to create a brand promise sound short and sweet, but effectively answering them requires intense and lengthy discussion about what the company means on the deepest level: how it does what it does, what the feel of working with the company is, and what kind of character the company has.

Specifically, a company needs to answer these four questions to begin developing a brand promise:

  1. What is the value proposition of the company to its constituents?
  2. What are the points of parity and differentiation between the company and its competition?
  3. What are the attributes (the values/beliefs) of the company’s brand?
  4. What, then, is the company’s brand promise?

Big, hairy, scary questions. But exciting questions, too. Let’s look at each in more detail.

The Company’s Value Proposition

Established companies developing brand promises should think about the company’s history and reputation in developing a value proposition for their brand. New companies should consider what they’d like the history and reputation of the company to be.

In considering the company’s value proposition, companies should not fall into describing what the organization does. Instead, they need to consider the benefits they provide, preferably from the viewpoint of the stakeholders. For example, your company may provide 24-7 customer service, but what does that mean to the customer? What’s the specific benefit of that to them?

And companies need to remember that “stakeholders” includes every entity that interacts with the corporation—not just clients and customers. Stakeholders can include employees, vendors, shareholders, and even government entities, depending upon the business.

Points of Parity and Differentiation

Sometimes the quickest way to determine what a company is is to determine what it is not. Compared to similar companies or competitors, how is the company in question different? What does the company not offer that its competition does? What does it offer that they do not?

And by “offer,” don’t think along product and service lines exclusively. Remember that the brand is in question here, and the goal is to develop a brand promise. What feel or character does the company offer—or not offer—in comparison with its competition?

Companies should be careful that they don’t assume a complete lack of competition. Yes, a company may be the only entity offering exactly what it offers. However, competition includes any organization that provides an option that could be chosen over the company’s option.

For example, if a company has gymnastics facilities serving children from toddler age through high school, and the company has placed its facilities in areas without other gymnastics options, it may feel there is no competition. Yet parents have numerous alternatives to gymnastics for kids’ activities: martial arts, soccer, Little League, the YMCA, even Girl and Boy Scouts. And unless a parent is determined that their child be the next Olympic gymnast, it’s more about keeping the kid active than the specific activity.

Brand Attributes

Based on their determined value proposition and points of parity and differentiation, companies can begin to consider their brand attributes: the values and beliefs that their brands represent. (For examples of how other companies have defined their brand attributes, read the first article in this brand strategy series from FrogDog.)

In a way, brand attributes describe how the brand delivers on its promise. Companies can consider brand attributes after developing their brand promises, but FrogDog has found that it can help to think about what the company stands for at the same time a company works to define its exact brand promise. It’s a way of helping the company “back into” the answer to the big question.

Just as with the brand promise, which is addressed below, the brand attributes and values do not describe the company’s actual products or services. (Per the first brand strategy article we penned, Coca-Cola’s brand values say nothing about quality drink development, right?)

Promise Definition

All this heavy discussion into value propositions, points of parity and differentiation, and values and attributes prime a company for answering the big question: What’s the brand promise?

Again, the brand promise should never be a description of the products or services the company offers. The NFL’s brand promise to “be the premier sports and entertainment brand that brings people together, connecting them socially and emotionally like no other” doesn’t say a thing about American football. Rather, a brand promise describes how people should feel when they interact with the brand, how the company provides its products/services, and what sort of character the company has.

You’ll also notice from the NFL example that a brand promise is a short phrase, not a paragraph, and is relevant to all aspects of the organization. The NFL’s promise encompasses the teams and the games, yes, and it also accounts for licensed apparel among other things. A brand promise covers a lot of ground in a short space—one of the reasons developing it is so difficult.

Companies—and brands—cannot and should not be everything to everyone. Any given entity’s brand promise, values, and attributes will mean that there are certain stakeholders that will not be interested in collaborating with it. There’s an element of being exclusionary in developing a brand promise, and that’s partly the point. Companies that have built significant value know what the company is and is not and what it does and does not stand for, and they are able to focus and target their activities accordingly.

Hard Work

The questions involved in developing a brand promise look easier on paper than answering them ever turns out to be in practice. Brand promise development is hard work that generally takes multiple brainstorming sessions, lots of competitive and market research, and extensive investigation into the true nature of the corporation. It’s exhausting work.

And yet, as with most things that are difficult, it’s invaluable. Companies that have clearly defined brand promises and values and attributes have strong frameworks for decision making, and using these frameworks helps develop the brand’s strength and worth to the organization.

This article is the second in a series by FrogDog about brand strategy. To read the first in the series, click here. Our next article in the series discusses how companies use their brand promises to make business decisions.

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