The 5 Building Blocks of an Effective Brand Promise

January 17, 2017 Marcus Varner

brand promise tips

A strong, effective brand evokes emotion, inspiring people to feel connected to your business, and a brand promise will help you solidify your brand and the relationship you have with your customers.

Let's look at a famous line from Shakespeare’s play Romeo and Juliet:

“What’s in a name? That which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet.”

The Bard certainly isn’t talking about branding or advertising in his famous play, but he brings to mind a question all marketers should ask: "Would a customer or prospect recognize my brand without the visual aid of a tangible product, logo, or slogan?"

When was the last time you asked, “What’s in my brand?”

See "The 3 Most Important Brand Attributes You Need to Cultivate" for a list of things you should focus your efforts on as you build your brand.

In order to create a brand that stands for something, you need to go beyond the name. Your organization has a brand, but does it have—and can it deliver—on a brand promise?

What is the Definition of a Brand?

The American Marketing Association defines a brand as:

“A name, term, design, symbol, or any other feature that identifies one seller’s good or service as distinct from those of other sellers.

"The legal term for brand is trademark. A brand may identify one item, a family of items, or all items of that seller. If used for the firm as a whole, the preferred term is trade name.”

While the AMA definition focuses on the tangible aspects of a brand (a product, a logo, a name, etc.), things get hazy when you ask marketers for their definition. The overwhelming consensus is that a brand goes beyond the tangible. I like the way Ann Handley sums it up:

"Brand is the image people have of your company or product. It’s who people think you are.

"Or, quoting Ze Frank, it’s the 'emotional aftertaste' that comes after an experience (even a second-hand one) with a product, service, or company."

As marketers, we get the idea of branding, which, essentially, is differentiating ourselves in the market, often through advertising. But, to create a brand that stands for something, we need to go beyond the tangible.

Get our ebook, "Brand Management in The Digital Age," for tips on maintaining your digital brand.

A brand is not what you say it is, it’s what people think or say it is. And no amount of advertising, marketing, or public relations can change that.

brand quote ann handley

What is a Brand Promise and Why is It Important?

In order to create a brand that stands for something, an organization needs a clearly distilled statement of purpose to relate to its community, both internally and externally.

“In other words, a brand is a promise,” says author and branding expert Nick Westergaard. “At its core, your brand promise should define your entire business and should touch every aspect of your company.”

Let’s take a look at a few examples of powerful brand promises:

  • Nike - The Nike brand promise goes way beyond its famous tagline, “Just do it.” Nike’s brand promise is: “To bring inspiration and innovation to every athlete* in the world.” The asterisk in the brand promise says that if you have a body, you’re an athlete.
  • Starbucks - Starbucks positions itself as a company that brings more to the world than a great cup of coffee. It sees itself as a lifestyle brand and the promise it makes to consumers backs that up: “To inspire and nurture the human spirit—one person, one cup, and one neighborhood at a time.”
  • Coca-Cola - “To refresh the world… To inspire moments of optimism and uplift… To create value and make a difference.” While the Nike and Starbucks brand promises imply the product they create, Coca-Cola’s doesn’t mention a product or service at all. It aims for a mindset.

brand promise quote nick westergaard

A brand promise is a value or experience a company’s customers can expect to receive every single time they interact with that company. The more a company can deliver on that promise, the stronger the brand value in the mind of customers and employees.

Watch our on-demand webinar, "4 Tips to Make Your Brand More Consistent," for some effective ways to ensure brand consistency.

Five Building Blocks of an Effective Brand Promise

If you’re ready to take the time to clarify your company’s brand promise and to use the examples listed above as your guide, here are the five building blocks you’ll need to consider:

1. A Brand Promise Is: Simple

It should be no longer than a simple sentence or two. A brand promise is not the same thing as a mission statement, which can often get convoluted with rambling sentences.

An effective brand promise combines the catchiness of a tagline and reinforces it with the essence of the company’s mission.

2. A Brand Promise Is: Credible

If the customer experience doesn’t match the brand promise, the value of your brand is weakened. An example of a brand promise not living up to expectations comes from Ford Motor Company.

During the 1980s, Ford’s brand promise was “Quality is Job 1.” However, owners of Ford’s vehicles were not impressed as they routinely spent money on repairs. It got so bad that consumers gave Ford their own version of a brand promise: “Ford—Found On Roadside Broken.”

Today, Ford’s brand promise is “Go Further.”

See our post, "How to Protect Brand Identity with Marketing Compliance," and find out why marketing compliance is crucial.

3. A Brand Promise Is: Different

If your brand promise sounds similar to other brand promises, especially a competitor’s, how can you distinguish yourself from the pack?

You need to discover what makes your company unique and different from your competitors. This goes beyond the features and benefits of your product and straight to the soul of your company and heart of your employees.

4. A Brand Promise Is: Memorable

A brand promise should impact every decision your company makes. While a promise may not be as catchy as a tagline or slogan, it must be memorable enough for employees to embrace it and use it during customer interactions.

I’ll give my personal take on the Nike promise: I’m more moved by the asterisk (if you have a body, you’re an athlete) than I am the main promise. It’s a reminder to me that Nike is about the common man rather than the elite athletes who wear the products.

5. A Brand Promise Is: Inspiring

People, in general, will act when they feel an emotional connection to a person, product, or company.

An effective brand promise helps establish that connection by being inspiring. At the same time, don’t promise what you can’t deliver. A brand promise is meant to inspire, but you also want to be realistic. A great example of an inspirational brand promise is Apple’s “Think Different.”

brand promise quote marcus varner

The Brand Promise Formula

At the end of the day, a brand promise can be distilled to this simple formula: What You Do for Whom. I’m not claiming that the process of creating a brand promise is a simple one. It’s actually quite difficult.

But if you consider what makes your company special and use the building blocks listed above, you can create an effective brand promise that connects you—your brand—with your customers and your employees.

And just like your brand is more than a slogan or a logo, your brand promise is more than a line of copy on a web page. To form a deep attachment between your brand and your customer is to make and keep your brand promise… over, and over, and over again.

Let’s go back to Shakespeare for a moment and revisit the Romeo and Juliet quote, with a couple of simple edits based on building a brand promise:

“What’s in a brand promise? That which we call a brand
By any other name would smell as sweet.”

Maybe Shakespeare actually knew a thing or two about branding after all.

Have you gone through the process of building out a brand promise? Share your experiences in the comments below.

Download our free guide, "Anatomy of a Rebrand," for advice as you make decisions that come with rebranding.

About the Author

Marcus Varner

Marcus is a content strategist and producer who loves helping brands craft content that improves customers' lives, builds brand credibility, and demands to be shared. For the last 10 years, Marcus has worked in every type of content—from writing to video production to design—and is currently a senior content marketing manager at Workfront, where he oversees all corporate- and awareness-level level content. When he's not producing content, he's consuming it, in the form of books, movies, and podcasts.

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