The most fuel-efficient car. The hotel with the best customer service. The clothing store Prada billboard with the unique items you can't find anywhere else. The grocer with the healthiest choices at the best prices. We've seen them all. The “brand promise” - the expectation we get when we hear about a brand. Sometimes it’s not much more than a clever tagline or ad dreamed up in the minds of marketing whizzes. Sometimes it actually has meaning and lives up to our expectations. Which do you want your company to be?
As we know, making a promise and then actually delivering on that promise are two different things…and it’s the critical part of building a business with long-term success. We need to know 1) clearly what promise we are trying to make, 2) if that’s the promise that our market understands, and 3) then delivering a product or service that blows away that expectation.
I have a few thoughts on how to make sure you deliver on the promise your brand makes. I'll use the example of one of my clients to help explain it. I once worked with a university alumni association that wanted to ensure that all its employees had clarity about the brand, what it stood for, and how they as individuals could support it.
Make no mistake, every company has a brand. But it’s not always created intentionally and with careful thought. Sometimes we just let a brand sort of just "happen". It’s important to know what brand you are trying to create in the first place. What are the distinctive elements of your business that you’d like prospective customers to understand? It's important that you invest the time to truly and clearly understand your market and what it is that you are promising them.
In the alumni association case I mentioned above, we defined the essential elements of their brand. At its core, their brand was about being central to an alum's experience of the university - representing their opinions on-campus, acting as an information source for them, etc. They also represented the university to the alumni base.
Action: Create a brand statement. Define the different aspects of your brand that you would like your target market to understand. Know clearly what your brand stands for.
Authenticity is foundational
Look back at your brand. Does your brand really reflect your company, its strengths, its capabilities, its culture, its people? It's relatively easy to come up with a clever tagline. It's much, much harder to make sure that the tagline truly represents who you are as a business.
You need to live the brand - and the brand must reflect who you are as a company.
Going back to our alumni association example, we knew that the brand had to reflect the organization. It couldn't set up false expectations - ones that were misaligned with their mission. They had to be an honest exchanger of information between the university and the alumni base. They had to be true supporters and representatives of the university. They had to have a welcoming environment for alums when they returned to campus.
Action: Ask several people from outside your organization to look at how your brand is positioned. Get their objective opinion about what they believe your brand is promising. Ask them to describe their expectations at each key point in the customer relationship.
Practical and deliverable
Make sure you have the capability to deliver on that brand promise. Once you clearly understand what expectations your brand is creating, you have to then look at your organization and make sure those expectations can be met and exceeded. Key areas to focus on include the physical experience (storefront, product packaging, etc.), product functionality, employees and their skill sets, technology interface(s), and customer service processes.
If your brand is centered around a speedy customer transaction, make sure you understand what that means in the eyes of your customer - and make sure you can deliver that. If you plan to offer truly unique products, be sure that you have a way to make products available that cant be found elsewhere. Ensure that your brand has developed an expectation that you really can live up to. The brand has to really be something you can make happen.
In our alumni association case it was clear that in order to live up to the brand they were building they had to be prepared to actually live up to the expectations that were set. If they wanted to be the "voice of the alumni" on campus, they first had to have a way to understand alumni opinions and they had to have the right connections and methods to deliver that message to the "right" people. Both needed some work to ensure that the organization could deliver on that promise. The association actively built stronger relationships with university leadership and implemented a set of alumni opinion feedback methods.
Action: Do an assessment of your organization to ensure that the various aspects of your brand promise align with your organization’s capabilities. Put action steps in place to focus on any gaps between customer expectations and your company’s capabilities.
Sometimes the creative side of our marketing efforts can get ahead of us. We create cool taglines. Use the best imagery we can find. Describe our companies in ways that we know our prospective customers will find attractive. Your marketing efforts need to build on the brand you have built. I have sometimes seen examples of marketing creating a brand as opposed to reflecting the brand you've consciously developed. Your tagline cannot be your brand. Your tagline should accurately reflect the brand and communicate it in a clear, simple (yes, clever) way. The brand definition drives the marketing, not the other way around.
In our alumni association case, the basis for their market messaging became clear. Words like "central", "center", "clearinghouse", etc. were tossed about. Finally the right tagline was developed - one that fit the brand very well.
Action: Look at your marketing efforts – website, email, advertising, etc. and see if it accurately reflects your business. If not, make revisions.
I can’t understate how important it is that everyone in your company, top to bottom, understands what your brand stands for. It needs to be built into everything your company does. Every product and/or service. Every customer interaction. Every message. Everyone in your company should be clear about what the brand is and how they are responsible for reflecting and supporting it.
With the alumni association I mentioned above something remarkable happened. The brand definition was so clear and so openly discussed that all their staff knew how to approach their jobs with the brand in mind. Even the receptionists began to understand their role in delivering that brand. They almost instinctively knew that they needed a better understanding of the university's structure, it's personnel, and the key contacts though out the university. So when an alum called with a question or an issue, even the receptionists knew immediately how to handle the alum's request.
Action: Evaluate your training programs and make sure that a discussion of what your brand is and what it stands for is part of the training. Ensure that employees know that they are expected to uphold that brand promise always - and clearly understand what that means for them as individuals. And also make sure you are hiring the right people to deliver that brand consistently.
Building a brand is so much more than developing a clever tagline and a cool-looking ad. It's critical that you consciously and proactively build a brand that you are proud of - one that accurately reflects your business, its values, its uniqueness, its true capabilities. And one that speaks to and delivers on what customers will find valuable. That's the way to long-term success.
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I LOVE working with clients to help them gain clarity and confidence around a long-term direction and a brand that truly and honestly reflects it. I know it’s not always easy to do that. If you think I can help your organization feel free to reach out and get in touch with me. I’d be happy to chat with you and explore whether I can help. No pressure. Just an informal discussion to explore the idea a little.
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