Refreshing your brand promise

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If you need to change how you are seen in the market, refreshing your brand promise (and committing to what it now requires) could be a powerful and effective solution.

It’s tempting to believe that great products will sell themselves. Or even that having a great product is enough. Producers and entrepreneurs sometimes believe their products constitute a promise in their own right. Marketers know better.

But equally, just having a brand doesn’t guarantee you anything. Familiarity matters, but for the most part today’s customers are far too sophisticated to buy just anything with a nice or familiar name attached to it. Or rather to keep buying it without question.

They want to know what to expect, at the same time as they want to continue to be pleasantly surprised.

Sometimes companies with brands that were once iconic forget that. They somehow believe that because a brand should be an asset, all brands (and particularly their brands) qualify as assets. It ain’t necessarily so.

Brand promise matters

Brands will only bring margin when everything else is right. Make a really interesting promise to the right people in the right way at the right time. Deliver on it in really interesting ways. Make it easy to buy etc.

Do that, and the circle of promise-delivery becomes seamless.

Get it wrong and the circle becomes vicious. When companies don’t pay attention to the detail of their brand, there are consequences. The brand itself starts to breaks down. It degrades. To a name. And instead of a brand portfolio, companies are left with a list of identities masquerading as an asset base.

Making that list longer or wider doesn’t add to its value. It doesn’t mean you have diversified. It’s not a segmentation strategy. It just adds complexity, cost and confusion to what is now a catalogue.

Think about refreshing your promise

So, facing downturn, difficulties or greater competition, what can a brand do? The temptation is to turn to the big tools in the brand-boosting toolbox in terms of repositioning or revamping the look and feel.

But one answer may be much simpler: “Could just the promise change?”

Your brand promise is the undertaking you give as a brand to your customers. It may be overtly stated. It may not. Either way, it forms the basis for generating value, because delivering on what you have promised (or what customers believe you have promised) proves that your brand is trustworthy, capable and consistent.

Just as importantly, your brand promise is a signal to your own people of what is expected of them in terms of service and experience delivery.

What makes a strong brand promise?

Ignyte offer a great summary on the six qualities that constitute a strong brand promise. It should be:

  • Authentic – honest, and true to who you are as a brand because it’s aligned with your purpose and values
  • Compelling – it should spring directly from your customer value proposition. “How does your brand solve your customer’s most important problem in a uniquely effective way?”
  • Unique – it must lock with how you position yourselves and differentiate yourselves in the market
  • Memorable – if you are going to articulate your promise externally, it needs to be easily remembered
  • Believable – it needs to be backed by proof points. Credibility is visibility
  • Clear – it must be simple to understand, so that everyone is in no doubt what the promise actually is.

We all know that neither brands nor products can afford to remain static, so it makes sense that promises can’t either. And yet the concept of re-promising (by itself and not necessarily accompanied by a fundamental shift in the brand positioning) doesn’t seem to come up that often in brand strategy conversations.

Maybe that’s the real lead-off question for brands looking to iterate effectively today. Have you got your brand promise right?

Two ways to approach refreshing your promise

Hubspot summarise the brand promise as roughly the culmination of positioning, vision and value proposition, using this formula:

Positioning + Vision + Value proposition = Your Brand Promise

It’s a solid starting point, and it suggests two different ways of refreshing your brand promise:

Let’s start with the simplest option, first. Review your positioning, vision and value proposition – and interpret them differently so that they form a new brand promise.

The second option is more far-reaching. Start by changing your promise in order to strengthen one or more of the six qualities described above. Then, on that basis, adjust your positioning, vision and value proposition so that they align.

What is a brand promise – and what is it not?

So often when people cite examples of brand promises, they’re not. They’re the mission or the (implied) value proposition or a version of the brand’s market position or even its tagline. We’re the first to agree that all these terms are confusing, and using less of them saves confusion all around. Nevertheless, it’s important to understand the relationship between these elements to avoid them being mis-categorised.

The promise is:

  • Not the positioning – because that’s all about where the brand sits in relation to others in the market (value vs luxury, local vs global, tech vs analogue etc)
  • Not the vision or the mission – because it’s not about what the brand intends doing (it’s about what the customer can expect)
  • Not the strapline – because, even though that too is directed at customers, it’s the snappy summary of what you want the brand to stand for
  • Not the value proposition – because that’s what the brand does that sets its apart in the sector and from other participants. Also known as “the reason to prefer”

But no brand promise lives on its own

  • Positioning is important – because it indicates the kind of promise you will and won’t make. A brand that is positioned at the discount end of the market is likely to position its promise around accessibility or affordability for example.
  • Vision and mission are important – because the promise that a company makes to customers must be consistent with where it intends going in the years ahead. A coffee company that is intent on lifting the experience for drinkers for example will probably need a promise focused on quality, experience or innovation.
  • The strapline is important – because it takes the unstated commitment in the promise and/or the value proposition and articulates it in a way that is as simple as possible to remember
  • The value proposition matters because it forms the basis for the promise. It sets out what customers stand to gain. A brand that sees value in being the nimblest in a market is likely to make a promise based on time, for example.

And that’s the thing about the Hubspot equation: It defines the brand promise as the sum effect of other elements, not a substitute for them: something a brand can undertake when it is in the right place, with the right vision and the right understanding of what makes the brand valuable to give an undertaking that customers are prepared to accept as the brand’s word and bond.

What do you promise will happen?

How to write a brand promise

When we are refreshing a brand promise, we’ve found that there are four key aspects to consider:

  1. The nature of the promise:

  • Social – a brand can make a promise to a specific group or community, such as safety, acceptance, honour, idealism or endorsement
  • Emotional – a brand can focus its promise on an emotional outcome such as power/status, independence, romance or excitement
  • Functional – a brand can focus its promise on a functional outcome such as performance, quality or value
  1. The basis of the promise:

The promise can be:

  • Time based – what you are committed to doing within a particular timeframe (that no-one else can or will commit to)
  • Quality based – the level of quality that have committed to uphold
  • Experience based – the emotional change you will bring about in people through what they experience with you.
  • Outcome based – the difference that they will experience
  • Value based – what they will save
  • Status based – how they will feel about themselves and/or be recognised by others
  • Community based – the change you promise to bring for a group that is a priority for them
  1. The quality of the promise.

According to Garry Fox, in refreshing your brand promise, you should be looking to achieve three things:

  • It must convey a compelling benefit
  • It must be authentic & credible
  • It must be kept, every time
  1. The pay off from refreshing your brand promise

Re-promising is not about changing the promise for the sake of it. Don’t just treat this as a form of words. To work, your refreshed brand promise will need to offer buyers a reason to pay more for, or more often for, or both – and you need to be very clear what that reason is.

It’s important too to understand what is not currently working, how your promise compares with what others are offering and what you can promise (logistically and profitably) that will resonate with your target market.

A human truth to close: one that affects brands, products and promises alike. If you don’t give people valid reasons to change, pay more or stay, they probably won’t.

Like some help with refreshing your brand promise?

We include a brand promise in every Plan to Thrive we create because we see it as a fundamental strategic deliverable. But if you have some or many of the other strategic elements in place and you’re looking for specific help with refreshing your brand promise, we can work on this as a Consulting project.

Happy to answer any questions. Please email us at Or leave us a comment.

Photo by Ingo Joseph on StockSnap




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