Branding jargon is a curse that plagues businesses around the world.
It’s hard for me to wade through the bullshit that branding firms and marketing agencies spew out to sound smart—and I’ve been in branding for 16 years.
But not all branding terminology is for posturing and show. Take the concept of a brand promise for instance. Although it may sound eerily similar to jargon littering the landscape of our industry, a brand promise serves a vital role for companies of all sizes.
Making a public promise is a powerful motivator for people. It’s a psychological principle that Robert Cialdini masterfully walks through in his book Influence. And that’s exactly what a brand promise is—a public promise everyone on your team makes.
We need to step back and look at the definition of the word promise by itself to fully grasp what a brand promise is. Here’s a screenshot from Google we can use for reference. Take a moment to read through each variation provided below.
I particularly love the verb form,
“Assure someone that one will definitely do, give, or arrange something; undertake or declare that something will happen.”
So, what’s a brand promise?
Based on the above definition of the word promise, a brand promise isn’t something we’ll try to do or give our best effort to make happen. We’re making a commitment that this promise is something we’ll definitely do.
Unlike your brand one-liner, brand script, and tagline which are largely buyer facing, the brand promise is primarily an internal rallying cry. It’s the heart and soul of an operation. Think of it as a compass for every action you take, the culture you’re working to build, and the reputation you desire (a.k.a. the brand you want).
A brand promise serves as a daily reminder of what we will definitely do for our customers and clients to make our business relevant.
I believe in practicing what you preach and proving what you teach, so here’s what this idea looks like for my company…
To create a better future for every brand we touch.
That’s the Special Sauce brand promise.
This statement isn’t for you, but it is about you (the audience, clients, and email subscribers that feed our business). You’ll see this promise coming through in all of our communication. Although this specific phrase isn’t something we regularly push, it powers the copy on our website, the actions we take on a daily basis, the systems we use, and all of the content we share.
We aren’t chasing awards or recognition for what we do, we’re making a promise to get results for every email subscriber that religiously reads our Friday email and all of the clients that trust us with their baby.
When faced with a decision, I want my team thinking,
“Will taking this action create a better future for this brand?”
If the answer is yes, we move forward with confidence. If the answer is no, we can scratch the idea and refocus. The presence of a brand promise doesn’t guarantee that every action is correct, but it does guarantee that every action is made with the right motivation.
3 Attributes of an effective brand promise.
Good things happen when your actions are guided by a meaningful promise. Following these best practices will help you craft a promise packed with purpose.
Make it definitive.
What are you definitely going to do for the people who support your business? That’s what your brand promise needs to convey. Your team will be able to rally behind this idea and understand how the company they work for serves customers.
What is the promise everyone on your team needs to understand they’re making by being a part of your brand?
Make it actionable.
A great brand promise leads to clear and purposeful action. You don’t need to be overly prescriptive, but you do need a statement that can be used to guide action. Nike’s brand promise is a perfect example,
“To bring inspiration and innovation to every athlete in the world.”
Nike backs up this statement with consistent action to inspire every athlete chasing personal goals. You’ll see this message bleeding through in everything from their tagline—Just do it—to their ad campaigns. They’re successful because their brand promise is clear and actionable. Employees can evaluate a decision against this promise and make the right decision on how to act.
Avoid jargon like the plague.
If you find jargon creeping into your brand promise, kill it before it kills your message. Write your brand promise in simple language everyone understands. Your goal is to stir up emotion. You can’t do that with jargon.
I like to think of jargon like a revenue repellant. Some buyers may sneak through, but you’re driving most away with your repelling jargon.
Write it like you’d say it and more people will follow it.
Make a public promise that’s definitive, actionable, and free of jargon and then back it up every day. Remember that your brand promise isn’t something you’ll try to do, it’s something you’ll definitely do. It doesn’t guarantee your employees and team will always do the right thing, but it does guarantee their motivations are coming from the right place.
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