by Tracy A. Corley
During the dot-com boom, there was some confusion about the word “brand.” No one knew what it really meant. To some, a brand was nothing more than a logo with many vivid colors and expensive advertising. To others, brand represented the big secret that never left the walls of the marketing department.
So what is a brand?
Simply stated, a brand is the promise you make and the associations that result from your ability (or inability) to keep that promise. You make this promise to your customers, your employees, and yourself every day. Everything that your company does should reflect that promise. Brand development defines that promise. Brand maintenance makes sure that you communicate and keep that promise.
Whether you know it or not, you have a brand. However, do you know the promise that you’re communicating? Before you answer, keep in mind that your brand promise is not a list of offerings. Your promise extends beyond your brochure’s product listing. For one major insurance company, its brand is security in knowing that you’ll be covered. For a major restaurant chain, it’s smiling faces and prompt service. And it’s not that you will do a good job. Today’s consumer expects that you will do a good job. Your promise must be specific, targeted, and unique.
If you don’t know what you promise to your customers beyond your core services, you are missing out on the real reason for doing business every day. If you understand your promise, you can develop new products and services that will make sense to your customers. Developing business strategies without a promise unfolds as an elaborate guessing game. You need to know what to provide, and your customers want to know what to expect.
Let’s take a look at a scenario.
Building a promise: ABC Health Services
In a new brand launch, our fictitious sample, ABC Health Services, promised its target market that it would help build a community of like-minded people. By connecting people with shared values and health issues, the company aimed to provide products and services that catered to those needs.
After many months of brand development, the company hosted a conference designed to let its market experience their brand promise. Thousands of dollars seeded an extensive marketing campaign, interactive web site, and public relations launch. The new company needed to create a community where none had existed before. Not surprisingly, hundreds of people paid the $800 fee to participate in the unique event. The three-day conference gave attendees a chance to talk to others and sample the company’s offerings. Learning sessions, product demos, motivational speakers — the company succeeded in bringing together a captive audience that could build the community it desired and support the growth of the company for many years.
As the emcee conducted the closing event, he had a few choices for turning his captive audience into long-term brand enthusiasts. In your opinion, should he:
1. Ask the attendees to spend an additional $175 to become a paid member of the community? As a company with no history of successfully connecting people, they need as much money as possible to get started.
2. Thank everyone for her support by offering all attendees a complimentary membership? The generosity could build both trust and a core community of people who might invite others to participate at the regular membership rate.
3. Not mention membership at all? There’s no need for it — since this is a new community, the group has no other choice for such offerings and the company doesn’t have to think about potential competitors or brand loyalty.
If you answered 2, you’re getting the hang of how to build a brand promise. Community development requires momentum. Once the excitement builds and members become emotionally vested in the brand, the word spreads, making sales of related goods much easier. Without delivering the brand promise of building a community, ABC Health Services will lose credibility with its target market.
Once you make a promise, you will be held accountable for making good on it. If you never quite get around to fulfilling the promise or do things contrary to fulfilling the promise, you lose an unconditional devotion that grows with time. Any disconnect between what you promise and what you deliver is deadly to your company.
Keeping your promise: An analysis
As you face a new business day, ask yourself the following questions:
1. What is the promise that I make to my customers?
2. How do I let my customers know about that promise?
3. What are the products and services that I offer my customers? Do these products and services relate to my brand promise?
4. What products and services do I need to get rid of to ensure that I’m sticking to my brand promise?
5. What products and services could I add to help fulfill my promise?
6. If I fail to keep my promise, what will it cost me, both financially and professionally?
As you answer these questions, think about your employees as well as your customers. Is your promise to your employees the same as the one to your customers? Though you may be the heart of your company or department, your employees operate the system that circulates the blood. They will be your champions when you’re not around. If you’re not keeping your promise to your employees, you run the risk of cutting off vital blood supply to your extremities and suffocating the entire system.
In summary, for a complete, simple lesson in accountability, make a promise to a child. If you keep that promise, you have a devoted friend for life. If you don’t, you’re heading for a rather noisy (and potentially tearful) lesson in brand follow-through. Focus on keeping your promises, and you’ll spend more time basking in brand enthusiasm instead of crisis control. [24×7]
Tracy A. Corley founded TsuluWerks in 2000 to help businesses look good through graphic design and creative strategy. She packs more than a decade of experience in both two- and three-dimensional design. Working in the fields of architecture, graphic design, advertising, and marketing, Tracy served a number of industries including travel and tourism, higher education, visual arts, real estate, and technology. Equipped with a degree in architecture and lots of experience, she shares knowledge through computer, promotions, and design courses for companies, conferences, and colleges. Tracy also volunteers regularly as a marketing coordinator, promotional designer, and curator for community organizations and arts festivals. Her company TsuluWerks was a City of Seattle Mayor’s Small Business Awards nominee for 2002 and 2003. You can find TsuluWerks online at http://www.tsuluwerks.com.