Your Brand Promise Keeps Marketing on Track

Your Brand Promise Keeps Marketing on Track


Do you ever wonder if all the marketing activity you are doing is actually productive? Are you ever in a situation where the sales team is questioning how your campaign work is tied to their goals? Establishing a strong brand promise that both the sales and marketing teams can use will help avoid that uncomfortable feeling that stems from uncertainty.

When everyone is working within a mission-based system, the link from marketing to sales is always apparent. At Water Street, we define that mission by taking a hard look at these four big questions:

We use the answers to these four questions to evaluate every campaign. It starts with defining your target audience and determining how to best reach that audience. Then you reach the third question: How can you use your brand promise to spur shoppers to choose your brand over the competition? In the following article, we’ll address how to use your brand promise to help shoppers to choose your brand over the competition.

Defining a Brand Promise

Much like a mission statement, your brand promise should be an accurate representation of your brand, and only your brand. It is not copywriting. The brand promise should live as an internal written document that serves as the foundation for all future language. In most cases, a brand promise is never published verbatim.

Our go-to quick thumbnail test of a written statement is to replace the brand name with Kleenex and see if the result could still be valid. If that's the case, your language is too broad and needs to be more specific.

For example: “Superfoods represents quality products that stand above the competition.” This could be true. “Kleenex represents quality products that stand above the competition.” This could also be true. Whatever “above the competition means,” everyone is standing above, including Kleenex. The phrase is meaningless and also forgettable.

A strong brand promise serves as a master benchmark, a truth about your brand that is used to test all the campaigns that follow. I don’t know what Taco Bell’s brand promise is, but it is probably a lengthy statement that covers the qualities of a fast, affordable, food with hispanic origins. I can see evidence of the brand promise across all of Taco Bell’s marketing campaigns.

“Taco Bell. Live Mas” or “Kleenex. Live Mas.” See? Taco Bell’s current tagline works for them, but wouldn't apply to any other brand.

[By the way, “Kleenex says Bless You” is the tagline from a campaign from the 80s. Now they say “Kleenex, Trusted Care.” “Trusted Care” seems to be a step backward toward anonymity. When I see brands do this it immediately brings a certain climate to mind within the company: Sales is concerned about performance and market share, marketing is trying to calm those fears. Right now the market is crowded with store brands, and Kleenex is taking a defensive position, “We’ve been around–we are the trusted ones.” Panic moves are a topic for another time, though.]

In the Taco Bell example, “Live Mas” was introduced in 2018, replacing "Think Outside the Bun." Both of these taglines stem from the same brand promise.

What are the key promises that your brand will always deliver to the consumer? If you can’t state your brand promise right now, then you don’t have one. There may be one written down in an old brand manual on the shelf behind someone’s desk, but if your sales and marketing teams don’t know it, then you aren’t using it. The net effect is you don’t have a brand promise.

If this is the case in your organization, you’re not alone. It is not unusual for brands to go through cycles of effectiveness. Creative leaders with persuasive personalities are drawn to careers in marketing. Often the lure of leaving a personal mark on a brand can be powerful, overshadowing the core mission of the business. It takes strong leadership to keep a brand consistent. Very few brands can hold onto clear messaging decade after decade, and I’ve often marveled how brands like Kellogg’s Frosted Flakes ("They’re Grrreat!") have done it, in spite of what must be several changes in personnel.

How to Write a Brand Promise

Most companies have all the pieces and parts of a brand promise within their organization. A strong brand promise evolves from the brand foundation: a company’s mission statement, its brand pillars, the unique selling proposition, and versions of an elevator pitch. The brand promise is how all of the components of your brand foundation impact the consumer. Why should they care about the way your company has committed to do business? Why should they choose your brand over another? The brand promise answers those questions.

The brand promise is where we start any creative campaign. If a client doesn't have one in place, we create it for them as part of our onboarding process. Developing a solid brand promise typically takes us 12 weeks, but that time may lengthen if your company has a complicated approval process.

Brand development is weighty work and should have the buy-in and approval of senior leadership. It’s not something that rests on the shoulders of middle management to initiate, execute and implement. If that’s the case, then the work will live only as campaign direction: short-lived, overlooked and soon abandoned. True brand development is part of the toolbox that guides a business for many years.

Workshopping to Jump-Start the Brand Process

One way to kickstart the development of a brand promise is to conduct a workshop with all the stakeholders. We did this for the Kitchen Cabinet Manufacturers Association when they reached out to us for assistance with a website project. During our onboarding audit, we pointed out that the current site had confusing and unclear messaging, and we recommended that the brand have a brand promise in place before searching for web partners to develop a new website.

For this client, we conducted a one-day workshop with the leadership team, the Director and key staff, and the organization’s board members who were part of the Marketing Committee. In all, it was about 12 participants. Before the workshop, we identified the three audiences served by the website: the membership, affiliate members, and homeowners researching the product certifications administered by KCMA . Then we created guidelines for what a successful brand promise would be like for each audience.

The result of the workshop is a messaging strategy that is in use years later. Our work has survived a change in leadership, changes in creative vendors, and two stages of a website overhaul. The messaging document still guides the organization even though the key marketing positions have changed hands more than once.

How to Use the Brand Promise to Evaluate Campaign Messaging

Once the brand promise is clearly defined and documented, all campaigns should be echoes of that same sentiment. The key is to clearly identify your brand promise and actively use it as a guide for developing every campaign. “Does this express the brand promise?” is an essential question when reviewing campaign content.

Most of your audience is not seeing your brand every day like you are. They’re also constantly bombarded by advertising messages, so it’s pretty easy to lose track of why they should care about your brand in particular. Catchiness aside, a campaign needs to be a clear extension of your brand promise to be effective.

Campaign messaging that is grounded in your brand promise and tailored to each conversion point is the surest way to connect your products with the right shoppers. This includes sales communication and lead nurturing: When everyone is operating from the same starting point–the brand promise–shoppers will have a clear understanding of why your brand is the right choice. Sales becomes less about persuasion and more about buyers making informed decisions.

As an added benefit, and a critical advantage in our point of view, a strong brand promise can guide a lot of business decisions: How do we name products? Should the logo be revised? Do we invest in sports marketing for this brand? Is this channel partner the right one for our brand?

It may sometimes seem like a nerdy academic pursuit, but laying down a solid brand foundation before jumping into creative brainstorming sessions is the best way to understand if you are making the right choices for your brand. If you have that niggling uncertainty about your conversations with sales, or you’re trying to justify campaign spending to senior leadership, we can help. We help brands navigate these decisions every day.