Make an Authentic Promise


One book I periodically reread is “Over Promise and Over Deliver” by Rick Barrera. I like the book because the focus is on understanding the core promise you are making and then systematically working to ensure every meaningful touch point is designed to deliver the promise in an authentic way.

As with all books, Rick’s 60,000-foot look at branding is purposefully simple and the devil is in the details of implementation. But, I have also found over the years that simple can be powerful because it focuses you on understanding the principles rather than getting lost in the application challenges. When life gets too complicated, being reminded of what the forest looks like can be extremely helpful to your effort of finding the right stand of trees.

Here are some take-away lessons from Rick’s book I think you may find useful.

Know Your Promise – Your brand is a promise. It sets an expectation of what will be experienced if somebody invests time or money in your product. In economic development, the product is your community.

It is important to know why business executives invest capital in your community. It is also important to understand what executives perceive are your community’s most valuable attributes. In the private sector, I often would have market research conducted among “heavy” users of my product to better understand why it has earned such a special place in their lives. The concept was that “heavy” users were ultimately what I wanted to have more of, so understanding what contributed to turning an “occasional” user into a “heavy” user would provide valuable insight into my communication and product development plans.

The conceptual equivalent in economic development is your local CEOs. Learning why they invested in your community, and continue to do business in your community, can provide relevant insights into your community’s authentic promise. Ultimately you want to have more CEOs investing in your community. Know why the current ones invest and you will 1) more easily be able to find new CEOs with a similar profile and 2) better understand how to convince them to invest in your community.

Once you know what your community Promise is, write it down so you can use it to guide the communication choices you make in marketing your community.

Make Your Promise Unique – This is easier said than done. In most cases I have seen, communities promise essentially the same thing (low cost of business, skilled labor, market access). These attributes are often tickets to entry. Without them, your community has no chance of being considered. However, having them simply means your community has an opportunity to compete. It doesn’t mean your community will win the capital investment.

In my experience, the point of difference for most communities is typically in how their promise is delivered. Every community is a unique combination of assets, regulations, infrastructure and companies. Every community has a unique “feel” or “culture” that impacts a company’s ability to do business. How your community delivers its promise is where your point(s) of difference are likely to be found.

Bottom line is that you need to truly understand your community relative to your competition. Feel free to say “No Duh”, but I often find most economic development organizations only have a superficial understanding; and, few have any understanding of the key emotional drivers underpinning the choice of their community for capital investment. And yet, the decision on which location to do business from is made on an emotional basis and justified on a rational basis. Remember, a great promise is customer focused and clearly answers the question “What’s in it for me?”.

Identify and Align Your Key Touch Points (community, system, human) – A touch point can be defined as a key customer contact. In order to be effective, your promise must be authentic. That means it must be delivered consistently at each and every key customer contact. Whatever else you do, it is important to live up to your community promise. Nothing will destroy your community’s image faster than an empty promise. If you can’t deliver on the promise you are making, then you have the wrong promise for your community.

Community touch points are found in the experiences a Company has involving your community (e.g. site visit, Google search results, media stories, etc.).

System touch points are found in the process of engaging your community (the steps involved in learning about your community, setting up a business in your community, taking advantage of services offered by your community).

Human touch points are found in the interaction with the people and leaders of your community. It is important that every touch point helps reinforce the authenticity of your community’s promise. This is hard work in economic development.

There are so many possible touch points that controlling them is virtually impossible. But, my experience in the private sector is that you can’t control the key touch points for most complex products/services either. The focus isn’t about control it is about influence. And you can influence the touch points in economic development by concentrating on ensuring a clear understanding of your community’s promise and systematically modifying procedures/practices that are inconsistent. If you promise that it is easy to do business in your community, then it should be easy to learn about your community, and easy to take advantage of your support programs, and easy to set up the business, and easy to get concerns addressed, and etc. (I’m certain you get the point).

Don’t give up before you start because it feels overwhelming. Think continual improvement and keep chipping away at any touch point inconsistencies. It will make a difference in the perception of your community’s promise authenticity.


Don’t Confuse Brand Promise and Advertising Campaign

10 Keys to Aligning Organizations and Brand Promises

Place Identity Versus Place Brand Image

What is a Brand Promise?

How Good is Your Community Brand?


Ask your colleagues to write down your community’s promise on a piece of paper. Ask some of your community leaders to do the same. Analyze the responses you get. Is everybody on the same page or are they telling different stories?

If you follow-through on this challenge, my guess is you will be surprised by the results. In most cases, the results will reinforce the need to get more clearly define and articulate the community promise. If you get positive results, then I congratulate you and encourage you to spend your time ensuring alignment of the touch points.

There is absolutely no doubt this is difficult work made harder by the current economic conditions and the ever changing local political landscape. But, it is the work that needs to be done in order to succeed in creating sustainable prosperity for your community.


Has your community gone through a process to develop a promise? What were the results? Did you learn any tricks to make it an easier or more effective exercise? Share your experience so we can learn from each other.

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