Articulating Your Brand Promise

I recently had breakfast with my former Procter & Gamble business unit President, and now good friend. He challenged me to author a piece that explained what great place branding looks like. I decided to take his counsel as motivation for writing this post on the importance of having a clearly written brand promise to guide your promotional investment choices.

One of the most powerful things you can do to ensure consistent communication of your place brand promise is to put it in writing. Conceptually the exercise is easy, but practically it is hard. It’s hard because the process forces you to make choices. Communities are multi-faceted and aligning on a single heart and mind opening promise is a challenge, particularly if you let politics enter the discussion. But, none-the-less, it is a critical step in successfully branding your community. If you are unable to simply state the place brand promise, it will be virtually impossible to create a consistently delivered and easy to understand message that communicates why your community is the best choice for capital investment.

It Starts With A Clear Objective

Every strategy should begin with an Objective statement. At P&G, I was taught that objectives should be SMAC (specific, measurable, attainable, and compatible with the mission). A typical Objective for your community might be to “Decrease unemployment by -10% in the next 5 years” or “Increase MSA contribution to GSP by +5% in the next 5 years” or “Increase average personal income of citizens by +5% in the next 5 years”. The objective you choose has a direct impact on framing the choices you will make in deciding how to effectively articulate your community brand promise. I also believe it is good if the objective focuses on a driving economic indicator that you want to impact.

Think of your objective as a specific task that needs to be accomplished. A well-defined objective is key to helping articulate your community’s brand promise. Your promise needs to be articulated in a way that helps you achieve your objective. And you should be able to explain how it does that. By doing so, you will be in a better position to determine if the subsequent tactical options you decide to invest in are “on-strategy” or “off-strategy”.

You Need To Define Your Target Audience

A lot of communities describe their target in terms of industry sectors to preferentially focus on for attracting, expanding or retaining investment from. But industries don’t make investment decisions, people do. Your target should be defined as the person most likely to make or influence the capital investment decision. This is the person your marketing communication is aimed at. In my experience it is typically the CEO and/or Board of Directors of companies. It can be in a specific industry (e.g. bioscience) or a cluster of industries that share a common need (e.g. access to a deep water port).

The written articulation and in-market execution of your community brand promise must convince your selected target audience that your location is the best choice for their capital investment.

It Is Important To Be Sure Your Promise Is …

In order to be effective, your community promise must be 1) relevant, 2) competitive, and 3) authentic. The tactical choices your community leaders make on asset creation, infrastructure investment and public policy reform will determine if these three conditions are met over time. Your community promise should be considered a long-term choice and not subject to either judgment or political Administration changes. Ideally, the private sector leadership in your community will strongly advocate it. The written promise provides important guidance and direction for your community’s promotional investment. As such, your community’s brand promise should be clear, simple, and benefit focused.

A handy way to write your promise statement is – “[insert strategic target] will be convinced that [insert your community name] is the best choice for their capital investment because [insert your community name] provides them with [insert relevant, competitive and authentic benefit].

Here Are Some Formats For Writing Your Promise

I have found that often, having a template makes writing tasks easier. I’ve modified a few of the better consumer-focused templates I have been exposed to over my career so they are applicable to place branding. These may not be the current best approach currently used by the Agency that inspired the template. You will see a consistency in each of the three models. My counsel is to simply use any one that feels the best to you. I don’t think you can go wrong.

JWT London Inspired

  1. Description of your target
  2. Problem your target is facing
  3. Action you want target to take (might be to visit your website)
  4. Key response you want to create (what should the target feel, notice or believe)
  5. Your community promise statement
  6. Budget considerations/constraints
  7. Additional helpful information

Ogilvy & Mather Inspired

  1. Description of your target
  2. Statement of the key issue (problem)
  3. Your community promise statement
  4. Reasons to believe your promise is authentic
  5. Key competitors
  6. Desired action you want target to take
  7. Impression you want target left with
  8. Mandatory executional elements (e.g. your community logo)

Isidore & Paulson Inspired

  1. Prime Prospect (strategic target)
  2. Insight into target audience
  3. Statement of the problem
  4. Expected impact of communication (e.g. call you)
  5. Your community promise statement
  6. Reason why your community can make the promise
  7. Mandatory executional elements (e.g. your phone number)


In my experience, the hardest challenges are a) articulating your community promise as a benefit rather than feature and b) in getting public and private sector leadership alignment to a final statement.

It is hard work, and everybody you talk to will have an opinion. But always remember the most important opinion is the one your target has.

  • Is the promise your community makes compelling to your target?
  • Will it increase the probability your community is included in the short list of locations consider for due diligence?

Market research to understand your target’s impression of your community promise can be invaluable in helping you get alignment of local leadership. You may find it helpful to enlist the support of a qualified consultant to facilitate the process of writing your community promise and to help you enroll your community leaders. Since the intent is for the promise to transcend political Administrations, this is often money well invested.

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