Establishing a Brand Promise

Ed BurghardA brand is a promise. It sets an expectation of an experience. It answers the question – What’s in it for me? To be effective, the promise must be relevant, competitive and authentic.

I’m often asked about how you determine what the right promise is. After all, a product, company or community can promise many things. How do you figure out what the right thing to promise is?

Every Agency has its own trademarked process. They’ll share examples of how their approach  consistently delivers a winning answer to the question. But typically, the best approaches follow four simple steps.

4 Step Process to Defining a Brand Promise

Step #1 – Understand the current users of your product/service or the companies doing business in your community. Develop insights into why they prefer your offering versus the competition. These insights are critically important to successfully defining your brand promise. Many times this foundational step is cut short or glossed over altogether. Avoid the tendency to assume you already know the answer. Take the time to dig deeper. Approach the exercise with an open mind and don’t go into it with a pre-conceived notion. If you are not genuinely willing to listen and learn, then you are not ready to begin the journey.

It is important to understand what the important frustrations they face and desires they have. What do they believe related to those frustrations and desires? How well do they believe your product/service/community addresses these needs?

Step #2 – Create a list of potential promises you can make based on the insights you generated from step #1. You should be able to articulate which insight underpins each promise. Think in terms of completing this sentence – One of the key reasons current users select my product/service/community is they believe _____________, therefore if I promise people ____________________ they too will preferentially select my product/service/community over the competition.

Step #3 – For each potential promise, create a 1-page promise statement. At the top of the page clearly articulate promise. Then answer the question of how selecting your product/service/community will make their life better. There are three broad categories you can consider to answer the question. You can think about offering a new benefit that the competition doesn’t offer or focus on. You can offer a new combination of benefits that resolve a trade-off people know they would typically make today. Or, you can offer a new level of benefit. Now write three reasons to believe the promise is authentic.

Let’s look at a hypothetical example so you can visualize what a 1-page concept statement looks like. Take the scenario of a mid-sized community with a growing base of OEM manufacturing companies. In step #1 your research turns up that the ability to rapidly get parts delivered is mission critical to the success of the just in time production strategy they have built their profit structure around. As a result, you decide one promise you might make is that your location has multi-modal access capability that provides important redundancy in delivery options to ensure consistency in parts availability. You can visit for more information.

Promise – If you locate your business in our town, you have the assurance of knowing the risk of your production line being idled because parts can’t be delivered from your suppliers is minimized.

Reasons To Believe

  • Our town is located next to a multi-modal hub that provides access to air, rail, road and water delivery services.
  • The three manufacturing operations in our town source parts from around the world and have never had to shut down production because available parts could not be delivered.
  • The local College has a degree program focused on operations management and logistics training providing you have access to a labor pool of people skilled in just in time production management.

Note, at this stage the concepts are not written in promotional language. They are written in a factual and straightforward manner. Conversion to promotional language takes place after you’ve decided what the promise should be.

Step #4 – Test your promise statements. This can be done either through qualitative or quantitative market research (or a combination). The objective of this step is to identify the best statement of the bunch. Typically, bet is defined as the promise that is capable of creating the greatest level of interest to purchase. In the above case of the mid-sized community it would be determined on the capability of a capital investor wanting to select the community as a location to include in the short list of options taken into due diligence.

However, just identifying the best statement of the bunch is not sufficient. You must also determine if that promise is sufficiently compelling to create enough purchase intent to achieve your growth goals. If the answer is no, then your work is not done and you will need to repeat the process. It is rarely smart to invest behind promoting the best of a poor set of choices.


Hopefully I have helped demystify the exercise of defining a brand promise. For most people, this is not work that is done routinely. As a consequence it is often smart to hire an Agency (or consultant) with a proven track record of success in facilitating this process. You can check their trademarked approach against the four steps described above. That will help you get past the bells and whistles so you can better evaluate how robust their approach actually is. In fact, I think it would be totally appropriate to author your RFP around the four steps to ensure you get value for your money. Beware of any Agency (or consultant) that proposes a solution without having done a thorough job of listening and learning (step #1). Regardless of their experience, your situation should be assumed to be unique until proven otherwise and they should approach it as such. If not, the process will be off on the wrong foot right out of the gate.

What is Your Experience?

If you have managed a process for defining a brand promise, how was it similar or different to what is described above? What did you find worked well? What problems did you encounter? If you could do it over, how would you improve the process you followed? How hard was it to get people on your team to suspend personal biases and let the data lead their thinking? While described simply above, defining a brand promise is as much an art as a science and experience with the process matters. Sharing your experience will help add some real world context to the discussion.

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