Stephan Partners Brand Promise 2012


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If You Don\'t Control Your Brand, Others Will

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Stephan Partners Brand Promise 2012

  1. 1. Copyright © 2012 Stephan Partners If You Don’t Control Your Brand, Others Will The Case for Promise-Based Branding By George Stephan Managing Partner, Stephan PartnersIf your company is having problems retaining or acquiring new customers, you should askyourself, "Do we control our brand?" You might say, "Of course we control our brand. Wehave a logo, a tagline, a mission statement and a website – plus we run ads, send out directmail, email … you name it."But that doesnt necessarily mean you control your brand. Because your brand isnt what yousay it is; your brand is what the public says it is. If your audiences perception of your brandisnt what you want it to be (and, more important, what you need it to be) ... then you don’tcontrol your brand.Want proof? Think of some of your competitors. What are the first words that pop into yourhead? It might be "expensive but worth it." It might be "attractive but not reliable." It mightbe "old-fashioned, not cool." And if your descriptions are pretty much what others say, guesswhat – that’s how those products are perceived and branded. In the same way, whatever thepublic thinks of your product right now ... thats exactly what your brand is.So how do you get control of your brand? Start by understanding your brand this way.A brand is a promise.A brand is not a logo or a tagline (although it may include these). A brand is not a missionstatement, a website or an ad (although it may be expressed in these). A brand is a promiseyour product or service can keep ... a benefit to customers and prospects that isunderstandable, believable, delivers superior value and differentiates you from the
  2. 2. competition. Whatever your current branding efforts are intending to do, they are perceivedby your audience as making a promise. And if that promise is not what you want tocommunicate, then youre in trouble.So consider doing research with your customers and prospects to find out what they think:what your brand really is, what people perceive of you as promising.And discover if youre standing out … in the way you want.Avoid the commodity trap.Ask Seth Godin, business guru and bestselling author of Purple Cow: "Youre either a purplecow or youre not. Youre either remarkable or invisible. Make your choice." Brands likeStarbucks, Google, HBO, JetBlue and Amazon are so remarkable that customers seek them out.Products and services without a remarkable brand promise risk becoming a brown cow, a cowlike every other cow ... a commodity.To avoid the commodity trap, try to have "only" in your promise. Here are some that havegotten a lot of mileage: "Volvo. For life." Only Volvo promises you the safest ride. "UBS. You & Us." Only UBS promises global reach and individual attention. "BMW. The ultimate driving machine." Only BMW promises you the ultimate driving experience. "MINI Cooper. Let’s Motor." Only MINI promises you an incredibly fun motoring experience.To really differentiate yourself, try to own the "next big thing" – the emerging benefit thatresonates with your customers. Fifty years ago car makers were afraid to talk about safety.But Volvo realized that the culture was changing, that drivers wanted safety and wanted to 2
  3. 3. hear about it. Volvo was the first car company to promise safety – and it has grown on thatpromise.A brand builds a better bottom line.What does promise-based branding do for your product? The first thing it does is build anemotional connection between your product and your customers. By saying this is what yourproduct promises, it says this is who your customers are. It reinforces your customers’ self-image. Volvo: "I am someone who keeps my family safe." MINI: "I am someone who wants acar that’s always up for some fun." What flows from this promise? Better acquisition andretention of customers. Better marketing ROI. And a better bottom line.How to develop a brand.Start with a brand-promise assessment. From interviews with your internal and externalaudiences, and from a competitive review of the companies that keep you up at night, youlearn three things: What customers want. What benefits your product delivers but may notpromise. What other products don’t promise. Where these three circles intersect – thatsweet spot – can be your brand promise. 3
  4. 4. Where do you deliver your promise?You deliver your brand promise at every point of contact with your customers. Start withinternal communications to your staff. So everyone knows and internalizes your promise, andbecomes an ambassador for your product or service. Think of how Obama won. Millions of hissupporters internalized his promise of "Change we can believe in." When these supporterstalked with their friends, family and co-workers they stayed "on message" and told peoplethat’s why you should vote for Obama. In fact, to make sure everyone in your company getsthe consistent message (your promise); you might train one of your staff to become your CMO:Chief Messaging Officer. Then you can extend your promise into your website and digitalcommunications, offline advertising, collateral materials, social media, events and publicrelations.Prepare to be challenged.Of course, you may hear objections.1. "It sounds costly."No, promise-based branding makes you money. Consider a store brand and, right next to it onthe shelf, a national brand of that product. Often, the store brand has the exact same formula– and is even made by the same manufacturer – as the national brand. Yet the national brandis priced higher. And people pay that price. What are they paying for? The value of the brand.Ralph Lauren’s paint at $26.95 has the exact same formula as Home Depot’s at $9.94!And how’s this for value: Financial World has calculated that the Coca-Cola brand is worth$72.5 billion. In other words, if the company lost all its factories, employees and distributors(all its physical, human and intellectual capital – even its secret formula), the owner of theCoca-Cola brand could go to any bank in the world and borrow money to rebuild the company. 4
  5. 5. 2. "It sounds limiting."Some people will say, "When we talk to a prospect, we have to change our pitch depending onwho the prospect is – his or her demographics, psychographics, etc." But trying to be all thingsto all people results in confusion and a loss of identity. On the other hand, you do want to talkto as many prospects as possible.Here are some solutions:Apple said, "Think different." This differentiated Apple from IBM, implying IBM thoughtconventionally. Yet this promise – "Using Apple helps you think different" – appeals to nearlyeveryone. Who wants to think conventionally?BMW calls itself "The ultimate driving machine." This differentiates BMW from all other luxurycars, implying others may be fine to look at but don’t drive as well. Yet this promise – "You getto drive the ultimate driving machine" – appeals to all affluent people who considerthemselves serious drivers. And most affluent people do.Nike says, "Just do it." This differentiates Nike from all other running shoe and apparelcompanies, implying others don’t help you do it. Yet this promise – "Doing it is easy, just wearthis" – appeals to everyone who wants to be active but has been stymied by excuses (a lot ofpeople!).3. "Now is not a good time."No, it’s the perfect time. Now that many people have less money, they are looking at othersolutions and other brands, breaking out of their old spending habits. They are up for grabs.Here’s food for thought, reported by James Surowiecki in The New Yorker, April 20, 2009:"In the 1920s, Kellogg and Post dominated the market for packaged cereal. When theDepression hit, Post did the predictable thing: it reined in expenses and cut back onadvertising. But Kellogg doubled its ad budget. By 1933, Kellogg’s profits had risen almost 30 5
  6. 6. percent and it had become what remains the industry’s dominant player. Numerous studieshave shown that companies that keep spending on advertising during recessions dosignificantly better than those which make big cuts."But remember: before you spend on advertising, make sure you have a brand – a promise – tospend behind.Take control.Branding based on a great promise helps your company today and positions it for tomorrow.Promise-based branding accelerates customer acquisition and retention, and extends lifetimevalue. If you don’t take control of branding by making a great promise, your audience willcontinue to brand you in ways you may not want – and to that extent your future will be out ofyour hands and in the control of others.About Stephan PartnersGeorge Stephan is Managing Partner of Stephan Partners, a branding and digital marketingcompany. Our branding campaigns help build long term value for companies. Our digitalmarketing platforms deliver customer engagement, sales and ROI. For additional information,visit or contact George Stephan at 212-524-8583. 6