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Why Your Brand Promise Matters More Than Ever

By Patrick Rust


Why Your Brand Promise Matters More Than Ever

Brand promise, brand purpose, mission statement, vision. No matter what you call it, the Brand Architecture template you downloaded on the internet or took a photo of at a conference probably led to a vague statement (amongst others) that many gloss over.

Yet there’s a whole slew of brands – maybe you’ve worked on some, if you’re lucky – that are embracing their Brand Promise throughout their entire organization. Some of these brands have quickly become the biggest brands in the world, won awards, and achieved success, while their competitors struggle for growth and meaning for years.

But before we talk about those brands and why they are #killingit, let’s talk about how a typical brand goes to market.

The Typical Strategic Planning Process

Most agencies and brands undertake a strategic planning process that helps them identify how they’ll go about launching a product, positioning or re-positioning a brand, or take advantage of a key selling period. For the most part, the process is pretty similar. We essentially:

  1. Learn everything about a core audience we think is apt to be interested
  2. Understand how our product or brand intersects with their needs or desires
  3. Seek to identify a cultural trend or tension that can be leveraged to hit a nerve

We usually distill this down into one strategic insight, positioning, or some other statement that goes in a brief. In layman’s terms, we seek to use everything we know in order to open a section of the populous to our brand’s or product’s, selling points. Our “RTBs,” as we call them. And then we come up with a creative way to communicate that.

Well, I’m here to tell you that as an industry, we spend way too much time thinking about how brands can sell to that audience we’ve identified, and not enough time figuring out who they really are – specifically the Brand Promise – and bringing that confidently to the world. That is one of the key differences between great brands and not-so-great brands.

Why Your Brand Promise Matters

At Vitro, we talk about “visionary brands.” This is a brand that yes, often resonates with a core audience, but is built on a core human truth and a larger purpose that they can bring confidently (and creatively) to the larger world around them. When you put all your focus into an audience and a selling proposition, and do not work on fulfilling a Brand Promise, you have no anchor belief that consumers can hear, trust, and be drawn towards. Rather, your brand lacks meaning and more so resembles a salesperson.

When you put all your focus into an audience and a selling proposition, and do not work on fulfilling a Brand Promise, you have no anchor belief that consumers can hear, trust, and be drawn towards.

A Brand Promise also allows you to have vision. When you are dependent on audience data, it often only tells a story of the past, or of low-hanging fruit you can capture tomorrow. However, data struggles to tell a brand what they can say or do today that will tap into a whole new audience that will buy 3 years from now.

Data is not your North Star – your Brand Promise is.

Data and digging into a specific audience can absolutely uncover a unique insight that can create an influential campaign or program. But, without developing your strategic North Star, strategies and their ensuing results are often fleeting.

Brand Promise, on the other hand, is something that lives perpetually. It can be activated at any time, in authentic ways, to give the entire world a strong sense of the brand’s point of view.

Activating Your Brand Promise

So let’s go back to the brands that are #killingit.

As an agency who works primarily on “challenger brands” we admire brands that are able to amplify an idea through earned media. Whether through a break-through social presence, a stunt, a news story, or a product launch, some brands’ reliance on paid media does not quite seem as, frankly, desperate as other brands. They simply get in the news.

Maybe you’ve seen some. There have been a lot of them popping up lately, increasingly in the tech field. The tech industry has rarely relied on paid media to get their message out to the masses. They have relied on behavior and the ensuing coverage of that behavior. Only later do they typically run advertising campaigns. But these brands also exist in other industries:

  • In automotive: Volvo & Safety
  • In apparel: Patagonia & Environmentalism, REI & Outdoor Adventure
  • In food: Taco Bell & Food Beyond Your Imagination

These brands rely on their Brand Promise to drive what they do.

Think about it. Do we align with a brand that has us figured out, and has somehow found a way to reach us in just the right way? Or do we want a brand that acts, that behaves, that pulls us in? Which is more powerful?

Visionary brands don’t determine their North Star by what the consumer wants based on research and focus groups. These brands look internally to what drives them, what value they want to bring to the world, and they work relentlessly to bring that to life.

How liberating is that? Imagine how free Casper must feel, with a mission of Redefining Your Bedroom, rather than having to explain how to sell a mattress to a 24-54 year who are unsatisfied with blah blah blah snore (pun intended).

Now, they can treat their CRM completely differently than the mattress superstore around the corner. They can engage in stunts. They can introduce a line of dog beds and get a ton of coverage for it because it means something. Because Casper means something. They draw us in, because of who they are and what they promise. And that promise is to everyone.

Avoiding Pitfalls & Keeping Your Eye on The Promise

Often, potentially ubiquitous brands limit their audiences for the express purpose of having a tighter brief and a smaller audience to spend money against (to pick off like fish in a barrel). Listen, I get it. You shouldn’t spend money against unwise audiences. But many brands have the potential to tap into their Brand Promise and have a place in our larger culture. And by becoming part of the cultural fabric and creating a stronger brand meaning, brand preference is formed, and you sell more widgets.

The other mistake brands often make has to do with the RTB. Otherwise known as the proof point that makes us feel comfortable about saying something. Proof points almost always exist in terms of product specifications, to support a rational argument as to why the product is superior to others. Yet, people don’t buy on rational reasons.

Proof points can also exist to support your Brand Promise. Your products themselves are support points to your Brand Promise, as are the ways you behave out in the real world. People don’t believe what you say anymore. They believe what you DO. They believe Volvo is about safety because they painted a bunch of bikes to increase safety for everyone. There’s no way to sell cars there. Only a way to fulfill their promise and create a stronger impression in the mind of the general populous.

Which brings me back to being in the news.

When you have a well understood Brand Promise, you can be nimble. In today’s media landscape, while there is still value to a well-planned campaign, there is immense opportunity to organically align yourself to cultural moments. If you don’t align to a Brand Promise and reinforce it through the way you behave, these Visionary brands will leave you in the dust.

And, you know what? It’s great for agencies. You can be creative. You can look for opportunities without the ball and chain of “reaching the right audience” or “aligning with the 2018 strategic approach.” You see an opportunity to fulfill your promise, and you act. You behave, and attention follows. Brand love follows. Word of mouth follows. Commerce follows.




Patrick Rust
Patrick Rust

Patrick Rust

Director of Integrated Communications

Communications planning by day. Soccer player and Trader Joe's lover by night.