What’s the purpose of a brand promise? Did you answer: “It’s our commitment to our customers”? If so — or if you haven’t created one yet — you have an incredible upgrade opportunity ahead of you. It’s a chance to make a profound connection with your team that few leaders ever do. It starts by rethinking who your brand promise is for. Because, while your customers are of course one critical audience for that promise, they’re not the most important one for it to reach.
Instead of thinking about your brand promise as a public-facing statement, think of it as an ongoing conversation. It’s a conversation that’s between you and your team, and between them and their work. Because it’s in those spaces, and within those people, where your brand promise is either delivered or remains a dream. Said another way, if you want it to mean something to your customers, it’d better mean twice as much to your team. And the way you do that is by using it to paint a picture that they can find themselves within.
It’s the lack of a link to their personal self-interest that’s one of the two reasons your brand promise isn’t working right now. The other is that it’s likely filled with stock language — business cliche, unnecessary adjectives and other ‘generic’ statements that people don’t know what you mean by (though they may mean a lot to you!). But the harder one to fix is the first one — that your current brand promise is overly focused on the experience you want your customers to have without speaking to the people charged with the enormous responsibility of delivering that experience.
And it’s those two reasons why your current brand promise probably sounds something like this:
Our customers will feel _________, because we are the best __________ in the ____________ at ____________. And we’re passionate about it!
Can you see how the two problems happen at once? It’s all about the customer, and it makes an assumption that the team is already on board. It skips over them as people, and the hard work of figuring out what truly drives them. And as you know if you’ve ever worked for someone else, helping someone else reach their goals isn’t the best motivator.
It should give you pause the next time you decide to remind the team about your values, vision or brand. Consider the listener. Imagine how you would feel in their position hearing again how important those words are (to you). The better half of you wants it to be about them, but until you do something about, the other half will keep winning.
You and your team are not alone. These kinds of safe, middle-of-the-road, brand promises are nearly universal. With all the talk about values and passion over the last decade; everyone has one in some form or another. But they can easily do more harm than good. And, the reason most leaders get them wrong is an incredibly reasonable one: because the thing that has to change about your brand promise is hard to put your finger on. Which is exactly why getting even halfway there can make an enormous difference.
Here’s a short exercise to start your brand promise upgrade by filling in the blanks:
- The thing I’d love our customers to say more than anything else about us is that they felt _______________________________.
- If you want to deliver an experience like that, you have to be the kind of person who _________________________________.
- And, to be a person like that you have to be willing to ________________________________. That’s hard, I know; most people aren’t willing to put the work in to show up that way. But this is how we do it here. And I’m committed to helping you get there.
Now, take those three complete statements and write a new brand promise (almost always a better route than trying to edit your existing). In the end it might sound more like this:
What makes us different is the same thing that makes our customers different, it’s that we ____________________________________________. And we never feel like we’ve mastered it, we’re always learning how to become a little more ___________________________________ each day. We’re always asking ourselves “________________________________”? And our customers tell us we’re on track without knowing it when they say things like _____________________________________.
Your brand promise isn’t finished until everyone you care about can find themselves in it. Keep iterating on it, bounce it off some people who can help you make it better until you get it exactly right. You’ll know it when you feel it move something in them.
Think back on your career for a moment. Can you imagine what it would be like to work in a culture led by someone who delivered on a promise like that? How would your life have been different? How can you do that for the people now looking to you?