By Kevin Lawrence (Coach Kevin)

The concept of brand promise is where I will focus on more in depth now, because as I detailed in Part I there are many rudimentary definitions of brand promise shared online and in business. As I previously mentioned, a brand promise is not a tagline telling customers what they should expect from your business. This is instead a positioning statement and while this statement is important in engaging customers to do business with your company, make no mistake, it is not a brand promise.

A brand promise is an internal strategy focused on two to three non-negotiable things that you stand for that fit with who you are and what you do to serve unmet, or under-met, needs in the market.

These two to three pillars of your brand promise must be quantifiable so you know without a doubt whether or not you are actually staying true to your brand promise. Embedding measurable pillars as part of your brand promise also provides a filter against which everything you do internally can be judged by, for example, acquisitions or new product and service development.

Once you have developed your internal strategy based on two to three measurable pillars, you then align your systems and processes to deliver on your brand promise. And once your systems are in place, then and only then, do you come up with your positioning statement for customers and prospects. By focusing on the three pillars and optimizing your internal strategy, you should drive success and as a result increased market share, relevancy and dominance.

Uncovering and activating your brand promise

Discovering the unmet or under-met needs in the market that you have unique abilities to fill and that would be very difficult for your competition to replicate will lead you to your brand promise. For example, Rackspace, a world leader in hosting recognized that most companies in the industry focused on the technology end of hosting, leaving customers with less than satisfactory service. As a result, Rackspace created its “Fanatical Support” model to deliver the service and support that customers were previously missing from other server hosting providers. Rackspace’s positioning statement is:

Get Dedicated Server and Managed Server Hosting Services backed by 100% Network Uptime Guarantee & Fanatical support

Underpinning Rackspace’s positioning statement is a brand promise based on a series of operational and customer service pillars including:

  • 24/7 customer support (pillar 1);
  • 100% uptime (pillar 2); and
  • Guaranteed 1-hour hardware replacement and instant emergency ticket response (pillar 3).

Many people have commented that their focus on fanatical support sets them apart from the competition.

Fanatical Support® is Rackspace doing what it takes to make a difference for every customer; a difference that will truly change the way you work. It’s a promise that’s deeply rooted in our belief that being a great hosting provider requires more than just the best technologies, but the best of support and service.”

Ideally, companies should segment the delivery of their brand promise across customer-facing and internal-facing systems and processes. For example, if your organization promises service that is unmatched in the industry, your human resources practices are going to focus on attracting and retaining people who will go above and beyond to deliver exceptional experiences.

From a technology perspective, you will probably avoid complex processes that dictate how customers can reach you for service. Instead, your organization will be transparent across customer touch-points and each customer escalation will have one internal person who assumes responsibility for resolving specific issues. Moreover, your executives will make it a priority to spend time with customers at least weekly to ensure that your organization is filling the unmet need for exceptional service better than anyone else in the market.

Southwest Airlines is often cited in case studies as an excellent example of a company that has aligned its entire business to deliver on its brand promise to offer:

  • Low fares (pillar 1);
  • Lots of flights (pillar 2); and
  • Lots of fun with exceptional customer service (pillar 3).

To accomplish this, Southwest focuses on flying frequently between point-to-point destinations; it doesn’t provide extra frills that drive up costs, such as on-board meals; nor does it offer advance seat selection, which would only delay departures, something it does more than 3,200 times a day.  Southwest Airlines has been in business for nearly 40 years and has earned significant industry recognition for its commitment to customers and exceptional performance including being named Best North American Low Cost Airline by Executive Travel in July 2010, and in June 2010, the American Customer Satisfaction Index ranked Southwest Airlines number one among all airlines for the 17th year in a row.

Articulating your brand promise to the market

The articulation of your brand promise is your positioning statement that should engage customers to do business with your organization. This statement will capture exactly what your company guarantees it will do for customers, and more importantly encourage customers to seek you out instead of your competition. Your positioning statement must be characterized by the following:

  1. It is unique, distinguishing your company from the competition in the minds of consumers; and
  2. It is galvanizing, inspiring employees, partner, investors and other key stakeholders to truly believe in your company’s purpose.  Also important…they will align with your efforts and in fact, share responsibility to help your business succeed.

Coach Kevin’s tips for precision performance

Uncovering the perfect brand promise that resonates with your prospects, customers and team may be challenging, but you have to absolutely concentrate on this element of your brand and how you execute on it throughout the organization to be successful.

Here are some of the questions that clients ask me when determining their brand promise and how I help them overcome obstacles:

1.) We have been operating for years without a brand promise, where do we begin to determine one?

Coach Kevin: Many successful companies already have one in place; however, they may be unconscious to it and simply pursuing it naturally. One of the best ways to uncover your intrinsic brand promise is to interview your best customers. Ask them:

  • What initially attracted them to do business with you?
  • What keeps them doing business with you?
  • What do they love about your company and share with others in regards to their experiences with your company?
  • What do you provide that other companies can’t or don’t?

2.) Can we change our brand promise over time or do we have to pick one that remains in place for years to come?

Coach Kevin: Some companies have remained true to their brand promise over time. If you really uncover and get your brand promise right from the start then it probably won’t need to change a lot. Furthermore, once a company uncovers its brand promise and aligns the whole business around it, the only reason it would change is if there is a substantial change in the market.

3.) It is tough to come up with a brand promise that is measurable, why does it have to be measurable?

Coach Kevin: It needs to be measurable because you need to know whether or not you are delivering what you say you will to your customers. Many companies make a promise, experience substantial growth and then lose sight of the promise they made so the momentum fades. In fact, some companies are completely unaware they stopped delivering on the promise, but their customers sure notice.

Carrefour, the #2 retailer in the world (behind Wal-Mart) based in France slipped on its competitive strategy. Lars Olofsson, the chief of Carrefour stated, “Carrefour had lost track of being client and consumer focused and lost a certain track of price competitiveness.” According to an article in The New York Times, “market share had slipped at home, shareholders were uneasy and the group had lost focus on core clients, while pursing a haphazard international expansion.”

Setting measurable goals within the brand promise will ensure that you are accountable for achieving your promise. It takes the subjectivity out of whether or not you think your company is doing a good job. Regardless, at the end of the day, it is not what you think but instead what your customers think that matters.

4.) What happens if we create a measurable brand promise but then find out that we cannot fulfill what we said?

Coach Kevin: If you cannot fulfill on a measurable brand promise, you have to ask yourself if you are fully committed to achieving your promise. If you are then you have to realign all the systems and processes in your business to deliver on the promise you make. If you still have a problem delivering on your promise, then I encourage you to learn about the concept of Catalytic Mechanisms, which Jim Collins states, “are the crucial link between objectives and performance; they are a galvanizing, non-bureaucratic means to turn one into the other.”

Using this powerful tool will ensure that the measurable aspects of your brand promise are achieved.

Mastering your vision and brand promise may seem like a time-consuming investment, particularly for time-starved CEOs and entrepreneurs, but it is absolutely worth the investment of time and minds to do so in order to help your business succeed and grow.

The world’s most valuable and recognizable brands make this a priority because it gives their employees, prospects, customers and other stakeholders a clear vision of what they stand for in the market and how they bring customers value. Furthermore, with a clear vision and measurable and entrenched brand promise, every aspect of the organization including values, talent attraction and retention programs, performance management programs, reward systems and work processes, to name a few, can be aligned and focused on one unified and well articulated corporate strategy.

Five critical factors to master your vision and brand promise

Based on the work I have done with clients, here are five critical factors that will help you master your vision and brand promise.

1.) Your vision and brand promise are extremely important aspects of your strategy and take time to figure out. Many companies struggle with uncovering their vision and brand promise despite having an initial starting point.

One of my clients struggled for a year to come up with his company’s vision. Then in an interview with a potential employee, the candidate said, “You know what I love about you guys….” That’s right, someone who wanted to work for the company uncovered the purpose just based on answering a question in an interview.

2.) The company’s purpose will usually come from within the founder and is often what drove them to start the business in the first place.

3.) Your BHAG needs to be articulated in a way that engages the hearts of the workforce.

I hear, “I want to build a $100 million (or $1 billion) company,” all the time. The challenge is that this monetary goal may be limiting because it doesn’t necessary engage the hearts and minds of all the people in the company, particularly the younger generation, which largely believes in working for organizations focused on creating positive social outcomes.

4.) When analyzing and uncovering your potential brand promise, remember it must be focused on the customer. The secret to your brand promise can typically be found by tapping into the opinions of your current and best customers. And remember, your brand promise is not about pleasing everyone.

5.) Once you have identified your vision and brand promise, you need to find engaging ways to discuss and entrench them into your organizations. They need to be top of mind for your employees and they need to be at the forefront of all strategic decisions, behaviors and interactions with customers and one another.

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Kevin Lawrence is a strategic advisor and coach to CEOs and executive teams across North America and internationally. Driven by a relentless passion for helping business leaders get what they really want, in business and life, Kevin has coached clients across a wide range of industries, including consumer packaged goods, manufacturing, luxury retail, media, automotive and professional services. He deeply believes that CEOs and entrepreneurs can have tremendous business success along with an enriching, adventurous and fulfilling lifestyle, taking their professional and personal accomplishments to an entirely new level.

For more than a decade, Kevin has helped clients overcome major obstacles, deal with tough decisions and capitalize on new opportunities to generate breakthrough results. Clients often turn to Kevin when they are faced with a frustrating and challenging issue, which causes them to seriously look at making a big change, quickly. His methods, style and savvy approach have helped his clients expand into new markets, build high performance leadership teams, attract profitable clients, improve productivity, and increase revenue and profitability. Also, with Kevin as their advisor, clients reduce their stress and hours worked so they have more time and energy to live their personal version of an outrageous quality of life. For more information, visit www.CoachKevin.com or call 1-877-564-6224

Copyright 2010, SGI Synergy Group Inc. & Kevin Lawrence

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