Step 1: building a brand promise

Welcome to my second blog of a seven-part series, in which I explain how to build a strong brand, a lovemark, step-by-step. Missed the first one? No problem. You can read it here at “Building your brand successfully”. After my introduction, I’ll now reveal what is at the basis of it all: the brand promise.

Start with the foundation
When customers come to me, they want to see action right away. And I understand that. Anceaux Marketing deals with ambitious start-ups that want to hit the ground running. Or existing companies that are wrestling with achieving their goals. They don’t have a long time to wait for success.

But still. If you want to build a strong brand, you can’t do it flippantly. Sure, we can build a rapid campaign and achieve short-term success, but when I explain that you can achieve more sales, growth and continuity with the proper steps, customers usually sit up and take notice immediately. This blog deals with the first step on the way towards a strong brand: building a brand promise. The foundation of the company.

Simon Sinek – WHY
Simon Sinek has discovered why one company is more successful than the next, and speaks often about this. Take Apple, for example. Why is Apple so innovative? Year after year? What do they do differently from their competitors (of which they certainly have plenty)? Sinek kept coming back to the same findings: inspirational leaders and organisations all communicate in the same manner, and it’s exactly the opposite of what others do. Often, only the ‘WHAT’ and the ‘HOW’ are communicated. What an organisation does is easy. Some of them also know how they do it, and use that piece of information to add value. But the ‘WHY’? Not much thought is given to this, and it’s rarely discussed. And it’s precisely the ‘WHY’ that makes a lovemark. That is the key to success.

Watch Simon Sinek’s film and get inspired; he tells the story like no other:

Brand promise model
Organisations that make their reason for existing clear are the exception to the rule. I have developed a model that aligns with the Simon Sinek method, but I’ve added a dimension, let’s call it a ‘ring’, to it –  the ‘WHO’. Who is the target group for your company? My model can be illustrated as follows:

To elaborate this model properly, we must start at the internal organisation. We are not using the standpoint of the target group or of competitors as our basis. I truly believe this, and many marketing professionals probably don’t agree with me. But it starts with the organisation and its reason for existence. The foundation is internal. Communication can only become authentic and convincing if the foundation is solid.

Most of my professional colleagues first look at external factors. The big pitfall there is that the story to the outside world is adapted entirely to what marketeers/communications people think that people want to hear. It becomes forced and doesn’t resonate, since it’s not real. Often, there’s also no buy-in internally either. How could there be?

The same goes for companies that focus intently on competitors. By so doing, they force themselves into a particular position. I don’t believe in this. There’s enough for everyone. Enough money, enough love and enough market. So, my recommendation would be: don’t focus too much on others, but base yourself on your own power as an organisation and highlight your strengths and reason for existence. Focus on the ‘WHY’.

As the illustration reflects, the elements of the brand promise are closely linked to each other. The mission is the foundation on which the rest is built.

Step-by-step through the model
I often organise brainstorming sessions with organisations, to make this model clear. And each time I’m surprised by how much inspiration and energy is released when thinking about the various steps. By the way, this applies not only to entire organisations or companies, but it can also be used for a department (for better positioning or better results), a person (personal branding) or for a (new) product. Let’s go through the most important steps.

Companies that have a mission are demonstrably more successful.

Missions come in all sizes and colours. Long, short… Forceful, ethereal… Concrete and visionary. As you can see, the organisation’s mission is the basis for the Anceaux Marketing brand promise model. So, this must guide everything that the organisation stands for. It’s a compass. It must reveal a company’s purpose on earth. Both what it does, and why it does that. As a point of departure from which all major marketing decisions – and actually all company decisions – are made. So, in addition to providing a decision-making framework, a good mission also provides focus for employees – where are we headed and what is our role in this? Important: a mission must not only be understandable internally, but must also be appealing to the outside.

Personally, I find the mission of “365 days successful” a wonderful example. Their mission is to make the Netherlands the happiest country in the world by 2020. This really eggs people on to want to know more about this. How are they going to do that? The press was all over this as well. The company is now making millions and they’re still working on this mission.

A mission is a long-term item: it need not be achieved tomorrow. The mission takes shape because of the rings around it.

Core values
The core values are a company’s most important basic values. These show what the organisation considers valuable. Naturally, the core values align with the mission and they underpin the organisational culture. In this manner, they play a role in “keeping people on the same page”. But they also play a role in daily marketing and company decisions. Which products do you launch, how, and which customers match this profile? Is “integrity” one of the core values? If so, the organisation shouldn’t act in an aggressive manner, saddling customers up with worthless paper, for example. Well-chosen core values quickly make clear what a company stands for. For employees and potential employees, but also for customers and potential customers.

Our recommendation is to select no more than five core values Focus = key.

To truly capture a company’s identity in core values, it’s important that these are shared by all of the employees. Otherwise, you’ll end up simply announcing it at the front door, without translating it into activities, ICT and human interaction. These become empty words. A company is not a logo. It has a face, thanks to the people within that company. Take them along in the story and select them on the basis of this.

No other organisation on earth has exactly the same mission as yours. You’d have to look really hard to find a perfect clone with exactly the same core values. In brief, this is how an organisation distinguishes itself from the rest of the market. But what is it precisely that a customer gets? A customer doesn’t purchase a mission or core values. The customer purchases a product or a service. And what makes that product or service truly stand out from the competitor’s offering? In other words, what is the specialism?

It’s incredibly important to have a clear vision of this. In our highly developed economy with its intense competition, everyone is tending toward niche markets. So, is your organisation a one-size-fits-all? If so, you’re history. it’s important to recognise the specialism and to make this known: clarify it as necessary and use it to convince (potential) customers.

Target groups
Target groups are specific groups of people that an organisation wishes to reach with a particular offering. Generally, companies have multiple target groups, instead of a single target group; these can often be distinguished by age, gender, spending pattern or level of education, for example. By focusing on this, you can approach target groups in a segmented fashion, with your message written in their “language” and with the image appropriate to this.

The target group is also determinant for your choice of channel. This is vitally important – and it would appear so obvious. Nonetheless, in practice, defining the target group is often forgotten or is handled unprofessionally. It’s easy to claim: “everyone can use it!” So, everyone is the target group. By not applying focus, you’re shooting with birdshot. Some people may indeed be reached, but will it really touch them? Not likely.

In branding, you fashion the message broadly and then you segment in campaigns. That’s my recommendation. Another recommendation: look for customers that fit with the company and with the company’s core values. This guarantees successful cooperation, ensuring that the work is done with pleasure. If there is no alignment, you often encounter more difficulties than the success you were looking for. And the brand can only be reinforced through successful collaborations.

Core messages
Core messages are the basis for effective marketing and communication at the executive level. This brings us to the concrete substantiation of Anceaux Marketing’s brand promise structure. Of course, there can be variations to core messages in practice. This can even be welcome. But, in essence, these are the messages you wish to communicate in order to build a bridge between the organisation’s objectives and the customer’s needs: the ultimate connection that Anceaux Marketing aims for. Reaching the target group and touching them in an efficient manner so that the customer doesn’t experience marketing as marketing, enabling the company to achieve (and exceed) its goals.

A core message is built up for each core value and for each target group, linked to each other. It becomes even stronger when linked to a proven result.

Foundation for years
By going through these steps, you build a foundation for many years to come. Suddenly, making the right decisions becomes much easier. Consider hiring suppliers, for example. Do they fit with the core values? Will they reinforce the organisation’s brand because they act in the same way and believe in the business?

Or consider external communication. The framework is put in place. So there are far fewer internal discussions, but with greater focus. It’s a question of continuing on the chosen route and making course corrections as necessary. In other words, demonstrating agility with the market (which, by the way, can be a challenge in itself).

And what about personnel policy? Are you hiring the right people? Do they believe in the company’s roadmap and can they make a fundamental contribution to this?

And, as a final example, consider such technical issues as a website. Which functionalities are needed to support and reinforce the brand? A brand promise can provide insight into expanding the solution that you offer. For the online recruitment platform built for the company Someone, we made sure that the functionality aligned with the brand promise. It made the decisions much easier, because we knew what Someone wished to stand for. Read more about the Someone case.

Follow all seven blogs on the road towards a strong brand
This was the second of a series of seven blogs in which I take you along on the brand-building journey for a strong brand. The following blogs will be published soon. Number three focusses on the internal organisation, the foundation that I discussed here in this blog piece. How do you make sure that this foundation is indestructible? Read about this in the third blog of this series: Winning externally, starting internally.