“Communicate Your Values”

Learn how to articulate your brand promise to encourage growth.

This is the second in a four-part series on branding.

As an entrepreneur, you have a specific set of values, and the better you articulate those values, the easier it is to grow. If your brand promise is crystal clear, you will attract the right customers and employees — those who will benefit most from your organization.

At Nims Associates Inc., a Decatur, Ill.-based information-technology consulting firm, articulating its brand promise has paid off in numerous ways, says CEO Jack O’Riley: "I have even seen a change in my leadership style. For the first time, I can tell the Nims story."

Spelling it out

Start developing your brand promise by filling in the blanks of this statement: "We are the company that X." Keep in mind that your brand promise needs to be:

  • Simple. Make sure that your company’s brand promise is self-explanatory and easy to remember.
    Example: Nims boiled its brand promise down to one inspiring sentence, "We put a lot into our community of employees so our clients can draw on us for their needs." The brand promise is a "powerful descriptor," says O’Riley. It is one sentence that everyone can understand without an explanation.
  • Inspirational. Clearly define that point on the horizon that your company aspires to reach. If your brand promise inspires your employees to do something great, your customers also benefit.
  • Emotional. Address personal or spiritual needs such as acceptance, self-esteem, recognition, the desire to do good, the desire to belong or the desire to help others.
    Example: Pharmacia-Upjohn Co.’s brand promise is, "Driven by the need to restore and maintain the integrity of human life."
  • Credible. Don’t reach too far; make sure you can deliver what you promise.

Identify your audiences

Your brand must be communicated to everyone who comes in contact with your organization. Although customers and employees are obvious audiences, these groups have two tiers:

  1. Potential customers and employees.
  2. Existing customers and employees.

With potential customers and employees, the goal is to introduce them to who you are. For existing customers and employees, your communications should reinforce the promise you initially made to them.

Other audiences could include:

  • Shareholders.
  • Investors.
  • Government.
  • Community in which you work.
  • Industry peers.
  • Media.
  • Suppliers.

Dale Carnegie said, "People aren’t interested in you. They are interested in themselves." Think long and hard about why your customer or employees should care about your brand promise. Put yourself in their shoes and ask, "What’s in it for me?" Then translate your brand promise into tangible messages that are relevant to each audience group.

For example, Nims’ brand promise is internally focused. But its "community" orientation benefits the customer several ways:

  • It’s a warm, family-oriented environment where employees love to work. The turnover rate is much lower than the industry average; customers don’t have to worry about a Nims account manager quitting suddenly and forcing them to break in someone new.
  • It’s a community that shares its collective knowledge. When a customer hires one Nims consultant, that customer is actually getting access to more than 600 consultants’ minds and experiences.
  • Nims draws the customer into its community, making them part of the family.

After examining those benefits, Nims translated its brand promise into, "Giving our best to help you succeed" — a message that resonated with customers.

Once you have translated the brand promise into tangible benefits for each audience, make sure you include these messages in every communications piece and experience that you deliver. But remember: Before you can make the brand promise attractive to the external marketplace, it must first motivate your internal audience. It needs to direct the CEO, management and employees on the ultimate goals they should accomplish.

Read the November [2001] issue of The Edward Lowe Report to learn how to act on your brand promise.

Climbing the brand ladder graphic
Illustration: Michael Klein

Writers: Laura Johnston and Susan Kirchner are managing partners of Identity 3.0 LLC, a creative brand-strategy firm based in Chicago.