Cheryl Heller, the founder and CEO of Heller Communication Design in New York has some interesting thoughts about branding. Most people think of a brand as a tool for communicating who we are and what we do. We think of logos or catchy names that convey the mission or identity of our organization. A good brand does express identity, according to Heller. But great branding goes one step further: It conveys a promise.
“You don’t have a brand,” Heller said, “you have a brand promise. A brand promise does more than express who you are, it indicates to your audience what they can expect to get from your company in exchange for their money and time — whether they are a customer, partner, investor or employee.”
Heller offered a simple case study. The Ritz-Carlton Company, widely recognized for effective management, also has a very successful brand promise: Ritz Carlton: Ladies and gentlemen serving ladies and gentlemen.
This tells investors: Ritz-Carlton serves a distinguished clientele. It tells employees: A high level of behavior is expected of you and you can expect a high level of treatment from Ritz-Carlton. It tells customers: You can expect a certain experience when you stay at a Ritz-Carlton hotel.
When done right, the most effective branding is really an act of persuasion. But the real payoff of persuasive branding isn’t loyalty, Heller emphasized. It is forgiveness. Every company makes mistakes. Have a bad stay at the Ritz? Have a bad flight on United? Which has the more persuasive brand promise? (United: “Fly the friendly skies.”) Which company are you more likely to forgive?
So how do you create a brand message that expresses your identity, delivers a compelling promise, and persuades your audience to behave in a certain way?
Four Tips on Persuasive Branding:
1. Be brief. Be clear. “Clarity and brevity do not come naturally to entrepreneurs with a mission,” Heller lamented. Use the Ritz Carlton promise as an example. Notice it does not include words like “luxury” or “hospitality.”
2. Don’t clutter your brand promise with references to how you differentiate yourself. “Who you are and what you do is core to your brand promise,” Heller said. “How you do it, that changes as you grow.” Wizbang as your technology or method is, it is only one of your tools. Don’t mention it.
3. Avoid common words used by other companies. Heller’s examples: strategy, core values, mission, vision, operational excellence, efficiency, value-added, character, integrity, positioning, sustainability, corporate citizen, cause.
4. Speak to all your constituents: customer, partner, investor, donor, or employee.