It stopped my multi-touch gesturing fingers in their trackpad tracks. One of those rare occasions when social media pushes your pause button and makes you think. A tweet caught my eye long enough for me to physically write it down on a piece of honest-to-goodness, gen-u-ine paper (well, a sticky note counts). @hunterwalk tweeted, “Your brand is not your logo, name or tagline. It’s the promise you make to your community.” 

I’ve spent many hours fine-tuning what is normally considered standard fare for branding, with my occupational part tackling the word bits — naming and taglines, and their interconnectedness with visual elements. Great care is given to brainstorm and create, then comes the fun-filled back-and-forth, and the sobriety of making the final decisions. Every element is a vital piece of messaging with nuances that will determine the marketing fate of company x.

All of that’s necessary. But a brand exists beyond the digital and print, the snazzy colors of a corporate style guide or a pithy, catchy phrase. It lives in the eyes and minds of people — employees, suppliers and, of course, customers. It lives in the promise of the fundamental brand identity, which is clothed in logos and taglines, but doesn’t truly dwell there. Pardon my philosophizing, but it’s a fact easily forgotten.

So what is this “brand promise”? Well, quite simply, it’s whatever the company says it’ll do (claims) and it’s what customers think should be done (expectations). It’s a pact between a brand and those that interact with it. Providing an excellent product or service, making good on every guarantee, practicing clear and compelling communication, as well as offering thoughtful customer service are all part of not telling lies.

What we normally refer to as “branding” introduces, reinforces or belies the true brand — what’s underneath the gloss. If a brand is a “promise you make to your community,” perhaps more time should be spent thinking about the vows than making the pretty dress.

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