Brand, brand position, brand promise

Which one is it?

Have you been in a meeting that resembles a sit-com, when two actors are having a parallel conversation, but both have different takes on what the conversation is about? That situation can be common when marketers start using brand-speak, and this can cause confusion. Like many professional services, advertising and branding agencies use plenty of terms to describe tools of the trade. In the land of brand development, some terms are used interchangeably and often have a meaning that is unique to one agency. Even for seasoned professionals, the terms we use can have a variety of meanings. 

I’ve been in brand development for 25 years, and fortunate to have worked with Lynn Parker, a nationally-recognized brand strategist, who shaped my own definition of brand tools for clients like HP, T-Mobile and Microsoft. This is also how KW2 defines these important ideas. So let’s start at the top of the pyramid of terms. 

Lynn, author of the book Integrated Branding, defines brand promise as “the intersection between core company strengths and what customers value.” A brand promise should be the north star of company actions, interactions, communication and focus. Volvo may talk about a variety of features their models offer, but they never stray from the promise of safety. A brand promise is a long-term idea. But how we position our brand against competitors, or how we message around that promise, can evolve over time due to changes in the marketplace. 

A brand promise should be the north star of company interactions, communication and focus.

Parker provides a clean definition of brand positioning: “What currently distinguishes you from your competitors among your customers’ prospects and what's in other audiences’ minds.” From a communicator’s perceptive, this is the money shot. We have to completely understand how our products or services are different against a competitive set in order to win consumers.  

Another conveyor of a brand is the brand identity. To us, brand identity is what your consumer sees and hears from you, along with the tone and personality these all convey. It comes from your brand position. It’s your name, logo, tagline, look, feel and messaging of the brand that consumers most easily identify with. If we start the branding process here though, we’ll fall short. Companies and organizations that don’t communicate a strong brand position are more likely to be devalued and perform poorly in the marketplace long-term.

If you’re in an organization or company with a complex brand structure, we step back and look at the brand hierarchy. Brands compete against other brands, but they also relate to other products or services within a system. Whether it’s an umbrella company brand, a product brand or a shared brand structure, communicators need to know where the equities of their brands lie.

So the next time you’re in a conversation and someone says, “we need to re-brand,” don’t find yourself in a sit-com moment, but take the time to ask how they define brand terms so you can begin the process successfully.