“People do not buy goods and services. They buy relations, stories, and magic.”

Seth Godin

Now it’s time for the final step. We choose what to promise whom.

Your brand promise is a claim of unique usefulness to your segment.

If you get it right, your audience will choose your brand over the competitors. They’ll give their time, money or vote to you.

Before making the promise, we will consider:

  • The needs of your market segment(s).
  • The promises of the
  • What makes you(r organization)
  • What makes your project

For this chapter, I recommend using the Brand Strategy Worksheet  at .

Step 1: Choose your segment(s)

You have divided the market into segments and described each of them. Perhaps more than one segment seems attractive. And the more segments you serve, the bigger the potential reach of your brand. But:

You can’t be all things to all people.

The more specific your segment(s), the more tailored your message will be and the bigger the chance it resonates.

This doesn’t mean that your tailored brand won’t have wide appeal.

Tailored brands can be picked up by the masses once a trend-setting segment has adopted it.

That’s why Paypal targetted eBay’s top sellers, and luxury brands mobilize celebreties.

Step 2: Highlight a project benefit

We saw that your project offers many benefits. But which benefit matters most to your chosen segment?

The answer is simple. We focus on the main quality that your segment is looking for. If they are hungry, offer meat. If they are thirsty, offer milk. And don’t forget the intangibles you are offering like status or guilt relief. In other words:

Focus on the pain of your segment.

  • Selling makeup to teenagers? Focus on the pain of not belonging and promise
  • Selling hardware to gamers? Focus on the pain of losing and promise an edge in
  • Selling cappuchino’s in a hip city? Focus on the pain of solitude and promise an authentic

By focussing on the pain, you instantly get your customers’ attention. Why? Because they’ve been struggling, and perhaps actively looking for a solution. Pains include the need for status, community, or authenticity.

Pick the (intangible) benefit(s) you think will resonate most.

Don’t pack too many benefits in your promise:

  • No-one will believe you.
  • You don’t have the time to communicate multiple unique benefits.
  • No-one will remember multiple unique benefits.

The more benefits you stress, the less clear and powerful your promise.

Step 3: Dodge the competition

Your competitors are already making promises. If they offer similar promises, you can one-up them by offering a superior one. Or, you can find a hole and fill it by serving a fresh promise to an ignored segment.

The more unique your promise, the easier to conquer your segment.

If your brand enters a crowded market, others might already claim similar uniqueness. This means your territory is taken.

Since every crowded market has a leader and a bunch of also-rans, it allows you to see clearly which promises are not being made and which segments are underserved.

In a busy market, make sure your promise is truly unique.

Never do the thing that too many others in the market are trying to do.If you find that some competitors are very dominant, perhaps you can focus on an underserved segment. Look for the hole – and then fill it.

The more common your promise, the harder it is to capture attention.

But perhaps you get there first and the market is nearly empty. You can then establish a leadership position by making your promise to the audience first.

You have the added uniqueness of being the first, so make sure to communicate this.

Pioneers can claim leadership by being the first.

But you can only remain the leader by being the best. If a competitor arrives with a superior promise to the same segment, they will quickly dispose of you despite you being first.

Step 4: Make sure you’re credible and competent.

Finally, you need to make sure you are credible enough to make the promise, and good enough to execute on it.

Lavish promises require great credibility.

A common attack in presidential politics is that candidates “lack experience”. The implicit suggestion is that the candidate’s promises will never be fulfilled because he or she isn’t credible enough.

In business, it is also important to be seen as a credible player. Anything beyond a lemonade stand requires significant skills, and the bigger your promise the larger your credibility has to be.

Especially when your innovation produces a leap over existing solutions, making the old way of doing things redundant. In this scenario, your promise sounds messianic and the competition will preach your inevitable demise.

Lavish promises require great execution power.

As we discussed in the introduction, you actually have to fulfill the promises you make if you want to avoid severe damage to your brand’s reputation. So make sure that you are capable to fill the hole in the market you’re eying.

If your talents match the challenge, you can make the promise.

But be very honest in your assessment. Making promises is easier than delivering on them. If you require more resources to fulfill these promises, this should be made explicit.

If you want to avoid embarrassment and reputational damage at all cost, always follow the old adage: “underpromise, overdeliver.”

Step 5. Turn your promise into a war cry.

Now you have a clear picture of who (organization) will promise what (project benefit) to whom (segment), and why it’s superior (from competitors).

  • Buy my cow for delicious
  • Subscribe to my dog food service for a healthy
  • Vote for me to keep the foreigners out and bring manufacturing

But this doesn’t sound very sexy. It won’t inspire your audience, nor your own troops.

Your brand promise has to bring out a (strong) positive emotion.

Because in that busy marketplace, with a glimmer of contact between you and your potential buyer, what will you yell at him to stop him in his tracks? How will you convince busy people to consider your cow in that split second?

You need to convert your ordinary promise into a memorable war cry.

In my town, there is a market with a successful trader. He spends his time behind some rickety tables covered with plastic sheets and strawberries. When you arrive on any given Saturday, you can hear his booming voice from afar. Now, what do you think this veteran salesman is yelling?

  • “Buy my strawberries, they are nice and cheap!”

or,

  • “Buy these Spanish imports, they are delicious and affordable!”

Of course not. He knows that addressing the pain of those in his market bluntly is useless. They need low-cost fruit, for the supermarket is too expensive. That’s why they are here.

Yet they also want to avoid the slack that you make soap with. In short, their need is fruit of affordable quality.

But our salesman doesn’t address this need directly, for his crowd doesn’t want to be reminded of their poverty. At best, he fails to inspire. At worst, he insults. So he takes a playful line that he can use for 8 hours straight:

Now let’s dissect this ingenious war cry:

  • “Juicy” is a powerful word that conveys not only quality but also a taste experience. Saliva runs down your cheeks merely hearing it.
  • “3 for 2” signals a deal can be made. It’s affordable, but not overtly so.
  • By focussing on strawberries only, he keeps his proposition simple and asks little of your attention.
  • His bare inventory has you assume he’s a strawberry specialist.

Now let’s look at a brand promise for those that won’t visit a peasant market until a nuclear holocaust forces them too.

Most people have used anti-dandruff shampoo in their lives. Imagine making a brand promise to teenagers like this:

“Don’t be a social outcast! Remove dandruff with our chemical shampoo!”

This wouldn’t work. This approach addresses the pain rudely directly, and fails to evoke a positive emotion, something we saw was crucial for decision making. Hence they say:

“Be hug ready.”

Like this, they force you to visualize a situation where their project has addressed your pain. They also make you cringe. For if you don’t buy their product, you’ll be clutching people’s faces to your dandruff-riddled shoulders. Yuck.

The promise should indirectly address the need and visualize a positive end result.

Now imagine me selling customized dog food to middle-aged women whose dogs are often overweight. We take out a billboard and scream:

“Fix that obese embarrassment of a dog. Buy our customized dog food!”

That’d be a bit rough. So let’s say:

“Keep your best friend healthy and fit.”

The promise should evoke a positive emotion.

Here we communicate several things.

  • It’s not your fault the dog is fat. She just requires tailor-made food.
  • It’s your best friend so don’t be stingy.
  • It keeps her healthy and fit. Better not unsubscribe.
  • Healthy and fit are practically synonyms. Yet I plant the visual of a vital dog doing nature stuff.

Every syllable adds meaning to a promise. Weigh them well.

An effective war cry is crucial for your brand’s success. Some pointers:

  • Be inspired. See how your favorite brands do it.
  • Be bold. Water it down to appeal to everyone makes it appeal to no one.
  • Be visual. Try to conjure the ideal situation after fixing the pain.
  • Be brief. Use as little words as possible.
  • Be simple. Assume the cognitive abilities of a 12-year old.
  • Be tactful. Don’t address someone’s pain directly. It’s sensitive.
  • Be sharp. Strong consonants like K, C, T pierce the brain. Make America Great Again beat Stronger Together.
  • Be prolific. Write down as many as you can. Don’t settle for the first.
  • Be scientific. Test what works best.
  • Be poetic. Use rhyme, alliteration, double-entendres, repetition or reversals to make the message stick.
BrandPromiseWar cry
Coca-ColaBuy our caffeinated soda for a savory energy boost.Open happiness.
VolvoBuy our durable cars to keep your family safe.For life.
Head & ShouldersBuy our chemical shampoo to remove your dandruff.Be hug ready.
M&M’sBuy our sugar-coated chocolate for a tasty treat.Melts in your mouth, not in your hands.
U.S. Marine CorpsJoin our ranks to earn the respect of your country.The few. The proud. The Marines.
De Beers GroupBuy a diamond to show that your love is eternal.A diamond is forever.
Solar MonkeySubscribe to our software for easy solar designs.Solar sales simplified.
TobySubscribe to our dog food service for tailored food.Keep your best friend healthy and fit.

Summary and steps for making a brand promise

You need to make a brand promise. This is a claim of unique usefulness to your segment. Get it right and your audience will choose your brand over the competitors.

Step 1: Choose your segment(s).

Step 2: Highlight a project benefit. Focus on unserved pain.

Step 3: Dodge the competition.

  1. Crowded market? Make sure your promise is unique.
  2. Empty market? Claim to be the first and the best.

Step 4: Make sure you’re credible and competent.

Step 5. Turn your promise into a war cry.