Making the leap from managing brand perception to building a powerful brand promise.

A brand is defined by everything an organization says and does. It is how the organization shows up in the world. As such, the brand creates a perception. A perception of what people can expect from the organization.

This is inescapable for every brand. Even if a brand doesn’t set out on the path to do the things that lead to a desired perception. In other words, people will form a perception whether the brand likes it or not.

I have worked with organizations that complained that the brand got a bad rap for no good reason. Inevitably, there is a good reason. And it’s not what the brand did. It’s what the brand didn’t do. Like failing to focus on the needs of its customers. Or not giving back to the community. Or missing that, increasingly, customers want to feel connected to a larger purpose that the brand serves.

A brand perception is going to be formed. And along with it, an expectation. You can view that as something you have to grudgingly manage. Or, something that creates an unparalleled opportunity.

Paying attention to your brand perception is important. But it’s table stakes. It will help you defend the success you have in the marketplace today. But if you want the kind of engagement that can transform your success, you need to go beyond simply managing your brand perception to building a meaningful brand promise.

Your brand promise is the pledge you make to those you hope to serve (customers, prospects, and team members). For many brands, this promise is simply functional. Like promising ‘whiter teeth’ (toothpaste brands) or ‘peace of mind’ (every financial services brand ever). The trouble with these is that they lack real significance or are simply too vague.

Great brands understand the need to go beyond a functional brand promise. These brands understand that a great promise emerges when the brand has clarified the larger purpose it serves — something I call the Big Audacious Meaning.

This is a promise that focuses on the difference the brand can make in a life, a community, or even the world.

When the brand focuses on its purpose, it creates a promise that goes beyond some lightweight functional outcome. It creates a promise that has emotional impact. Something that is relevant, meaningful, and inspiring.

Here is an example. If you made bar soap, would you rather your brand promise a ‘cleaner clean” (I’m not sure what that even means), or would you rather promise “…to help ensure the next generation of women grow up to be free from misconstrued beauty stereotypes and the burden of self-doubt.”? That latter purposeful promise belongs to Dove. It is a big promise. One that the brand has championed in its messaging. But more importantly, a promise the brand has delivered on with its Campaign for Real Beauty and the Dove Self-Esteem Fund. This promise has helped fuel the brand’s efforts. And its notable success.

A purposeful brand promise can make your brand essential to those you hope to serve. Because that promise reaches beyond the functional to tap into the powerful, decision-making, emotional part of our brains. It shows us how we can join in to make things better for those around us. Imagine the promise of that for your brand.

Dan is an expert brand strategist and author of the book Big Audacious Meaning — Unleashing Your Purpose-Driven Story. He is a founder at Will & Grail — a brand innovation company, helping organizations find their unique, undeniable, and unshakable sense of purpose and create innovative experiences that bring it to life.

Originally published at on February 13, 2021.

Dan is an expert brand strategist and author of the book Big Audacious Meaning — Unleashing Your Purpose-Driven Story. He is a founder at Will & Grail.

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