A handshake

A brand is many things. More than a tagline, logo, or color palette, it’s an ethos built on multiple higher-concept elements, purpose chief among them. But while a compelling “why we exist” is appealing both internally and externally, to effectively build loyalty (and boost business), it must be translated into a stellar customer experience. That’s where a brand promise comes in. Purpose and promise work hand in hand to ensure the brand comes alive at every crucial phase of the customer journey.

Brand purpose vs. brand promise: What’s the difference?

Put simply, a brand purpose is the “why.” It articulates why a company exists for external audiences like customers, society, or the even the world. Think of EY’s “building a better working world.”

A brand promise is an experience or value that a customer can expect to have at each of a brand’s touchpoints. It’s the signature element of the customer journey, something that is top-of-mind when customers think about interacting with the brand. For example, REI works to “bring the outdoors into the retail experience.”

Purpose is typically defined when a company is working on its corporate culture or perhaps its brand, while promise is usually associated with experience design and customer journey mapping. This doesn’t mean they are totally discrete ideas, however. Purpose should drive everything a company does; it serves as guidepost for decision-making and strategy, including those about customer experience.

Stellar experience comes from an externally directed purpose

Many think that a brand’s purpose has something to do with its corporate social responsibility goals. This can be true, but it’s not necessary. Purpose is about value to an external audience, but this could be customers, the marketplace, the environment, or society. As such, it is a brand and culture element that is ripe for utilization to construct your customer experience.

Start by ensuring that your brand purpose is authentic and compelling. Effective purposes are usually succinct; they express a goal that is specific enough to be differentiating but broad enough to be dynamic and nimble. They are addressed to external audiences, and usually represent an idea of a higher order than profit. Consider the brand purposes of two financial institutions. One, from a major bank, is “to be the best and most respected financial institution in the world.” The other, from an investment app, is “to level the playing field, because everyone deserves an equal chance to succeed.” The first is focused on how the company can be the best — and therefore it’s not really a brand purpose at all. The latter is externally focused, clearly expressing how it hopes to benefit others. This “why” is one that attracts customers and inspires employees.

These examples also show why true brand purposes — those that are externally focused — are invaluable tools for crafting a stellar customer journey. Although it’s overwhelming to brainstorm how to an experience would communicate that the company was “the best and most respected,” it’s easy to generate ideas for how an institution could “level the playing field.” Extrapolating, we might guess the second company would translate its purpose into a brand promise along the lines of “Affordability, ease, and transparency at every step of the investment journey.” That would mean offering intuitive and welcoming app design, low fees, user education, and thought leadership.

Moving from promise to purpose

But how would you get from “leveling the playing field” to “affordability, ease, and transparency?” How would you get from promise to purpose? To illustrate, here’s a look at a recent DeSantis Breindel engagement.

Our client, a large law firmhad previously articulated a purpose: “to provide more positive legal experiences that contribute to better results for clients.” But recognizing the centrality of experience to the brand, they wanted to clarify their brand promise and optimize their customer journey. Although they were known for client service, they realized that as their company grew, they would need to codify their commitments to ensure client experience was consistently great across the firm. This would involve defining a brand promise, as well as customer experience principles that would operationalize it for employees.

Before we could suggest a brand promise, we had to understand the firm’s current client journey. After workshops with employees and interviews with clients, we were able to construct a client journey map, a visualization of clients’ experience from firm evaluation to the conclusion of a legal matter. By doing this, we could identify points of the journey where the firm’s experience was exceeding expectations — and where it left something to be desired. In addition to giving the firm important feedback on which touchpoints to focus on for improvement, this exercise also led us to the brand’s promise: “We work one way: your way.” This reflected the firm’s total immersion in a client’s issue, and its ability to adapt to meet client needs. Importantly, it also reflected the brand’s purpose. The firm’s “why” statement — to provide better experiences that lead to better results — was explicated in its promise of bespoke partnership.

In addition to the brand promise, we also delivered experience principles and behaviors, which outlined how the promise was expressed in day-to-day work. These behaviors included “be fluent in our clients’ universe,” “don’t make assumptions,” and even more specific actions like identifying fee structures that worked with the client’s needs, expectations, and objectives. To educate and engage employees around the new brand promise and principles, we orchestrated a robust launch campaign. It included a town hall event, employee training, and a retreat for top business developers.

Using purpose as a compass

Think of brand purpose a compass, reliably pointing to the optimal brand-promise pathways. If the purpose truly reflects the company’s core value, the brand promise and its articulation throughout the customer experience will be clear. And working together, purpose and promise will define, differentiate, and deliver a successful brand.

To learn more about brand promise, contact us.

About the author
Jamie Rogers, a Strategy Intern at DeSantis Breindel, is currently studying at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where she’s majoring in strategic communications and journalism and focusing on the intersection of marketing, branding, and the global economy.


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