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Mark McCulloch: "a brand is a promise delivered"

By Mark McCulloch

- Last updated on GMT

McCulloch: "describe your business as if you were describing it to your grandmother - no corporate jargon and no waffle"
McCulloch: "describe your business as if you were describing it to your grandmother - no corporate jargon and no waffle"

Related tags: Brand

What does the word brand mean to you? Is it a badge, a logo, a name, a colour or a collection of these? For me it is something that runs much much deeper and the best way that I have heard it described is that ‘brand is a promise delivered’.

If you buy a can of Heinz beans, you know what you are getting and they deliver on that every single time. It is the same with Innocent smoothies (and other products), Apple, Google, Nike etc.

These companies not only have a ‘promise’ but they align the three main parts of their business around it; Culture, Product/Service, Reputation. This means from who they hire, to what they make, to what people say about them, everything is all in line with the brand promise.

As an owner of a small to medium business I can understand that every penny and every minute counts in this arena. Each day can be hand to mouth and you cannot afford to do anything but focus on staff, sales and profit. Exercises such as redesigning your brand identity, even a brand workshop can seem frivolous or even a waste of time.

However, can you tell me or your staff what your brand stands for in a short pithy sentence that even your grandmother could both ‘get’ and get excited about? If you can, great.

But I would challenge you to ask that same question of a good cross section of your staff. Do they all say exactly the same thing? If not, you may have an issue. Even if they are all 5 degrees apart, this could lead to trouble down the track.

There is a (simple) solution for this and has held me and my clients in good stead over the years (including lastminute.com, YO! Sushi, Fuller’s Inns and Hotels, Chop’d and many many others). We call it finding your brand DNA and for a few days work, this can really help every decision you make if you spend the time and energy on getting in right.

When you have identified your brand DNA it should be the lens through which you view all decisions and be your go to one pager that informs all questions you have in a clear and consistent fashion.

You start off by choosing 10 people from across your organization (Different departments, levels of seniority and length of service). You hire a venue outside of the office for 1 to 1.5 days and set a date.

The facilitator (must be an objective outside party) runs the day and does not input, but catches all of the good stuff. They force the group to make decisions on every question, facilitate discussion and keep the group single minded. The questions that the group are asked to answer are:

1) What are you?

Describe your business as if you were describing it to your grandmother. No Corporate jargon and no waffle that your sandwiches (or whatever you make) inspire a generation.  If Pret is a ‘posh sandwich shop’, what are you? If you are a pub, what kind of pub?

2) Who is your absolute target customer?

If you had you could only have one type of customer for the rest of your business life, who would that be? Who can you build a business on?

3) Why would they use you?

Think of all of the possible reasons that customers would use your product or service. List these out (as many as humanly possible) and then have a vote on the main reasons.

4) Killer competitor advantages

Take the three competitors that are keeping you awake at night and allocate each to a tem within the group. Ask them to pretend that they are the CEOs/MDs of those companies and list all of the reasons why they are better than your company. Be honest, brutal and factual. You then have the chance at the end of each to say why you are better than the competitor. The 4 or 5 clear unique selling points/competitive advantages should be clear after this exercise.

These reasons should not be ‘our people’ or ‘our passion’ as these are always claimed and never stand up to questioning. The advantages should be factual and stand up as strong competitor beating evidence that support your claims.

5) Brand personality

Take a good range of recent magazines. Pass these out to the group and ask them to find one picture each that describes the personality or your company/what they would say about your company. Ask them to pick another image each to illustrate what you are definitely not. Narrow these words down to 4 that describe your brand (try to have each word doing a different job, not all similar). These also must be how you would describe a person if they left the room.

6) Tone of voice

Once you have agreed your brand personality key words, take these and select supporting words for the main brand personality words. E.g. If ‘brave’ is one of your main brand personality words, it could mean that pioneering, confident and spirited are good supporting words for your tone of voice.

7) Brand DNA statement

This is where you pull all of the evidence together; think of it as your Cluedo moment (Professor Plum in the library with the lead piping). You start the positioning statement as follows; ‘Our role in the life is our customer is…’ .

You then weave in what you do, who the customer is, their motivation, and how you do ‘it’. This should be a tight paragraph that has little fat or waffle in it. Packed full of everything that you have discovered over the day/day and half session.

8) Two words

Now can you take your Brand DNA statement and sum it up in two words? This is the tricky part.

Hopefully this is a helpful guide on how you can capture your Brand DNA that helps you deliver on the promise that your brand is making.

Mark McCulloch is founder and CEO of We Are Spectacular​, a creative brand and marketing agency specialising in the food and drink industry.

Related topics: News

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