Brand practice: positioning and promise 101

Incredibly, confusion still reigns about these building blocks of brand expression—so much so that some practitioners even consider them to be one and the same. We certainly don’t, though we acknowledge a close relationship between the two. Here’s how we explain the difference—and define the two terms—in the simplest, most rule-of-thumb way:

Imagine that a product or service could speak. The first sentence it says is, “Choose me because___________.” That because is the positioning. Of course, the product may have many reasons for you to choose it. The positioning will be the one it states first—the one if feels it must state in case it doesn’t get a chance to speak again.

Of course, you’re only going to choose the product if what it’s saying sets it apart in a uniquely compelling way from the clamor of other products asking you to choose them.

Now to the promise. The promise follows from the positioning. Suppose you like what the product is saying. You might then be prompted to respond, “Okay, let’s say I do. What’ll you do for me if I choose you?” The answer, that’s the promise: “Choose me and [I’ll help you to] __________.”

As long as the answer to the sentence is clear, confident, distinctive and relevant, chances are you have a good promise. We arrived at this insight after causing a bit of a debate among the various members of a project team. They were trying to arrive at a normative definition of a promise. They felt they needed to because the candidate we provided was pithy to the point of being catchy—too much so for their liking. At issue was whether a promise so snappy could actually be a promise. The catchiness, we explained, was incidental. The meaning was what mattered. We understood the different between a promise and a slogan. And no, we weren’t suggesting our promise as a slogan. If, however, they accepted it as such, would it have really been such a bad thing? Maybe not, as long as they could say why.

We’re not in a position to share our subversive promise yet, but here’s a good stand-in for coming to your own conclusions: Just do it.

Recent Articles