Developing a strong L&D brand is a great way to build trust and affinity with your offering, consistently portray a message and keep your offering front of mind. But there is one particular part of branding that can really make a difference for learning, and that’s your L&D brand promise.
Your learning brand promise defines what your team stands for. It is a pledge you are making to your target audience, a promise about what kind of learning experience you are going to deliver for them, and an expectation and standard you are setting for yourself. For L&D, your brand promise defines who you are as a learning function – it gives you a unifying purpose, you are the team that wants to fulfil its brand promise, not just the L&D team.
This unifying promise is the reason that the world’s biggest brands all have defined brand promises. And right now you might be racking your brain about what your fav brand’s promise is. But the truth is, you may have never heard it. Brand promises are internal, they keep your team accountable and they’re very rarely seen in external marketing.
But after digging through corporate websites for long enough, I’ve managed to find some examples of brand promises of some of the most recognizable brands in the world. Let’s have a look at them in closer detail:
“To inspire and nurture the human spirit. One person, one cup, one neighbourhood at a time.”
With this brand promise, you can visualise the process of purchasing a Starbucks. It reflects the personal nature of purchasing a drink at the world-famous coffee shop. But the one neighbour thing is really interesting – and it might be something you’ve overlooked, even though it’s represented in every Starbucks shop worldwide. Every Starbucks I’ve been to has a local community notice board, showing a connection with the neighbour they’re serving. But what’s more, you can buy Starbucks merchandise related to the city you’re in in almost every store. Although you probably haven’t seen this brand promise in any of Starbucks’ marketing campaigns, you can see it reflected through every interaction you have with the brand.
“If you have a body, you are an athlete”
Nike’s brand promise hones in on a very important aspect of their organisation: their customers. For a sports apparel brand, it could be incredibly easy for them to focus all their attention on sports stars and Olympic athletes. But Nike doesn’t want to do that. They want to serve everybody. It makes their brand inclusive, and it keeps their internal team’s focus on the entirety of their target audience. And it’s reflected through all of their marketing campaigns – just take a minute to think about the ‘just do it’ tagline, and you’ll see this completely reflects their brand promise.
“To inspire moments of optimism and uplift.”
Coca-Cola is always used as a pinnacle of marketing excellence. But their brand promise might feel a little bit weird to you. What does drinking a carbonated drink have to do with optimism and uplift? But is this the reason why Coca-Cola always stands out amongst their competitors? Think about their marketing and all of their communications – their brand promise is a red thread through it all. Coca-Cola very rarely conducts product marketing. Instead, they’re all about the brand. The Christmas ad, their ‘share a Coke with’ campaign, and even the old ‘always Coca-Cola’ campaign – they're all about the brand, optimism and uplift.
These examples of brand promises should have shown you one thing: a brand promise is there to help hold you accountable. As a ‘sounding board’ for your ideas, your marketing campaigns, emails, posters and so on. Do they resonate with your brand promise? Are you staying true to yourself? And that is one of the main reasons why L&D needs brand promise.
Brand promises enable L&D teams to commit to a cause, make a pledge to our people and constantly deliver on it. All of this builds trust with our target audience, which will undoubtedly work towards overcoming L&D’s key challenge: learner engagement. Building trust should be at the forefront of your marketing for learning efforts, and having a brand promise to hold yourself accountable to is a great way of doing just that. So how do we create a brand promise? Really it’s just three steps:
All of your marketing efforts should start with your audience at the front and centre. Ask yourself:
Learner personas will be really helpful here, so if you don't already have personas - create some!
One of the most important aspects of your brand promise is it must be realistic. If you want to build trust with your audience, you cannot oversell or over-promise. You have to make sure it accurately reflects what your L&D team is offering your audience. If you have a learning platform, what's the experience of that? If you are promising your people that they are going to get the best learning experience of their life and then your learning platform has a terrible user interface and experience – people aren’t going to believe your brand promise. And if they don’t believe you, you’ll be hampering rather than helping your brand grow. If you promise the world's best learning experience, you have to deliver on it. And if you haven't got the tech and the support to help you deliver it, you're not going to be able to deliver on your brand promise.
Plus, your team needs to believe in your brand promise too. If your promise is to deliver the world’s best learning experience, but everybody in your team hates your LMS and the authoring tools they have to use, they’re not going to believe your brand promise either. And they won’t hold themselves accountable to the expectation of your brand promise. Your brand promise needs to be something your entire team can be on board with and believe in.
Brand promises should be short, snappy and easy to remember. Your brand promise should be something your team can recall in the moment of need. It shouldn’t be a long prose they need to memorise to recite and be tested on. It should be something they can easily remember and check themselves against when they have a new idea, or are creating a new learning intervention. Look at the examples from Starbucks, Nike and Coca-Cola above, they’re short, snappy and super easy to remember.
Brand promises aren’t a fluffy marketing tactic that can be left to gather dust in a brand guidelines doc. Your L&D brand promise should be the beating heart of your team. It’s what keeps you on track and holds you accountable. It helps you build trust with your audience and should be the red thread through all of your marketing tactics and your entire learning brand.