In business as in life, reality often interferes.

Most small businesses start with an idea and a dream – and most small business owners quickly realize that maintaining that dream is exhausting and all-consuming. Books must be balanced. Inventories must be maintained. Bills must be paid. All the while, the quality of goods and services must remain paramount.

As a result, while the business hums along smoothly, the vision that started it all – the spark which led to entrepreneurship – can fall by the wayside.

In other words, the Brand Promise can be forgotten.

Let’s talk about what a brand promise is. It’s the collection of intangible values that both you and your products bring – both directly and indirectly – to customers. You’re not only selling blue jeans, new cabinets, or fish tacos, you’re selling what those products represent – good craftsmanship, ethical practices, a healthy lifestyle, and more. Customers buy your products because they have made a decision that these values are important in their chosen lifestyle.

It’s what you stand for, what you want to be remembered for, and what differentiates your brand from that of your competitors. It’s the expectation you’ve given your customers over time – come back next week or next year, and the brand promise will again be fulfilled.

Let’s say you have a small restaurant focusing on Mexican-inspired foods, and your most popular menu item is fish tacos. It’s likely that your brand promise began with wanting to provide local diners with fresh, delicious, and unique cuisine. Your menu was built around that, and when you source and incorporate local, healthy ingredients, or stay on top of nutritional research, you’re fulfilling your brand promise again and again.

But would you be able to elucidate that promise now, after all these years? If someone asked you to explain in a single sentence what you’re really providing to customers, could you do it?

To help define (or redefine, as business missions often evolve as customer desires are understood), it’s helpful to go through this short exercise:

1)     Start with others – ask your friends and family who were present at the beginning what you seemed most passionate about then, why you wanted to start a business. Then go through this process yourself.

2)     Think about how your business has changed since being opened – was there a menu item which you predicted would be popular, but had to be dropped? Were customers more interested in your stylish accessories than the shirts and pants? Reconcile why you wanted to start a business with what you’ve learned along the way.

3)     Formulate a specific brand promise – it should be lofty and somewhat aspirational, but absolutely attainable. For example, Mood’s is “Mood builds Experience by Design. Always with Creative Purpose and engineered with Intent.”

Once your brand promise is redefined, it’s time to put it into action and funnel all decisions through this crucial prism – physical space, employee behavior, goods carried, ambiance, and more. We’ll cover that topic in our next post.

– Submitted by Matt Mahoney, Marketing