From the July 2009 issue of Entrepreneur
Product: It's not enough to build a product and assume it will be the base of your brand. Just ask Apple about Apple TV, Microsoft about Zune or the New Coke about its prestigious debut. Unless your tag line is "But hey, it's free," don't plan on having a product sell itself--or your company. First, consider what makes the product truly unique. How will it avert pain, bring pleasure and envy to all who use it and, most important, make people talk about it? As a young company, you can't afford advertising, so word-of-mouth is going to be your primary aim.

Expert: You've just developed a box that is going to change the world. Congratulations. You're also now an expert--on your box, the state of the world that gave rise to your box, the problem that your box is solving, the people who buy your box (and those who would never buy your box--and why they're losers), and how your box will impact the world. When you're a thought leader, you're influencing buyers to believe that they could have never lived without your perspective--or your box. This isn't easy: It means gathering stats, hearing what your competitors are saying and reading the newspaper to understand where your company's worldview and culture fit in to the commentary of the day. A true expert understands how to be relevant to the untapped market he seeks, and how to reach and connect to them. By looking a little further down the road and prognosticating what's to come, you become the thought leader for your industry. Now you just have to be right.

Promise: Think of the brands you love: BMW, McDonald's, Nordstrom, Apple. What promise do these companies make to you? Do they fulfill it? Every time? Of course they do. Whether it's engineering, a reliable meal, great service or innovation, they have made a promise to every consumer that they will fulfill it, every time, no excuses. That's how you establish trust and a foundation for your brand.

To uncover your own brand promise, dig deep to answer these three questions: Why did you build this box? What can you absolutely deliver on, 100 percent of the time, no questions asked? How are you making your customer's life better every day?

Remember, Ray Kroc never set out to make the best burger; he set out to make the most reliable burger restaurant on the planet. BMW isn't making the cheapest car, the coolest car or the family car; it's simply the best-engineered car. That's what the top engineers from Germany will promise you every time. Their customers' lives are made better because each time they sit in that car, they're closer to automotive genius. That promise being met is what makes the customer come back. And when you have a repeat customer, you have a brand.

-Susan J. Lindner, founder and CEO of Lotus Public Relations