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Brand Essence – The Heart and Soul of Your Brand

Through our blogs over the years, the BottomLine Marketing team has tried to reinforce the importance of some basic brand and marketing strategy fundamentals:

  • A highly differentiated and meaningful brand strategy that is based on customer insights
  • Execution of the brand strategy with breakthrough brand creative expression that actually means something, rather than just delivering on “cosmetic branding” and
  • An impactful marketing plan with a clear target audience that generates the desired customer behavior that helps the organization achieve its overall business objectives

And we’ve provided some guidance regarding what questions to ask and some approaches/processes to use to work on these areas on your own (remember, we’re always here to help!).

However, in this month’s blog we’d like to submit, for your consideration, a much higher order brand concept, that if developed and executed against correctly, can transform your brand to even higher levels. Yes, you may have guessed it from the title of this blog…it’s “Brand Essence”.

Inspired by brand strategy and deep customer insights, brand essence is, at its core, the heart and soul of a brand – a brand’s fundamental nature or quality. It is usually stated in 2-3 words, and becomes the one constant across all of a brand’s product/service categories and communications. Another way to think of it is in the context of Simon Sinek’s “What/How/Why” construct; brand essence is the brand’s “Why”. That is, where does (or should) the brand exist in your customer’s mind.

The core concept here is that a powerful brand, with a strong essence, occupies a space in our brains. When you hear the brand name, certain words come to mind. If you hear a brand name and nothing immediately comes to mind, it generally means the brand hasn’t done a good job of defining and delivering on their brand essence from a product/service and communication perspective (it could also mean that you’re not the target audience, so you’re not generally paying attention to the product/service).

Some examples of brand essence for some brands you’ve likely heard of are:

  • Apple – Simplicity
  • Volvo – Safety
  • Nike – Inspirational
  • Haagen Dazs – Gold Standard
  • Coca-Cola – Refreshment
  • Disney – Magical Family Fun
  • McDonalds – Trusted Friend

Whether you agree with these or like them or not, these brands have painstakingly worked to define what words, imagery, etc. they want you to think of when you hear their brand name. And that they can OWN. These words drive everything the organization does from a product development, customer experience and brand communications perspective.

Let’s look at a couple of examples of how brand essence comes to life in everyday practice:

  • For Haagen Dazs, the gold standard in ice cream (heck, the package is even laden with gold!), when they were considering the production of three-gallon tubs for sale in ice cream shops, the first question asked by the GM at the time (who we know) wasn’t “what’s the profit margin or how much incremental revenue will this generate?”. The first question asked was “how will the inside lining of the tub container impact the flavor/quality of the ice cream?” and “we need to make sure there is no impact”. Think about that…is this the first question you would ask?
  • Volvo absolutely owns “safety” in the consumer’s mind, but it isn’t, at least according to the many recent crash test results, the safest car. It certainly does very well in these tests, but other luxury brands such as Mercedes and Audi, have performed better. Having said that, Volvo has always been on the leading edge of safety innovation (e.g. side air bags, etc.), oftentimes at the expense of technological innovation. I’m personally a Volvo owner and frankly it’s been a little frustrating with how there’s been a 2-3 year lag vs. competition with the inclusion of some basic technology (e.g., GPS, satellite radio, etc.) in their cars and SUVs. But I respect and appreciate Volvo’s focus on safety innovation over “bells and whistles” innovation, and this is one of the reasons I’m a loyal customer.

So, what’s your brand essence? What 2-3 words do your current and prospective customers think when they hear your brand name? What do you want them to think? This is important stuff that takes time and requires deep strategic thinking, an open mind to develop and time to cultivate…It doesn’t get done overnight.

And it isn’t easy, because your brand essence should not change. Once established, it becomes the core DNA of your brand, from which everything else emanates.

Think about it, and what can we do to help?

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