I’m a graphic designer, so I can’t get enough of logos, typefaces, illustrations and graphics – the visual stuff. I can happily spend hours mucking about in Adobe Illustrator, or browsing through graphic design and branding websites.
But there’s so much more to a brand than the design.
Sure, the visual side is crucial. But it’s not the only thing to think about when creating a brand, and it’s definitely not the first thing anyone should be thinking about.
A brand is an idea or perception created inside the consumer’s mind, and such as, it is heavily influenced by the visual impression of the brand. But it’s also influenced by many other things – customer experience, content and messaging, storefronts, websites, product experience, packaging, social media content, word of mouth, customer reviews, reputation and the list goes on.
That’s a lot of things to keep track of, right?
It’s not surprising that things can go a little astray. All the elements become a bit unhinged, and the brand becomes confused – giving the wrong impression to the consumer. Sometimes you may get caught up with what your competitors are doing, and by trying to copy, you dilute your own message.
So how do you keep a brand in line? You use your brand essence, of course!
What on earth is a brand essence?
A brand essence is a word, a phrase, or a very short sentence that embodies your brand at its most base level. I’m talking deeper than your brand goals, deeper than your brand values, deeper than your tone of voice. It’s like your brand’s soul.
Sounds wacky right? Let me explain. It’s not as wishy-washy as it sounds, and it’s really important. Especially as a brand grows in size.
If you can identify your brand essence, then you can cross check every single aspect of your business against it. Every piece of visual communication, every customer experience, every time a staff member answers the phone – these should all be inline with your brand essence.
So, it’s a tag line?
Absolutely not. A brand essence is rarely divulged directly to the consumer. It’s an intangible quality which is felt, rather than heard or read.
Some examples of brand essence at work.
Volvo’s brand essence is ‘safety’. Now, Volvo make cars, not safety, so why would they choose that? And all cars these days have to be safe anyway, so why would they focus on this? Because safety is their point of difference – the reason someone would choose Volvo over another brand. Safety drives (pun intended) how Volvo build their cars right through to how they market and advertise them. Whether a consumer is actually safer in a Volvo over another make of car is not the point. The important part is that they feel safer. That’s what influences consumer decision making and breeds brand loyalty.
Harley Davidson’s brand essence is ‘liberating’. What? They make loud motor bikes! But what do their diehard and loyal customers feel when they buy or ride a Harley Davidson? Of course, they’re no more free on a Harley than any other brand, but they feel more liberated, and that’s what counts.
Walt Disney’s brand essence is ‘magical’. Disney might seem like it’s all about movies and rides and overpriced toys, but what they’re really selling is that feeling of magic. The same feeling you had as a child on Christmas Eve as you were waiting for Santa, or when your parents told you to search for fairies in the garden. Everything they do is about trying to replicate that feeling. Disney’s brand essence runs throughout all their different business areas. Disney Imagineering’s motto is ‘we make magic’, and Disney Parks’ corporate motto is ‘where dreams come true’.
Many brands don’t divulge their brand essence to the public, but others I’ve come across during my career include ‘motherly’ for a laundry detergent, ‘adventure’ for a cider brand, and ‘forever’ for a jewellery house.
Successful brands use their brand essence, not just as a checkpoint, but as a decision making tool. When faced with decisions, they weigh them up against their brand essence. Perhaps it’s a budgeting decision – which option most supports our brand essence? Or a staffing decision – who is the better fit for representing our brand essence? It should drive how you build your products or services, right through to how you market them and talk about them. This keeps the entire brand moving in the right direction.
Okay, I want one. How do I find my brand essence?
I wish I could say it was easy or quick to find your brand essence. Unfortunately, it rarely is.
The best way is to get input from everyone involved in your business. This may be hundereds of people, or it may just be you. In a large company, you should include people from all levels. Begin by brainstorming, asking questions like:
- if your brand/business/organisation was a person, who would they be? Gender? Age? What are their hobbies? What are their values?
- What does your brand/business/organisation give to the world?
- Who is our ideal customer? What do they care about?
- What does your brand/business/organisation do better than everyone else?
- How do your clients describe you?
- What do our customers feel when using our product or service.
- What do our staff feel when they come to work?
You will see patterns start to emerge. Dig deeper into these and keep questioning.
Don’t expect your brand essence to jump out after one brain storming session. Take your time to keep drilling down, until you find a brand essence that really feels right. This may take weeks, or even months. (Sorry!)
Once you discover and implement your brand essence, it’s yours for life. Other things about your brand will change, evolve or be updated – taglines, logos, websites, advertising campaigns. But your brand essence always remains the same.
If you’d like to chat about finding your brand essence, get in touch at email@example.com – I’d love to hear from you.