9 criteria for brand essence

Please note that this post was originally published on February 9, 2009. As a result, any external links or videos used may no longer be functional.

istock_000006752189xsmallYour brand’s essence — just one word that sums up how your brand connects emotionally with your customers. Identifying it sounds simple enough, right?

After all, you know your business. You know your audience. But articulating how they feel about your brand in an authentic and meaningful way is often challenging. Few get it right.

The reason: essence is an intangible.

The features of a brand, e.g. lightweight, fast or blue, are tangibles. Easy to sense, describe, measure and compare.

The essence, on the other hand, is felt.

Lacing up a new pair of Nike running shoes feels inspirational. Riding a Harley-Davidson motorcycle feels liberating. Experiencing Walt Disney World with your children feels magical. Strong brands have well-defined, easily grasped, simply obvious essences.

It should be easy to figure out, but getting there takes soul searching. To get it right, one must know how your consumers experience your brand.

To help those who participate in determining a brand’s essence, here are the primary criteria. Test your essence against them.

1. single-minded One word is ideal. Maybe two. More than two words indicates that the brand has no focus. As a brand (by design) delivers a unique experience, having no focus makes for a weak brand.

2. intangible One is no more independent on a Harley-Davidson motorcycle than another brand, but somehow one feels like it. Tap into what the consumer feels.

3. unique The essence of a brand is how it is different from competitors in the same category. E.g., if Apple (and its products) are friendly and approachable, then it is claiming that its competitors are not.

4. experiential The essence captures what the consumer feels during an experience with the brand. E.g., “Driving a Volvo makes me feel that my family is safe.”

5. consistently delivered If the proposed essence is not consistently experienced (e.g., if a trip to Walt Disney World isn’t magical), then it isn’t the essence. Can your organization deliver?

6. authentic The essence must be credible or the brand will be rejected. To find out what consumers believe about your brand, ask them. It’s okay for the brand essence to be aspirational, but only if your customers believe you can deliver on the promise.

7. sustainable A brand’s essence is baked in. It doesn’t change. Ever.

8. meaningful There is no point in identifying an essence that is irrelevant to consumers. Essences that don’t connect are the reason behind many failed brands. Again, research.

9. scalable Will the essence work for brand extensions? Will it work as the brand’s opportunity grows?

How does your brand essence measure up to these criteria? What other criteria do you use?

Note: As organizations rarely publish their brand strategies, the examples above have been deduced by me based upon available marketplace evidence.

Deck now available: This is the most popular post at BrandSTOKE to date. Now, “The 9 Criteria for Brand Essence” has been combined with some Branding 101 definitions, a few examples, and additional thinking in a downloadable presentation. It’s intended to provide a basic understanding of brands and branding for most business professionals. (Branding experts may want to skip it.) Find it here.

This entry was posted in brand essence.

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