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October 23, 2018

What is Brand Essence and why should you care?

We have created and evolved brands for a wide variety of clients and, of course, have a process for doing so. Our process is exploratory and collaborative, designed to dig deep to determine the brand and identify its components. One of the essential (no pun intended) components is a company’s brand essence. While clients have no trouble understanding points of differentiation, brand values, and even brand personalities, they sometimes get hung up on what is meant by “brand essence” and why it’s important.

Admittedly, unless you are a seasoned branding pro, the concept can sound a bit like marketing gobbledygook, but its importance should not be underestimated, as it is the engine that drives the brand.

What is it?

Often thought of as a brand’s DNA, a brand essence sets forth the essential value of your brand and the role it plays in the world. It is a mantra that makes clear to your external and internal audiences, in a concise and somewhat aspirational tone, who you are and what you stand for, and serves as a guide for where you want to go. It captures what you want these audiences to feel when experiencing your brand.

Specifically, it’s a brief (1-2 words ideally) statement that should resonate with every aspect of who the company is and what it believes in (one of the most commonly recited examples of a brand essence is that of Volvo’s, which is “safety”).

It is an intangible attribute that is comprised of both reasoned and intuitive characteristics. It is intended to be timeless — relevant now and into the future.

It is not a public-facing phrase or tagline, but rather an internal compass that helps, not only guide brand development work, but also inform ongoing strategic decision-making and galvanize employee engagement around a simple and compelling concept.

But, this essence must be authentic to have impact – it must feel deeply true.

Why is it important?

Once discovered, it drives all the other elements of a company’s brand, from establishing the brand statement/promise, brand positioning and brand personas to creating the logo, color palette, fonts, imagery, voice and identity concept(s). That, in turn, results in a brand that:

  1. Rises above the clutter with authentic, relatable and focused messaging.
  2. Builds trust and loyalty with target audiences, creating brand ambassadors that seek repeat brand experiences for themselves and freely promote the brand to their networks.
  3. Acts as an internal compass that future strategies, whether for marketing or business, can be tested against.
  4. Engages and energizes employees by giving them something to believe in and clarity around what they are all working toward accomplishing, which is not only important from a morale perspective but results in the creation of even more brand ambassadors.

How do you find it?

Of course I’m going to say this but, with as much objectivity as I can muster, your best bet is to work with a creative agency to find your brand essence.

Having someone from the outside looking in is critically important because (1) ultimately, a brand is simply the perceptions that other people have of your company and, because you are pickled in it, an agency is in a better position to evaluate those perceptions and (2) this exploration can be hard and time-consuming work that very well may get put off or inadequately addressed if done internally.

That said, it certainly is possible to find your brand essence on your own but there should be a clear process developed and adequate time devoted to those who are assigned the task.

As with most things, finding your essence isn’t rocket science. There may be a bit of intuitive magic to it but the process itself is relatively straightforward. Typically, our process involves:

  1. Discovery – You can’t find the essence without understanding. While the extent of our discovery process varies depending on the nature of the client and the budget involved, it typically includes:
    • Interviews with key stakeholders (internal and external, especially members of your target audiences);
    • Research regarding competitors, company industry and even related industries;
    • Review of governance documents (e.g. mission and vision statements), marketing materials, strategic plans and other internal documents;
    • Conducting customer/client surveys; and
    • Analysis of any and all other information deemed pertinent to the exploration.
  1. Assessment – Taking what we’ve learned, we then create a brand assessment that sets forth:
    • The current state of the brand – its so-called brand equity (e.g. where it is adding value, where it’s not working hard enough given current and projected goals);
    • A SWOT analysis;
    • Points of differentiation;
    • Brand personality traits; and
    • Brand values.
  1. Distillation – This is where critical thinking and analysis meet creativity – or collide is more like it. This is where the magic happens. This is one of the reasons why you hire an agency. Pulling from the brand assessment and all of the information that supports it, we boil the brand down to its very essence, and that essence then drives creation of
    • Brand statement/promise
    • Brand positioning
    • Logo
    • Color palette
    • Font choice
    • Imagery/photography
    • Voice
    • Identity concept (typically, an ad or some other often used marketing collateral that pulls together all of the above to reflect the brand in action)
    • All future campaigns and marketing materials

Through this exercise, not only does the visual, spoken and written components of the brand become more focused and reflective of a company’s identity, but through its adoption, employees are newly invigorated, embracing and living the brand in everything they do.

Next up, we’ll touch upon brand launches. In the meantime, check out tenthcrowcreative.com for a look at some of our brand work and contact me at crow@tenthcrowcreative.com with your questions.

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