Brand essence and your brand identity

Brand identity

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Snapshot : We focus on brand essence this week after we discover our guide to brand identity is the most connected page on our website. In this article, we look at what your brand essence is and how you to evaluate it. Learn the five criteria that define great brand essences. And learn from good and bad real-life brand essence examples. 

We see a lot of other marketing companies claim that they’ll share free insights with you. But then, you realise you need to sign up for an email. Or there’s a limited time discounted offer. Or, there’s an informal 30 minute face-to-face coffee chat required. Not that there’s much of that happening, right now, with the Covid-19 situation. 

So, this week, we thought we’d be different and share an actual insight, no strings attached. For free. 

Of all the many topics we cover on this website. the most connected page is the one on brand identity. It has the most links to and from the page.

This comes from looking at the back-end section of our website which generates lots of digital data about our business (life’s pretty exciting during a near lockdown). 

When we saw this, it was actually a surprise / a-ha moment for us. Because we certainly didn’t start out with the intent to focus content on brand identity.

We figured brand identity would be similar in importance and connectivity to all the other marketing content we’ve created. But the fact brand identity is what’s come out as the most connected business topic (and we have a lot of topics) is significant.

It’s really brought home just how important brand identity is. Brand identity links together everything that you do. 

Brand identity – The DNA that defines your business

We knew brand identity was important of course. We’ve worked in marketing a long time, so d’uh.

But it reinforced to us just how much brand identity weaves through everything you do as a business. And how important it is to the success of your business.

But if it’s so important, then how much time do you actually spend on brand identity? We bet, probably nowhere near as much as you should.

We have to admit we didn’t spend much time on brand identity when we first launched our brand. Better to be quick than to be perfect. But, we are working hard to fix that now.

When we started Three-Brains, it was based on our belief that the ability to connect marketing expertise, creative expertise and e-commerce expertise and do it well, can help businesses succeed. This connected thinking can help businesses outperform their competitors.

We wrote about this in our story when we launched. But we realised recently, that this belief isn’t our actual brand identity. It’s only a part of our brand identity. It’s one of the tangible assets that lives on the outside of our brand wheel

You can read more on how to create a brand wheel (or diamond, or pyramid) in our full guide to brand identity

Brand identity wheel

We’ve taken the quiet time of the current COVID-19 situation to really work on fleshing out our own brand identity.

While this post isn’t about blowing our own trumpet, there’s a few things that the brand identity process and in particular the process of getting to your brand essence brought to mind, that we wanted to share.

Brand essence – 5 key criteria

Your brand essence is a short snappy statement that is central to everything you do.

Sounds simple, huh?

And yet, it is probably the toughest part of building your brand. Because it needs to be short, memorable, meaningful, distinctive and also unite and bring people together at the same time. That’s quite a chunky old challenge for mere words. 

Let’s pick those apart a little.

Short and memorable

Well, obviously, there’s the fact you have to squeeze the brand essence into a small text box on whatever brand wheel, diamond or pyramid shape you use to write your brand identity. So, it can’t be long. But when you make it short, it also makes it easier to remember.

And writing short is actually harder than writing long. We are reminded of the famous Mark Twain quote, “I didn’t have time to write a short letter, so I wrote a long one instead” 

Part of the challenge to define your brand essence is that it forces you to make choices. One of the best pieces of wisdom we ever heard, was from an HR manager who was also a parent. She used to tell her kids, you can do anything you want, but you cannot do everything.

And when you go through the process to define your brand essence, it’s impossible for it to cover everything you do. So, you have to write it in such a way that it picks the one thing you stand for. What is it your brand stands for?

Happiness if you are Disney. Safety if you are Volvo. Dotardity if you are Donald Trump. (thanks to the marketing team at North Korea for that one)

For it then to also be memorable, means you really need to understand how people remember things. The one word essence is great but it can be a challenge. Two words is also fine as you’ll see from the examples below. And three can also work because as we’ve stated before, three is an easy way for people to remember things when you are telling a story.

But if your essence goes longer than three words, chances are your essence is well, not yet boiled down to your essence yet. 

Relevant and distinctive

For one, two, three words to also then be relevant and distinctive, well, there’s even more of a creative thinking challenge.

How do you make your brand essence not sound generic and the same as everyone else? How do you avoid playing it safe?

One of the challenges is that brand essences are often crafted by teams. Or committees. And when people come together like that, each person will have their own individual view on what the brand essence should be.

Which means you often end up with a bolted together compromise statement for your essence that’s meant to keep internal teams feeling like they have contributed.

Where in actual fact, it should be much more focussed on what it means for external communications. Which means you need some way to bring the essence together in a more unifying way.

Unifying

By all means put together a team to craft the brand essence. But when it comes to the final decision, it should be up to the brand owner identified at the start of the brand development process.

Someone who has both the authority and responsibility to make the final decision. And it should come down to the brand owner to make that final call on brand essence.

Brand essence – real-life examples. Paraphrased.

We don’t want to break any confidences of previous businesses we’ve worked with. So, we won’t share exact brand essences. But thanks to thesaurus.com, we’ve paraphrased the essence of two brands we know well to show examples which meet our criteria for ‘great’ brand essences.

And to show the opposite, we’ll also share another example which is quite far from great. 

Unavoidably audacious

The first was a premium alcohol brand that had built its identity around confidence and success. Its essence (or close enough to it) was “unavoidably audacious”.

That’s a great essence.

Unavoidable creates a sense of confidence or inevitability which when aligned with audacious creates a very distinctive start to the brand identity.

This set the tone for every packaging development, every piece of marketing communication, every message that that brand sent out for the following couple of years.

Resulting in great sales growth. Double digit sales growth. Consecutive years in a row.

Pragmatic opinions

Similarly, another alcohol brand but with a very different target audience set its essence as “pragmatic opinions’.

It was the sort of brand that usually older guys would drink with their mates long on at the end of an evening.

And again, it’s a great essence for relating back to the target audience, the consumption moment, and finding a position that was notably different from what competitor brands offered.

It resulted in great sales growth, a unique position in the market and award-winning and talked about advertising campaigns.

So good it’s worth talking about – meh?

So two good examples to learn from, how about one that was not so good?

Well again, with some paraphrasing, here’s the essence of a well-know food brand “so good, it’s worth talking about”.

See the difference between this essence and the previous two? 

Six words. Not short. To be fair, it was fairly relevant to the moment the product was consumed. (it was ‘good’ and it was generally consumed with other people)

But is it memorable? Distinctive? Could that essence be any other brand? Yes, of course it damn well could. You can probably think of half a dozen other brands that could have that essence. Which means it should really have gone back to the drawing board and started again. 

This was a brand which was doing OK, but really limping along with low year on year growth mainly fuelled by innovation and sales promotions.

But bland and forgettable advertising campaigns. Several of which didn’t even relate back to this brand essence at all. It was so average, it isn’t worth talking about.

Now, having a short, memorable, relevant, distinctive and unifying brand essence doesn’t guarantee you business growth.

But it’s a hugely important key step in the brand development process.

Brand essence and a challenging question to ask yourself

So, if you are creating, reviewing or refining your brand essence right now, have a long think about whether it meets those criteria.

Is is short and memorable? If you have a team of people working on it internally or with the agency, throw in a surprise “what’s our brand essence?” question in the middle of a teleconference to see it everyone can say it without having to look it up.

That’s a good test to see if it is memorable.

Is it relevant and distinctive? Could one of your competitors put there logo above your brand essence and say the same thing? 

Go on. Try it.

And does your essence bring people together? Does it kill any ambiguity or lack of clarity about you and what your brand stands for?

A small confession

We have a small confession to make. When we launched Three-Brains, we’d didn’t even have a brand essence. Or really a clearly defined brand identity. And yet, here’s us stressing how important it is.

Like many business owners, we just had too many other things to worry about. We knew we’d get to it sooner rather than later, but it wasn’t top of our launch plan list.

And that was a mistake.

As we said at the start we had a story about why we’d started and what we were trying to do. But the consequence of not building the brand identity up front is a bit of disjointed content that didn’t have a common theme. That didn’t hang together.

And so a lot of people on first encountering us, probably didn’t know what we stood for or why we were different. Just another marketing consultancy. Plenty of those about. 

Well, now we do have an essence.

It’s three words long and it’s memorable, relevant and distinctive. It’s going to infiltrate everything we do going forward. 

And you know what?

In these challenging times, we’ve seen a lot of ‘competitor’ marketing consultants and agencies pushing out ads about why their so called marketing expertise matters ‘right now’. 

And it’s pretty clear, they’re following a formula.

A cut-and-paste approach to business, that if they were true marketers, they would soon realise has no short, memorable, relevant, distinctive and unifying essence. We don’t believe those guys will be successful in the long-run.

Don’t be one of those guys.

Get your brand essence sorted and set yourself up to succeed.

And your brand essence is …

Oh yeah, we hinted at that before and then went away from it.

Well, actually, our brand essence is what we think will make us more competitive in the challenging times to come, so it’s not something we’re going to share right now. And it shouldn’t be something you should share either. Your brand essence is not your slogan or brand strapline, but those should come out of your brand essence. 

So you will start to see our brand essence come out more through our intangible and tangible assets, which if you’ve read our (free! no download or email sign-up) brand identity article already are the next stages in the process.

Watch this space.

Check out our guide to brand identity for more advice on this topic, or contact us if we can help you create and refine your own brand identity. 

Photo credit

Brand identity : Photo by Patrik Michalicka on Unsplash

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