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Eight Criteria for a Powerful Brand Essence

Posted by Cam Mirisola-Bynum on Aug 5, 2015 3:23PM

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Have a Healthy, Heart-Hitting Company Brand

Why is Walt Disney World® magical? Why are Volvos safe? Why are Jeeps® adventurous? Each of these answers boils down to one thing: brand essence. It is the emotion your brand conveys. In other words, it is the emotional heart—some would say, soul—of your brand. So, Disney World, Volvos, and Jeeps evoke feelings of magic, safety, and adventure, respectively, among their customers. Better yet, these characteristics are associated with these companies even by people who don’t buy Jeeps, Volvos, or go to Disney. Well done.

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What often gets overlooked is that B2B marketing demands the same vigilance with incorporating an encompassing brand strategy as do B2C companies. Encapsulating the essence of your brand just right is a vitally important component of your industrial marketing brand strategy, as it will be the first thing that comes to mind when your customers think of your brand. Amazon founder Jeff Bezos put it best when he said, “Your brand is what people say about you when you aren’t in the room.” Ensure that people are saying wonderful things about your brand by creating a relevant, trustworthy (by that we mean believable and repeatable in terms of the customers’ actual experience of it) brand.

Criteria for Creating Your Essence

Consumers today are self-educating, thanks to our hyper-connectivity and the vast amount of knowledge available to them online. As such, they enter into the sales cycle feeling very empowered. Another consequence of this that customers now have higher expectations than ever, according to this Udemy blog post. If you’ve done your marketing job right, you will have informed them properly and earned some trust along the way. This means that your brand essence must strike a chord with customers for it to have a lasting effect. What elements must be present to create an essence as powerful as Disney World’s, for example? The criteria may be simpler than you thought!

8 Criteria for Powerful Brand Essence

  1. Unique: Your essence must be unique. It is what makes your company different than any other company out there. Kirk Phillips, principal of Conrad Phillips Vutech Inc., states that people make decisions based on how unique your product is, not how similar it is to other products. Are Jeeps really more adventurous than any other vehicle brand? No, but the feeling of adventure they evoke in customers is unique to their brand, delivering their brand promise with identifiable style.
  2. Intangible: Brand essence is not a concrete thing; it is a very abstract concept. A brand, as Phillips tells us, “is a collection of your thoughts and feelings about your experiences with it.” Perceived intangible attributes make up your essence. Remember, it is about how you make your audience feel. Let’s lookatitthisway:
    1. Tangible: Volvo has an impressive and reliable safety record.
    2. Intangible: Volvo will keep my kids and me alive. 
  1. Concise: It is important to keep your essence short and sweet. It is recommended to keep it to 10 words or less, but one word is optimal. The fewer the words, the stronger the focus on your brand and the easier it is cataloged and retrieved in someone’s mind. 
  1. Experiential: The essence of your brand should capture the feelings your customers experience while using your product. This creates the consistency necessary to uphold your brand. But if your brand doesn’t actually deliver that experience, then it means nothing and can, in fact, hurt you because you will have compromised your brand promise. Back to the Volvo example: Volvos make their passengers feel safe while experiencing a ride in one because they are safe. Volvo has long been known for its safety innovations—many of which are standard inclusions across car production: three-point safety belts and safety cages are two of the most commonly known ones. They continue to innovate with items like the “Alcoguard,” which is a “fully integrated in-car alcolock that utilizes advanced fuel-cell technology” that is reliable and user-friendly. The $81-million crash center, according to buyingdevice.com, is arguably the most advanced one in the world. The average person may not know these “behind-the-scenes” details about Volvo, but the collective experience of loyal consumers supports and perpetuates Volvo’s safety-centric brand promise. Brand_Promise
  1. Relevant: Your essence needs to connect with your audience so it has the far-reaching effect it deserves. Your audience wants to form a meaningful connection to your brand—to build trust with your brand—and it starts with your brand promise. Let’s take another look at Volvo. They have impressive stats on safety, are industry and lifestyle innovators, and various models have been recognized as top safety picks throughout the years by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety Highway Loss Data Institute. And some of these details may be peppered in Volvo’s advertising campaigns, but more compelling are the emotionally evocative images of crash test dummies “surviving” the grueling safety tests they are subjected to. I’m not calling anyone a dummy here, but we definitely can relate to being behind the wheel of a car. In this commercial, we see how long Volvo has been committed to innovation and safety, and it solidifies our faith in Volvo’s ability to keep us safe. It becomes a brand whose promise we trust. 
  1. Consistent: Your message, whether through the written word, social media platforms, commercials, safety awards, or other notoriety needs to be consistent. If you aren’t in unison, your customers won’t be either. If your messaging, promise, and delivery (experiences) aren’t congruent, then your essence is not truly an essence. Every single product and communication must deliver on your promise. 
  1. Authentic: Customers crave credibility. They want to know that your essence is authentic, or else you brand appears untrustworthy. Volvo has data to back up its strong and reliable safety record—and people have good reason to feel safe. As Volvo’s competitor BMW says, “What you make people feel is just as important as what you make.” Social media is a boon for places like Disney World—photos of smiling faces on kids from around the world hugging their favorite fairytale princess certainly convey magic. They do deliver!   
  1. Durable: Your brand essence must stay the same and it must be enduring. Don’t even think of changing it. This way, your essence becomes stronger and more reputable in the eyes of the audience. According to Phillips, essence is measured in decades, not years. This being said, it is also created over time, so make sure it stands the tests of time.

What Can Brand Essence Do for Your Bottom Line?

Even though B2B marketing relies heavily upon metrics and numbers hitting their marks, never underestimate the power that feelings have when you evoke them in prospects or customers. These feelings, in turn, create brand loyalty. This is just one of the many benefits of strong brand messaging. Brand loyalty is critical, as it drives up to 70% of all purchase decisions. Turn customers into loyal followers of your brand by following through with your promise and giving them the experience they expect and deserve each and every time.

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Climbing the Ladder

You may be asking: how do I discover my brand essence? This is done through a process called laddering. It allows you to expose the deeper meaning of your brand by progressively examining more abstract implications of a brand’s feature. Think of your brand as a ladder. The bottom rung represents a company attribute. The next rung represents the functional advantage of the aforementioned attribute. (Most companies haven’t ventured much further than this rung.) The third rung links to the emotional benefit of the attribute. From there, you can broaden the scope to explore what personal transformation for the end users might entail, which then shifts focus to explore a more global, societal impact. People are loyal to a brand because they intrinsically identify with it. With the shift in focus on social responsibility, consumers want to do business with companies who reflect their same commitment to the greater good. Whether you do the brand ladder work or not, all of these aspects play into the perception of your brand. It’s up to you to uncover it, communicate, and deliver it. It’s always better to be driving the messaging than reacting to it.

Our Boston-based B2B company, Grant Marketing, specializes in helping companies uncover or rediscover their brand. If you feel that your brand may not be strong enough, you’re probably right. If you haven’t addressed all of the elements we’ve discussed today, let’s talk. You can start by downloading our Brand Report Card.  

Download - Brand Report Card

This blog was co-written with Samantha Hunter. Many thanks to Sam for providing research and the foundations for this blog. 

Topics: B2B Marketing, Branding, brand message, brand promise, brand essence

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