Brand Essence: The Emotional Reason For Customers To Care

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Branding your business takes more than designing a logo and calling it good. It requires introspection and clarity about who you are and why anybody should care. 

Brand essence describes your brand in a nutshell. It’s a one to three-word statement that expresses a guiding principle or attribute that’s clearly understood and most importantly, felt by your customers. It describes the primary emotional reason they choose you and remain loyal. 

The benefits of creating a brand essence statement

Brand essence provides focus – both in decision-making and in communicating your brand message. (i.e. “Is this in alignment with our essence?”)

Most entrepreneurs and business owners want to dive right into the tactical applications of branding (marketing) and that’s understandable, we all want to get visible with our customers and sell them things.

But without an emotional reason for your customers to connect with you, marketing your business is exponentially harder. Branding is what creates good feelings that lead to sales.

People don’t buy things from people or companies they don’t feel good about if they have better alternatives to choose from.

I’ll go out on a limb and guess that you’re facing a virtual blizzard of competition out there.

So. What’s the feeling you want them to have? (Have you thought about it?)

What’s the main reason they’ll choose you? (Can you sum it up succinctly?)

If people were asked to describe your brand in one word, would it be obvious to them what that word is?

When you’re able to communicate the essence of your brand in a quick statement and then back it up with your actions, it makes it easier for your potential customers to arrive at the conclusion that you’re the one for them. 

If your brand were a pyramid, brand essence would be at the top

Brand essence diagram

Brand essence diagram

At the bottom of the pyramid is what you sell, the service you provide. That’s the minimum qualification for someone to hire you, and yet, that’s as far as a lot of people go when they’re typing up their “work with me” page. Without an emotional reason for choosing you (brand), your customers are likely to choose you based on price (commodity).

Next are the givens — the benefits of your offers. Things like reliability, professionalism, and good customer service. The thing to remember here is that your competitors have all of these things too, so they don’t do all that much when your potential clients are weighing their options.

To put this in practical terms — when you use your “what” and “the givens” to describe your work, people aren’t going to care.

Now we get into the things that distinguish you. The qualities that set you apart like your brand personality and unique value proposition. Knowing what sets you apart from the alternatives is imperative for creating impactful marketing messages.

As we move up the brand pyramid, we start tapping into the emotional reasons why they’ll choose you. Your purpose — your reason for being, the impact you wish to make on your customers and even the world. This is the foundation for a compelling brand story.

At the top is your brand essence. It’s the principle that informs everything else; your brand idea; the attribute your customers will identify and connect with.

Examples of brand essence statements 

To understand brand essence, it’s most helpful to look at some examples… you’re probably familiar with some of them already. 

Nike: Authentic Athletic Performance
Hallmark: Caring Shared
Disney: Magical 

Starbucks: Rewarding Everyday Moments
The Nature Conservancy: Saving Great Places
REI: Adventure
Volvo: Safety
Visa: Everywhere
Harley Davidson: Freedom

You might notice a pattern. Brand essence is often expressed as a single word the company wants to own, or a formula that connects their function (what they do) with their purpose (why they do it); e.g. adjective, adjective, noun or verb, adjective, noun.

(Pssst. Steal borrow these copywriting formulas to create yours if you want to.) 

What brand essence is not

Your brand essence isn’t a slogan or a tagline (although you can use it as such if you want to, as in the example of The Nature Conservancy above).

It’s not a mission statement, purpose statement or value proposition. It’s not even something you necessarily need to communicate in words to the public — it’s something you are.

What brand essence is 

Your brand essence is meant to be your north star.

It’s an attribute you want to be associated with that evokes the feelings you want your customers to have about you.

Let’s take Harley Davidson’s brand essence as an example — freedom. Riding a Harley Davidson doesn’t make a person any more free than riding some other brand’s motorcycle… but it feels that way. Their customers’ identity is all about independence and liberation and they express that identity through their association with the brand.

Disney – magical. Everything they do and create is, at its core, for the purpose of creating magical experiences.

Creating your brand essence statement 

Answer this question: When your customers interact with your brand, how would they describe that experience in one word?

In the example of Volvo, their customers would describe what they feel as safe.

Now, you don’t just want to pick a word out of a hat, it must be…

Authentic

It’s okay to be aspirational when creating your brand essence, but it must deliver on the promise to your customer — above all else, it must be credible, authentic, and in alignment with their experience.

When in doubt, ask your customers what they feel about your brand (at the end of the day, that’s what it is).

Relevant

Make sure the brand essence statement you write is relevant to your customer, otherwise it’s not going to hit the mark.

Consistent 

Consistency is what made McDonald’s one of the world’s most recognized and powerful brands. We know what to expect when we visit a McDonald’s whether we’re in rural Indiana or Paris.

Consistency is the key to becoming recognized and remembered and ultimately, it informs people what to expect from you.

Sustainable

Create a brand essence that’s sustainable and scalable — it shouldn’t change as you grow. For example, if you want to choose “personal connection” as your brand essence, will you be able to deliver on that promise as you scale your business or change the way you deliver your products and services?

So… what’s your brand essence?

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