The 'essence' is the fundamental nature at the core of everything related to the brand. By defining your essence, you're able to guide all brand activities consistently with your messaging kept clear and aligned with your values.
There are many things to consider when defining your brand essence as this intangible element should differentiate your brands from competitors, whilst expressing your goals, values and unique selling points.
To streamline the brand essence creation, we could follow the equation:
Goals + Values + Unique Selling Points = Brand Essence.
Points to consider.
Your brand should be emotive, and human. Your target audience should feel something from your communications: whether it's how your logo looks; how your brand palette expresses your ideas; how your copy reads; or how you structure your marketing campaigns.
The brand essence is not a slogan.
Whilst many companies opt to design their essence as a catchy short sentence of buzzwords and promises, you should be aware that tag-lines and essences are not one and the same. Sometimes an essence is communicated purely internally, i.e. only the company employees are aware of how the brand aims to position and express itself, as a guideline for all ideation and work practices. With this in mind, it's worth reiterating the reason for having an essence:
Your essence guides you to create better content, better messaging, and better solutions - while keeping the brand aligned and consistent with your values, goals and unique selling points.
Great Brand Essences.
To better understand what an essence is, it's useful to explore some famous examples.
- Walt Disney World – Magical
Many people may be aware of tag lines such as 'the most magical place on earth' or 'the happiest place on earth'. Behind these public slogans, and routed deep within Disney's mission, is the brand essence defined simply as 'Magical'.
With this defined essence, Disney are guided to continue creating wondrous features, products and services, ensuring that their brand creates an exciting sense of wonder and indeed, 'magic'.
- Volvo – Safety
A popular example for brand essence discussion, and for good reason, Volvo prioritizes 'safety' throughout their design and communications. Obviously the singular word 'safety' is perhaps not powerful enough on its own for slogans, adverts and general marketing - yet this essence guides and shapes the Volvo campaigns to keep their brand aligned, and to resonate strongly with their target market.
The brand pyramid is a well known structure, which works from the top down. Once the essence is defined, the personality can be developed. Once the personality is developed, the emotional and rational benefits can be highlighted. Finally, the functional attributes can be drawn from all previous steps.
Here's a quick example of how this might look:
Product: Small batch Gin
Essence: The best, redefined
Personality: Quirky, Luxurious, Independent
Benefits*: Versatile, Refreshing, Unique
Attributes: Head-turning design, Quality alcohol, Traditional flavor
This hypothetical company, could build a truly special brand that focuses on redefining what the 'best' gin on the market is, or what the 'best' should be. The obvious marriage between the name (SEO) and striving for the top spot (Search Engine results) makes for a humorous ambition for this gin.
Next, the brand is explored further as to how it will communicate, why customers will benefit from the brand, and what the brand will generally be providing.
*At Mäd we like to combine the emotional and rational benefits into the same step.
Other Brand Essence Examples.
The following well-known companies express their essence throughout their campaigns and products, producing particular positive feelings and reactions from customers:
- Apple – Think Different
- Nike – Authentic Athletic Performance
- Hallmark – Caring Shared
- BMW – Sheer Driving Pleasure
- Quiksilver – Spirit of Outdoor Activity
- De Beers – Forever
- Adidas – Relentless
- L’Oreal Paris – Feminine Confidence
- Coca-Cola – Happiness
To aid with ideation, we've put together a list of examples and common examples:
How to discover your Essence.
Whenever we run design sprints, we find that the essence is the most time consuming and difficult exercise to complete. This isn't overly surprising, as it can seem a daunting task to concisely summarize the whole brand, and commit to a singular essence - which will affect absolutely everything the brand becomes!
To make the process easier, we've created a checklist for the 'ideal essence'. If the idea matches the following five main points, then you can be sure that there's something special:
- Uniqueness: Does the essence make the brand unique compared to competitors?
- Feeling: What feelings are evoked from our brand essence, and does this match our brand goals?
- Longevity: Does the essence allow the brand a long enough lifetime, with the ability to evolve and retain relevance in the future?
- Accuracy: What is it we do, and does the essence directly and obviously relate to this? Find the words that define the brand as concisely as possible.
- Personal: Does the brand speak directly to people? Creating a message that is relatable and aspirational will create a powerful buzz around any brand.
Applying the advice to an existing brand.
To further cement these points, we'll apply a brand essence to these fives points:
BMW = Sheer Driving Pleasure
- Unique: BMW positions itself as the manufacturer of choice for truly enjoyable driving experiences. Whilst Volvo may focus on safety features, BMW pushes the excitement of better driving.
- Feeling: Excitement and enjoyment is created from this essence.
- Longevity: Continuing to create great driving experiences is a goal that can consistently develop without any expected shelf life.
- Accuracy: The focus on driving, married with an enjoyable experience whilst doing so, pinpoints the brand excellently.
- Personal: The essence doesn't focus on the building process, or particular features - instead it speaks directly to the end customer, and how they will enjoy driving a BMW product.
It's important to define your essence with precision, to allow your goals, USPs and values to breathe throughout all future operations. In an over-saturated world of exciting designs, quirky products and innovative thought, people have the most choice ever available for almost every aspect of their daily lives- a strong essence can be that driving force that connects new consumers to your brand, and creates a lasting bond that will help catapult your brand to the forefront of your given industry.
As a final tip, if you're really stuck on the essence, we recommend skipping ahead to the next layers of your brand pyramid as hindsight may be able to help you find that perfect brand essence once you've filled in the rest of the blanks.