When it comes to describing your brand succinctly, it might feel a little like a bad first date—or worse: a doomed job interview. The person across the table, be it interviewer or date for the evening, requests that you “describe yourself in three words.” Suddenly, your mind goes blank, your palms start sweating, and your mouth goes dry. You have a great personality. Interesting hobbies. But a long-winded, flowery description of how your aspirations are much bigger than your bank account aren’t going to work this time.
Sure, your brand may not suffer such a wild amount of pressure in such a small time. But it’s vital that you can find a phrase or a collection of words that give a precise summary of who you are, what you do, and/or how you make people feel—what some like to describe as your brand essence. It’s time to find the core of your brand’s identity. Ready for some soul-searching?
What’s brand essence?
If you boiled every bit of your brand down to its very core, what would you be left with? What one big picture does every piece of your brand’s puzzle create? Call it spirit. Call it soul. Call it essence. It’s representative of the inner core of your entire brand, particularly as your customers see you and interact with you.
Ask yourself these questions and you can start getting to your brand’s heart. Who is your brand? What does our brand do? How does our brand make people feel? What are our brand’s biggest hopes? That last question supplies the aspirational part of your brand essence, which is always a good addition to an accurate or actual part of brand essence, too.
Your brand essence is your north star, in that it should both draw people to you, and it should be the guiding light for branding in your company, across the board. When creating those choice words that depict Your Brand, be sure to think through your brand’s human qualities—create a personality; like attracts like: your customers will be drawn to your brand because you’ve managed to make it seem human. Emotional triggers are key to connecting with your audience.
Emotional, human, brand essence—to boil that down into 3-5 words…it seems difficult, and it might seem unnecessary. (If it’s so intrinsic, why do we need to identify it and call it out)? Keep reading. This next part’s for you.
Why is brand essence important?
Do you appreciate TL;DR summaries? Do you like finding shortcuts when you’re running out of time? Brand essence is made for you. It better defines your brand identity, and gives you a shortcut for branding (and general business) choices. Take McDonald’s, whose brand essence is: Consistency. Would they introduce new fonts for each new piece of marketing? Highly unlikely. Not only is it bad for recognition, McDonald’s thrives on predictability and giving people exactly what they expect (golden arches and Big Macs) no matter where they are—at least in one country at a time. This predictability means that McDonald’s is recognizable in their branding and in their products. They offer identical menu items at every one of their locations.
Beyond creating a shortcut for branding choices, your brand essence allows you to be easily authentic, and connect with your audience. Connection leads to trust, which leads to buying. You get to drive sales through your authenticity. And eventually, this can enable your audience to cross over from customers to advocates, helping you sell even more. Bottom line: When you’re real, people are drawn to you—just like in real life.
How do I create my brand essence?
How to create your brand essence is up to you, your stakeholders, and your customers. Your brand essence must align with your customers’ experience when interacting with your brand (see section above, about being “real.”) Begin a big brainstorm by looking at survey results, reviews, alongside your mission and vision statement. Knowing what you do and what you want to do will impact the aspirational part of your essence. Being aware of your customers’ experience will help create the current part of your essence.
Step 1: Gather your people (decision makers/board) your social proof (surveys, reviews, feedback) and your mission and vision.
Step 2: Find the words and ideas that are common among these items.
Step 3. Narrow those ideas down, keeping an eye out for human-like qualities, verbs and action words, and adjectives that truly differentiate your brand from others like you.
Step 4. Keep narrowing down until you find a handful of words that can represent your brand at its essence. See if you can get it narrower. Edit until you’re happy.
What should I aim for with brand essence?
Some of my favorite brand essences are:
The Nature Conservancy: Saving Great Places
Airbnb: Belong Anywhere
Southwest Airlines: Freedom
Hallmark: Caring Shared
They’re simple, right? But it’s no simple work to arrive at something that can sum up a brand so perfectly. Start looking at brands you admire; as an exercise, see if you can find their essence or try coming up with it yourself. You, as the consumer/customer, will have a particular idea of how your experience was with this company. Use that interaction to create an essence that you think would ring true.
Creating a brand essence isn’t easy, but there’s no better way to make internal brand decisions, differentiate yourself, and attract customers through authenticity and consistency. Find your three (to five) words and run with it. Need extra help? Reach out.