The most important thing to realize before your start creating & building your brand, is that your customers have a limited storage-space in their memory. For most brands they know, they’ll store only a few words that characterize the main difference a brand makes in their view.
Once the need for a certain product or service arises, consumers don’t think long about it. The strongest brands come to their mind easily, whereas less powerful brands don’t pop-up. Not only do they remember the stronger brand names, but also their essence: what difference they expect them to make compared to other brands, what unique experience they expect and trust the brand will give them.
The trick is to decide what essence you want to be known for vis-a-vis your competitors. Next you have to make it visible and tangible in everything customers see, hear and experience from your brand in a consistent and recognizable away. Not for a few months, but for years in succession. Only then it will be indelibly anchored in your target-audience’s minds.
If you want to become your customers brand of choice, they’ll have to know your brand name as well as what makes you different from your competitors. Why would anyone prefer your brand if it offered nothing unique? Strong brands have a clear sense of the essence they want to be known for, and systematically reinforce it in every single brand expression / manifestation.
- Coca Cola = American, happiness, authenticity
- Thumbs up = Indian, strong taste
- Rolex = ultimate luxury watch
- Breitling = watch for professional explorers (pilots, sea captains etc.)
- FeviKwik = glue stick that produces instant results
- Fevicol = glue for unbreakable bond
- Harley Davidson = rebellious
- Royal Enfield = heritage
- Gillette = cutting edge shaving technology
- Dollar Shave Club = no-nonsense high quality razor blades
- Nature’s basket = world food store with fresh produce
- Big Bazar = cost efficient shopping
- Volvo = safe
- Jeep = adventurous, rugged driving experience
- Virgin = airline by rebellious Richard Branson
- IndiGo = low cost, high value domestic budget airline
- Economist magazine = business magazine for intelligent people
- Forbes magazine = magazine for business leaders
- Victoria’s Secret = sexy and comfortable linger
- Agent Provocateur = sexy and sophisticated lingerie
- IIT = Technical Institute for only the sharpest engineering minds
- IIM = High quality management education for only the best brains
- FedEx = always the fastest
- DHL = the most reliable
- Taj = luxury heritage hotels
- Holiday Inn = family hotel
- Dove = for natural beauty
- Fair & Lovely = whitening cream
It’s starts with a choice You might be the most innovative, attentive, passionate as well as most flexible player in your market. The problem is: no one is going to remember all those attributes. Before you can start building your brand, you need to make choices first. You can’t be everything to everybody. You don’t want to become one of those brands that are acceptable to anyone but excite no one.
What difference do you want to be known for? You can’t engrave such ‘brand essence’ onto consumer’s minds overnight. The fact that we associate Volvo with ‘security’ is the result of Volvo’s deliberate effort to emphasize this feature it in every single brand manifestation: for years!
It is not easy to narrow down your key communication as you might have a lot to say about your many products and services. You want to share every aspect of what makes your organization special. However, it is essential to crystallize all this into a few basic points given the customers’ limited memory. You must focus. You will have to make a choice about which features or benefits to stress. But where do you put the emphasis? When you choose a brand essence, there are four important criteria.
A brand essence must be:
- distinctive from competitors
- relevant to your target audience;
- guiding / directive to brand development;
- realistic and credible
Criterion 1: Distinctive from competitors
The brand essence is the difference that makes your brand remarkable for your target audience. It has to be something that makes you stand out. Determining a brand essence (or sharpening up an existing one) starts with mapping what makes you unique. You must also take into account what benefits or qualities competitors are stressing.
Start mapping by answering the following questions:
- What are the key distinguishing characteristics of your brand (product, service, organization, shop)? And which ones are the most distinctive compared to competitors? What would customers miss most should your brand vanish from the market?
- Who are you mainly targeting – and who not?
- What do clients see, feel and hear when they come into contact with your brand, that they do can’t experience with competing brands? What do you do differently and better?
- If you have organizational and/or brand values, make concrete how customers experience those values. If ‘professional’ is important to you, make concrete what that means in the daily work of employees. Do your values help you to stand out from your competitors?
- If your brand were a person, what character-traits would define its difference from competitors? What characterizes your style? Are you formal or informal? Challenging, extravagant or nice? Rebellious of sweet? Serious or funny? Accessible or elitist? Aloof or warm? Choose the four most defining characteristics.
- Who are your competitors and why? What are they good at and what can you do better? Whom do they target? What do they promise? How and where do they communicate with their target audiences?
Criterion 2: Relevant for customers
Your brand essence should help you to win customer preference and loyalty. Therefore being unique is not enough. Your brand essence has to be relevant for your customers as well. Otherwise it won’t help you to win their preference!
The failure of much marketing and brand- efforts is its seller centricity. The company lays greater emphasis on communicating what they want to tell instead of what the consumers want to hear. “Hey, look at our gazillion usp’s, aren’t they cool!”.
When the needs of the seller take precedence over the needs of the buyer, marketing communication becomes unfruitful. A consumer doesn’t have a desire for an insurance policy (product), he deeply desires certainty. He doesn’t desire a hospital but attentive care and the best perspective on complete recovery. He doesn’t long for a holiday-package, he desires a memorable vacation. The seller must therefore talk to the consumer about how the product/service being offered would help the consumer realise his goals.
Take bed manufacturer Swiss Sense for example, which advertises itself as “the bed manufacturer with 95 years of experience”. Nice, but what does that mean to me as a customer? What’s in it for me? Competitor M Line sounds more appealing: the brand promises at least I can sleep well (“Sleep well, move better”). Now that sounds attractive!
Formulate each characteristic that distinguishes your brand in the form of a ‘benefit’ to the consumer. Ask yourself with every unique feature you’ve identified about yourself the question: and what does this mean to my customers? What is the functional benefit? What does it make them feel? What value in (private or professional) life does it help them to achieve?
Example beds manufacturer:
o functional quality: quality mattresses that conform to your body
o rational advantage: good, un-interrupted sleep
o emotional benefit: wake up with more energy .
o value: contributes to healthy and energetic living
Criterion 3: Guiding for brand development
A brand essence is timeless and gives focus to product-innovations as well as organizational development. Once your customers know you for a certain brand essence, they have an expectation. It’s up to you to deliver the right experience and to stay ahead of the competition in delivering it as well. Your brand essence should be able to function as a source of inspiration and a guide for everything you do.
- KLM promises ‘journeys of inspiration’. That certainly fuels your imagination and creates an expectation. With a promise like this, a customer would be surprised to get an unimaginative cheese-roll on board. Therefore everything KLM does is inspired by this promise. For instance: business class passengers get meals based on recipes by Dutch gastronomic chef Jonnie Boer, dished on tableware made by designer Marcel Wanders. An Inspirational Journey ‘ is an ideal source of inspiration for product development. And is also a guide for improvement. The question is always: how can we make flying with us more inspiring for customers? There’s always room for improvement. On KLM’s website the ‘inspiration’ is still hard to find for example…
- For years, Philips offered ingenuity and simplicity. That essence was the measure for everything they did. Every newly designed product, whether it was a new vacuum cleaner or a toothbrush had to reflect the essence. If customers did not experience the product as smart and simple, they would not launch it.
- Victoria ‘s Secret is about sexy and comfortable lingerie. This means that the brand will never launch products on the market that are not sexy (such as nursing bras or corrective flesh-coloured underwear) or uncomfortable (like itchy lace-bras).
Products can change, the brand essence remains the same. A brand essence makes a promise and creates expectations. And is a source of inspiration for innovation.
Criterion 4: Realistic and credible
Finally, a brand essence should be realistic and credible. Your product and your organization will have to be able to deliver the experience your brand essence evokes. Never raise expectations that you can’t live up to in the future. Maybe consumer research shows you could stand out from your competitors and win customer preference by positioning yourself as the one with the ‘quickest service’. But with a viscous organizational culture, pre-war ICT systems and a slow website you will never make it.
A brand can be a powerful tool to turn your organization around an inspire innovation. But there has to be a base for a certain positioning form the start. Before aforementioned insurance company, Interpolis, launched its brand promise ‘Crystal clear ‘, they ran an intensive culture change program, to change the last ‘left-overs’ of another era in which they were as unclear and complicated as they competitors.
Not the most credible claim…
Nothing is surer to prevent successful brand exploitation than a toxic corporate culture that cannot deliver a consistent brand promise – Ron Goossen & Alisha Grisham.
How to make a choice?
Often they will be more options to focus your brand essence on.
Once you mapped that makes your brand unique, what consumers want and what the competition does, you can start to weight the different options.
If you’re an insurance company for example, you might have come up with a few options for your brand essence. Different options might have different proponents within your organisation.
Do you want to be recognized as the most transparent one, the most cost-efficient one or the most attentive one?
Systematically plot the options against the main criteria:
|Fits your organisation/
|Relevant to customers||Distinctive in the marketplace||Guiding in daily brand management|
‘The most transparent one’
‘The most cost-efficient one
‘The most attentive one’
Know what your customers want most and what your company does best. Focus on where those two meet – Kevin Stirtz
Capture your chosen brand essence and express it
Once you’ve chosen your brand essence the real work starts: engraving it in your target group audience minds. From now on everything people experience from your brand should convey the brand essence and reinforce it in their minds. You can express your brand essence directly (by telling about it) as well as indirectly.
What customers know about a brand, think and feel, is ultimately the sum of all the experiences they have had in their lives with that brand – from billboards on the streets to contacts in store, online or on the phone. Everything counts, from what it tells to how it looks, feels, and its tone and style.
Indian budget airline IndiGo decided people shouldn’t feel cheap when they buy cheap. They offer an under-priced product that’s experientially as good if not better than anything out there.IndiGo promises: “low fares, flights that are on time, and a courteous, hassle-free travel experience. And that’s what any customer can experience in everything the brand does.From the visual identity to the advertising to the online and on-board experience: everything radiates low cost, no frills. But at the same time everything is done with a great eye/ attention for detail. Even the tape that separates the (check-in counter or boarding) queues reads ‘no red tape’. It is, of course, a precise shade of indigo. The light-hearted tone of voice makes it into a sympathic brand.
Simplicity as key to successful brand management
Especially in large companies, there are many different employees and departments whose actions affect the customer experience. The communications department makes campaigns. The customer service speaks with customers directly. The HR department hires the people with the right skills to deliver the brand experience while the financial department makes choices about where to cut costs and where to invest.
That means that it must be clear to all employees what the brand stands for. It should be clear to them what the brand promises, what the consumer expects, and how their own behaviour (in)directly affects the consumer experience.
From janitor to sales director, everybody should be focused on delivering the right consumer experience and reinforce the brand essence in consumer’s minds. What is the brand about and which organizational values support it? What is the personality of the brand and what does that mean for the way employees act?
Express your brand essence
Everything you do can make or break your brands image in people’s minds. The challenge is to make your brand essence tangible and recognizable for customers in everything you do. Your brand essence should be expressed in every brand manifestation: your brand name, your style (tone of voice and visual identity), your communication as well as the live-contacts. Not for weeks or months, but for years. In the following chapters, you’ll learn how to make your brand essence tangible in everything you do.
Example of MANYAVAR
Brand essence Manyavar
Manyavar sells luxury ethnic (wedding) wear for men. It embodies Indian tradition with a future outlook and is the largest brand in the ethnic men segment.
How does Manyavar make that noticable
That’s not only reflected in the clothes, but also in all other brand expressions, from the logo to the shop interior. Everything casts ethnicity in a global context. It looks high end international yet maintains the ethnic quotient. A lot of “jali” work is a pattern for the entire interior design of the store. De visual merchandising highlights the royal, classic yet trendy appeal that Manyavar portrays.
Summary & checklist
Consumer memory is limited: consumers will remember only a few words of each brand. The ‘essence’, the main difference it makes compared to competitors. This can be a functional, symbolic as well as emotional difference.
It takes time and a lot of repetition to engrave a brand’s essence onto your target audience’s minds. Therefore you choose a brand essence for a lifetime, not for a while.
Criteria for choosing a brand essence:
- unique and inalienableguiding for innovation and developme
- relevant and attractive to consumers
Watch out for too much internal focus. Research your preferred ‘brand essence’ options among customers.
Capture your chosen brand essence in a clear and actionable document for everyone. Simplicity is fundamental to successful adoption of a brand idea.
Branding is about arousing a distinctive expectation about the experience a brand will delivers; and reinforcing it again and again in consumer’s minds. Everything customers see from your brand can make or break the spell. How your brand performs, how it talks, looks and feels.
If possible, express your brand essence in every manifestation of your brand:
- style (visual identity and tone of voice)
- live contacts with clients
Only when all consumer-experiences with a brand confirm its essence, they will start to recognise and remember it.