Brand Essence

What is it?

Brand Essence is the emotional heart of a brand, summed up in a few words. The Brand Essence Wheel is a format for capturing and communicating the conceptual subtleties of the brand.

When is it useful?

In B2C markets, emotional brands are the only way to defensible, sustainable differentiation. 

Brands are more than just product names. If you have a brand that delivers emotional benefits to customers, your loyalty and margins will be much higher. Think of the football club from your youth that you still support, even though it had not won a tournament for 5 years. Its performance is poor, but you still support it through thick and thin because of the emotional attachment you have.

In todays cut-throat competitive world, it is hard to maintain a performance edge through innovation for long. When you lose this edge, the emotional attachment of your brand will keep loyalty until your next breakthrough innovation.

Sustaining an emotional brand requires extraordinary consistency across multiple touchpoints 

It is hard to create and sustain an emotional brand. After all, you are not just competing within your industry for “share of heart” – every brand wants it and bombards consumers with emotional branding messages. It is very hard to “cut through the noise” to establish your brand’s emotional benefits in consumers heads.

To get traction, brands need a consistency of purpose and execution at every customer “touchpoint”. A touchpoint could be in a retail store, on TV, or the brand facebook page or when they use the product. This is even more important in a fragmented social media world. Brands need to be crystal clear in their expression of their essence, reinforcing consistently across time, media and geographies in order to establish their essence in the consumer’s mind.

The brand essence wheel will help you achieve this consistency across large organisations

Small organisations (e.g. niche luxury goods) try to achieve this consistency through a “brand guardian” who holds a rich picture of the brand in their heads, and vet every execution of the brand to ensure it is consistent. This approach works, but is not scaleable – as the organisation grows, the decisions multiply and the guardian becomes a bottleneck.

For larger organisations, the brand needs to be communicated across the company so that everyone can execute in alignment with the brand. The brand wheel is a framework to structure and help communicate this conceptual picture, getting it out of the guardians heads in a way that others can digest. [Brand books are a useful tool for this too – see this example from Skype]

An Example?

Some brands are more distinctive than others. Amongst global beer brands, Guinness is one of the most highly differentiated and strongest brands. Blank out the Guinness name – could this brand essence apply to any other brand?

Brand Essence example - Guinness


How do you do the Brand Essence analysis?

The Core Brand Promise

A one sentence summary of the unique emotional benefit of the brand in 10 words or less. Sometimes this can also be the advertising tagline (e.g. L’Oreal: “Because I’m worth it”)

Facts and Symbols

The main ones can be identified using a google search, looking at the brand heritage webpages and the images and facts used in their advertising across time.

Brand Personality

This records the response when customers are asked “If the brand was a person, what would they be like?” You will also see these characteristics on display in the people the brand uses in the advertising.

How the brand makes me feel

This is the emotion that the brand inspires in you. Brand that are not visible to others (e.g. perfume, conditioner, underwear) play mostly in this space. It will be closely connected to the Brand Promise

How the brand makes me look

We are social creatures, and one of the emotional benefits of brands is the image that it helps you project to others. For high visibility luxury brands like the Louis Vuitton bag or the Ferrari sports car, this is more important than how the brand makes you feel.

I want to know more

Branding is a huge subject. One good point to start is the David Aaker books

The classic book on advertising is “Ogilvy on Advertising”