Brand essence and your brand identity

Brand identity

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Snapshot : Brand identity is the most connected piece of knowledge in our business. The first stage of building your brand identity is your brand essence, but how do you know your brand essence is good? Learn the five evaluation criteria for great brand essences. Read good and bad real-life brand essence examples. Written to inspire anyone in the process of creating, reviewing or refining their brand essence and brand identity.

Here’s a little insight from our business that you can have for FREE. Yes, actually for free. No email sign up. No limited time discounted offer. Not even an informal 30 minute face to face coffee chat required. Not that we can do that at the moment anyway. Genuinely, free. We promise. The back-end section of our website generates lots of data about our business (life’s pretty exciting during a near lockdown). Part of this data is you can see the number of links to each page. So where other content pages reference a page or topic. And if you read the headline or the snapshot introduction, it’s not much of a surprise that our number one content page in terms of links is our page on brand identity.

That was actually a surprise / a-ha moment for us. Because we certainly didn’t start out with the intent of focussing content on brand identity. We figures brand identity would be similar in importance and connectivity to all the other marketing content we’ve created. But the fact brand identity is what’s come out as the most connected business topic (and we have a lot of topics) is significant. It’s really brought home just how important brand identity is in linking everything together.

Brand identity – The DNA that defines your business

We knew brand identity was important of course. We’ve worked in marketing a long time, so d’uh. But it reinforced to us just how much brand identity weaves through everything you do as a business. And how important it is to the success of your business. But if it’s so important, then how much time do you actually spend on brand identity? We bet, probably nowhere near as much as you should. We didn’t spend enough time on brand identity when we launched our brand, and are working hard to fix that now.

When we started Three-brains, it was based on a belief and our experience that the ability to connect marketing expertise, creative expertise and e-commerce expertise and do it well, can help businesses thrive in any environment. We wrote in our story when we launched. But we realised recently, that belief isn’t our actual brand identity. It’s only a part of our brand identity. It’s one of the tangible assets that lives on the outside of our brand wheel. 

We’ve taken the quiet time of the current situation to really work on fleshing out our own brand identity. While this post isn’t about blowing our own trumpet, there’s a few things that the brand identity process and in particular the process of getting to your brand essence brought to mind, that we wanted to share with others who might be re-evaluating their own brand identity at the moment. 

Brand essence – 5 key criteria

Your brand essence is a short snappy statement that runs through everything you do. Sounds simple, huh? And yet, it is probably the toughest part of building your brand. Because it needs to be short, memorable, meaningful, distinctive and also unite and bring people together at the same time. That’s quite a chunky old challenge for mere words. 

Let’s pick those apart a little.

Short and memorable

Well, notwithstanding the fact it usually has to be written in small box on whatever brand onion, diamond, triangle shape you use to write your brand, making it short also makes it easier to remember. We are reminded of the famous Mark Twain quote, “I didn’t have time to write a short letter, so I wrote a long one instead” 

Part of the challenge in getting to your brand essence is that it forces you to make choices. One of the best pieces of wisdom we ever heard, was from a HR manager who was also a parent. She used to tell her kids, you can do anything you want, but you cannot do everything. And when you go through the process of defining your brand essence, you have to write in such a way that it picks the one thing you stand for. What is it you do?

Happiness if you are Disney. Safety if you are Volvo. Dotardity if you are Donald Trump. (thanks to the marketing team at North Korea for that one)

For it then also to be memorable, means you really need to understand how people remember things. The one word essence is great but it can be challenging. Two is fine as you’ll see form the examples below. And three can also work because as we’ve stated before, three is an easy way for people to remember things when you are telling a story. But if your essence goes longer than three words, chances are your essence is well, not yet boiled down to your essence yet. 

Relevant and distinctive

For one, two, three words to also then by relevant and distinctive, well, there’s even more of a creative thinking challenge. How to you make your brand essence not sound generic and the same as everyone else? How do you avoid playing it safe? One of the challenges is that brand essences are often crafted by teams. Or committees. And when people come together like that, each person will tend to have their own individual view on what the brand essence should be.

Which means you often end up with a bolted together compromise statement for your essence that’s intended to keep internal teams feeling like they have contributed. Where in actual fact, it should be much more focussed on what it means for external communications. Which means you need some way of bringing it all together in a more decisive way.


By all means put together a team to work on crafting the brand essence. But when it comes to the final decision, it’s important to have a clear brand owner right who was identified at the start of building the brand identity process. Someone who has both the authority and responsibility for making that decision. And it should come down to the brand owner to make that final call on brand essence.

Brand essence – real-life examples. Paraphrased.

We don’t want to break any confidences of previous businesses we’ve worked with, we can’t share exact brand essences. But thanks to, we’ve paraphrased the essence of three brands we’ve worked on in the past to show two examples which meet our criteria for ‘good’ brand essences. And one, not so much.

Unavoidably audacious

The first was a premium alcohol brand that had built it’s identity around confidence and success. It’s essence (or close enough to it) was “unavoidably audacious”. That’s a great essence. Unavoidable creates a sense of confidence or inevitability which when aligned with audacious creates a very distinctive start to the brand identity. This set the tone for every packaging development, every piece of communication, every message that that brand sent out for the following couple of years. Resulting in great sales growth. Double digit sales growth. Consecutive years in a row.

Pragmatic opinions

Similarly, another alcohol brand but with a very different target audience set it’s essence as “pragmatic opinions’.

It was the sort of brand that usually older guys would drink with their mates long on at the end of an evening, and again, it’s a great essence for relating back to the target audience, the consumption moment, and finding a position that was notably different from what competitor brands were offering. Resulting in great sales growth, a unique position in the market and award-winning and talked about communication campaigns.

So good it’s worth talking about – meh?

So two good examples to learn from, how about one that was not so good? Well again, with some paraphrasing, here’s the essence of a well-know food brand “so good, it’s worth talking about”. See the difference between this essence and the previous two? 

Six words. Not short. To be fair, it was fairly relevant to the moment the product was consumed (it was ‘good’ and it was generally consumed with other people) but is it memorable? Distinctive? Could that essence be any other brand? Yes, of course it damn well could. You can probably think of half a dozen other brands that could have that essence. Which means it should really have gone back to the drawing board and started again. 

This was a brand which was doing OK, but really limping along with low year on yeargrowth mainly fuelled by NPD and price promotions. But bland and forgettable advertising campaigns. Several of which didn’t even relate back to this brand essence at all. It was so average, it isn’t worth talking about.

Now, having a short, memorable, relevant, distinctive and unifying brand essence doesn’t guarantee you business growth. But it’s a hugely important key step in the process.

Brand essence and a challenging question to ask yourself

So, it you are creating, reviewing or refining your brand essence right now, have a long think about whether it meets those criteria. Is is short and memorable? If you have a team of people working on it internally or with the agency, throw in a surprise “what’s our brand essence” question in the middle of a teleconference to see it everyone can say it without having to look it up. That’s a good test to see if it is memorable>

Is it relevant and distinctive? Could one of your competitors put there logo above your brand essence and say the same thing? Go on. Try it.

And does your essence bring people together? Does it kill any ambiguity or lack of clarity about you and what your brand stands for?

A small confession

We have a small confession to make. When we launched Three-brains, we’d didn’t have a brand essence. Or really a clearly defined brand identity. And yet, here’s us stressing how important it is.

Like many business owners, we just had too many other things to worry about, we knew we’d get to it sooner rather than later, but it wasn’t top of our launch plan list. And that was a mistake.

As we said at the start we had a story about why we’d started and what we were trying to do. But the consequence of not building the brand identity up front is a bit of disjointed content that didn’t have a common theme. That didn’t hang together. And so a lot of people on first encountering us, probably didn’t know what we stood for or why we were different. Just another marketing consultancy. Plenty of those about. 

Well, now we do have an essence. It’s three words long and it’s memorable, relevant and distinctive. It’s going to infiltrate everything we do going forward. 

And you know what? In these challenging times, we’ve seen a lot of ‘competitor’ marketing consultants and agencies pushing out ads about why their so called marketing expertise matters ‘right now’. And it’s pretty clear, they’re following a formula. A cut-and-paste approach to business, that if they were true marketers, they would soon realise has no short, memorable, relevant, distinctive and unifying essence. We don’t believe those guys will be successful in the long-run.

Don’t be one of those guys. Get your essence sorted and set yourself up to succeed.

And your brand essence is …

Oh yeah, we hinted at that before and then went away from it. Well, actually, our brand essence is what we think will make us more competitive in the challenging times to come, so it’s not something we’re going to share right now. And it shouldn’t be something you should share either. Your brand essence is not your slogan or brand strapline, but those should come out of your brand essence. 

So you will start to see our brand essence come out more through our intangible and tangible assets, which if you’ve read our (free! no download or email sign-up) brand identity article already are the next stages in the process. Watch this space.

Photo credit – Brand identity : Photo by Patrik Michalicka on Unsplash

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