Eleven examples of brands with a clear, unique and powerful Brand Essence.
I often get subtle eye roles from the decision makers for the brands I work with when I ask questions like: “if your brand were a car, what make would it be?” The men and women in my office are probably thinking: “dude, we just need a new logo.”
But what I and many brand consultants around the world are trying to get at is brand essence. There is an emotional nucleus that every element of the brand revolves around. Brands with a clear essence are the ones we remember.
Brand Essence is the reliable feeling customers come to expect when they interact with a particular brand. All valuable brands have a distinct essence.
You know that feeling you get when you use the products of your favorite brand? That is its brand essence. It is a long term, repeatable emotion the brand can illicit in customers. Brand essence has to come from an authentic place; a company cannot ‘fake it’ with any consistency.
- BMW = Driving Pleasure
- Walt Disney = Magical
- Apple = Simple Elegance
- Monstercat = Lose Yourself In Music
- Quiksilver = Spirit of Outdoor Activity
- De Beers = Forever
- Adidas = Relentless
- L’Oreal Paris = Feminine Confidence
- Coca-Cola = Happiness
- Volvo = Safe
- US Marine Corps = Semper Fi
“In my book, Brand Seduction,” Daryl Weber of Zero Mile Brands told BMB, “I show that brands exist in the unconscious mind as a wide array of mental associations. These associations are built over time through every experience the consumer has with the brand. You can think of these associations as planets that orbit around a central nucleus. This center is the brand’s core meaning or essence. It’s the main idea that holds the rest of the associations together.”
Most large brands define their brand essence in their brand style guide. Brand essence is harder to define than product features and functional benefits. It is best distilled into a word that describes a feeling, but sometimes it is best expressed in a phrase, story or photo. For example, L’Oreal defines their brand essence with thoughts a woman would have when looking at herself in the mirror: “I’m a beautiful, independent, and powerful woman. I am worth it, and I want people to see it.”
While brand essence is a hard concept to grasp and even harder to define for your own brand, it is worth it. Once the brand essence is nailed down, it is easy to write tag lines, design brand marketing campaigns, and make product decisions. Just shoot for that essential feeling.
Don’t worry if you are struggling with the concepts. We are going to go through eleven examples of brands with well a well-defined brand essence.
Colin Finkle (BMB's Founder & Editor In Chief) has launched his own brand design agency: Nordeau
Visit nordeau.com if you need help with your logo, brand identity, or brand strategy.
Examples of Brand Essence
The Bayerische Motoren Werke is defined by more than the car’s kidney-shaped grills and six-cylinder engines. There is a quality to everything BMW does that is impossible to ignore. The driving experience is when you can best notice that feeling of a BMW.
The brand essence of BMW is driving pleasure.
You know that feeling when you use a well-designed object, and it just works correctly and feels great? That feeling is the BMW brand essence.
BMW makes all of their product and strategic decisions by asking the question: “will this make the experience a pleasure for our drivers?” Where Audi has pushed its technological advantage, and Mercedes has gone for status, BMW singularly focused on making their experience in the car thoroughly pleasurable. They carry this focus on experience into their sales and service as well.
BMWs brand essence is on display in their taglines, “The Ultimate Driving Machine,” “Sheer Driving Pleasure,” and most recently “Designed for Driving Pleasure.”
From the moment Walt Disney innovated cartoons by playing a synchronized soundtrack, he was trying to create a feeling for kids young and old. The aim with everything Disney’s does under the Walt Disney brand is to have their audience lose themselves in an experience.
The brand essence of Walt Disney is magical.
Something that we admire about kids is that nothing is impossible. Disney seeks to make the impossible possible. That is magic; it’s the loss of feeling constrained by the real world.
Walt Disney World and Walt Disney Land are probably the best examples of this commitment to magical experiences. Even the placement of the garbage cans and the network of service tunnels are designed to make sure trash isn’t something that takes people out of their magical experience.
Disney’s brand essence runs right through their training. Walt Disney Parks’ corporate motto is “where dreams come true,” and the Disney Imagineering motto is “we make the magic.” They are magicians.
Apple has the most valuable brand in the world and has changed its brand essence in recent years. For a long time, their brand essence was the feeling of being different. For years, people bought Macs to signal themselves as different, non-conformist. But you can’t be counter-culture when you have the top selling phone, and the most valuable corporation, can you?
The brand essence of Apple is simple elegance.
When the average person thinks about technology, they get a headache about the complexity, inconsistency, and hassle of it. Why can’t things just work and be simple?
Apple’s essence is the feeling of it just working, effortlessly. The buttons are in the right place. The quality is high. The gestures are what you would expect. Even the icons seem right. They also strip away or hide anything superfluous, making their products by far the most elegant on the market.
When we had industrial designers comment on smart speakers, they agree that the Apple Homepod was what it needed to be and nothing more. That is simple elegance.
Monstercat is a music label with a business model that is a better fit for the artists that create electronic dance music (EDM). Music labels typically sign exclusivity agreements with artists and expect them to pop out a few albums over the course of the contract. Instead, Monstercat purchases the distribution rights to single tracks. This business model allows the ultra-productive EDM artists just to keep creating.
The brand essence of Monstercat is lose yourself in music.
When you think of dance music, you probably think of a narrow genre. But Monstercat’s sound catalog is very diverse, from chill out music to drum and bass. Some music pumps you up, and others vibe you down.
But what all their music has in common is the feeling of losing yourself in the music. The strong rhythm and the highs and lows allow the listener to get lost in the music; listeners lose their sense of self and their surroundings at the peak of their experience.
While Monstercat doesn’t explicitly say this is their brand essence, it is the reason they have created such a loyal fan base. Their explicit mission is: “Empowering a creative and passionate community through innovation.”
Quiksilver is the most successful lifestyle brand of the last half-century. The Australian surf company grew so large that they purchased other lifestyle brands like Rossignol, Shoes, Billabong, Element, Von Zipper, RVCA, and XCEL. All based on outdoor activities that people are so passionate about what they base their lifestyle around them.
The brand essence of Quiksilver is the spirit of outdoor activity.
The spirit of outdoor activity is that sense of presence and focus when attempting something hard outdoors. Worries, anxieties, cascading thoughts all melt away. There is just something special about the crisp air and the activity.
Surfers are only focused on the wave. Snowboarders are only focused on the mountain. Skateboarders are only focused on the next trick.
Quiksilver states their brand essence explicitly in their brand iceberg within their brand style guide. They have a broader gamut of feelings in their brand essence. They say: individual expression, adventure, creativity and the spirit of outdoor activity.
If you are interested in Quiksilver, you would enjoy our Lifestyle Brand Series where we look into how brands can become associated with aspirational lifestyles. We build our own lifestyle brand!
De Beers is an end to end diamond company. They handle everything from the mining, to the cutting, to the distribution, all the way down to the retailing. All of this infrastructure and investment hinges on the enduring value of a diamond. From expressions of love to industrial processes, we can’t get enough of these small, nearly indestructible pieces of carbon.
The brand essence of De Beers is forever.
The value of a diamond goes beyond its brilliance and hardness. When someone gives a diamond ring to the person, they want to spend the rest of their life with, and the diamond is a symbol of that eternal bond. “The diamond and its value will be around forever and so will our love.” Feeling that sense of trust and continuity is the brand essence of De Beers.
De Beers’ tagline, “A Diamond is Forever” is one of the most well-known phrases in marketing. And it works, and it sticks in the mind because we understand that feeling of loving commitment. It also differentiates diamonds from other gemstones, making giving a diamond the pinnacle expression of love.
Adidas, the German apparel company names for founder Adi Dassler, is the largest apparel manufacturer in Europe and the second largest in the world. They are a counterpoint to Nike and have very distinct brands.
The brand essence of Adidas is relentless.
Adidas wants to foster for their customers that feeling agency and power you get when you push boundaries and break through to new heights of performance. People who participate in training or sports know when they are pushing harder than they ever have before. It is a powerful moment.
“Impossible is Nothing” is the current global tagline for Adidas. Reversing the common phrase “nothing is impossible” makes it a far for aggressive rallying cry for athletic people. The tagline has the passion of “bring it on!”
Adidas’ brand essence contrasts to Nike, whose brand essence is about victory and competitive excellence. Different people in the athletic apparel store can make their choice: relentlessness or victory.
You don’t become the world largest cosmetics company by selling just makeup and creams. L’Oreal sells the feeling someone gets when they look their best and take care of themselves.
The brand essence of L’Oreal Paris is feminine confidence.
L’Oreal describes this in its brand matrix in their brand style guide. They take the perspective of a customer looking at themselves in the mirror “I’m a beautiful, independent, and powerful woman. I am worth it, and I want people to see it.”
This is the feeling someone gets when they have done what they needed to look and feel their best. The other part of the brand essence is feeling worthy of time and attention. You can face the world at your fullest confidence.
Coca-Cola is an enduring brand in a commoditized market because of their brand essence. While many companies can bottle a mix of carbonated water and cola syrup, no one can recreate the feeling of having a Coke. And it is more than the taste; it is the memories, optimism, and brand associations that come with the Coca-cola brand.
The brand essence of Coca-Cola is happiness.
This is the most straightforward feeling that we have looked at within this article. Happiness is universal, and so is Coca-Cola. Everywhere has Coke and everyone experiences happiness. It’s not so much that Coke makes happiness, rather you consume Coke when you are doing fun things: eating out, going to the movies, having a picnic, watching the big game, etc.
Coca-Cola is explicit about their commitment to customer happiness in their brand guide. “As a brand, Coca-Cola really promotes the notion of enjoying life and being happy.”
Every car company would like to claim that they attract a unique subset of drivers. That is a dubious claim, particularly of brands like Chevrolet, Honda, and Hyundai, but one that can make this claim entirely is Volvo. The person that drives a Volvo is a conscious, thoughtful, no fuss driver.
The brand essence of Volvo is safe.
Anxiety is no fun. I have family members with anxiety disorders, and it is not a nice existence. Everyone feels that feeling of being unsafe or uncertain from time to time. But not in a Volvo; in a Volvo, you feel secure. This is a particularly important feeling when you are a parent, as the safety and security of your children is paramount.
Volvo’s reputation for safety goes right back to 1959 when they were the first to have a three-point safety belt, the restraint system all cars use now (previously cars used only lap belts.) Every decade since, they have introduced a safety innovation that is now standard in all vehicles. They have made product development and marketing decisions all along to build the brand essence of safety in the Volvo brand.
US Marine Corps
The Marine Corps is one of the four branches of the United States military. They are responsible for the amphibious and expeditionary combat maneuvers. But they are defined by their motto: Semper Fi. The motto, semper fidelis, is greek for “always faithful.”
The brand essence for the US Marine Corps is Semper Fi (“Always Faithful”)
The feeling of semper fi is the feeling of faith in themselves, the United States, and the Marine Corps. The feeling of always being able to rely on yourself and the support of your comrades and country is vital for a soldier. Questioning thoughts can make you second guess and get you killed. Moving faithfully and confidently is a powerful advantage over enemies.
Semper fidelis has been the motto of military groups since before the United States was a sovereign country. Colonel Charles McCawley made it the motto of the Marine Corps in 1883. It is the name of their marching song, and on a flag held by an eagle on their crest. The mentality is one of the biggest differentiating the Marine Corps in an increasingly integrated US military.
Keep in mind: each brand’s essence is not universal.
There you have it — eleven examples of brand essence. I hope you appreciate that the brands with the bright north star make product, promotion and marketing decisions to build their brand essence into their perception. The brands that do not have a clear brand essence are unfocused and fail to differentiate themselves. The ones that get it right are everlasting.
You may read all of these examples and get the false sense that the brand essence is universal. Keep in mind that different people come from different angles to every brand. One person “driving pleasure” feeling in a BMW while another won’t get it and are happy with their Dodge minivan.
“While most marketers like to think their brand has just one essence, it’s important to remember that different people have different experiences and thoughts related to your brand,” says Daryl Weber, author of Brand Seduction, “and so are likely to have different sets of associations, and may even have a different core essence for your brand. So while one person may think of Rolex as being about heritage, another may see its core as being about pure luxury, while yet another person may see it as too gaudy or flashy.”
This sorting feature of brand essence is a feature, not a bug. You and your brand want to focus your efforts on customers and clients that feel the essence of your brand. Let some other brands take care of everyone else.