The importance of establishing your brand in the era of Digital Darwinism cannot be overstated. Digital Darwinism occurs when technology and society evolve faster than one’s ability to adapt. Every brand is vulnerable, but no business is too big to fail or too small to succeed.

With customers today being increasingly connected, informed, and ultimately empowered, their expectations only escalate. In short, they are more discerning and demanding than ever before. The brand and the brand promise are of paramount importance. Without it, businesses instead rely on fleeting factors such as price, trends, events, gimmicks, and other elements that make it difficult to develop a long-term bond or relationship between a customer and the product or the brand.

When someone asks your customers what is it about your product or brand that draws them to you, what do you want them to say? What do you want people to feel?

As Amazon’s Jeff Bezos famously said, “Your brand is what people say about you when you’re not in the room.”

I spend a portion of Chapter 14 of, The End of Business as Usual exploring how the purchase cycle of connected customers is evolving and the important role brand plays in decision-making. I was inspired by the work of Kirk Phillips and his BrandSTOKE 9 Criteria for Brand Essence (TM). I’m writing this post because although I do cite his work, I don’t give enough credit to how significant a role his work plays in the understanding of this changing dynamic.

On pages 172 – 175 of the book, I adapt his 9 criteria to encompass the various elements I’ve experienced in working with companies that attempt to become more adaptive, connected, and social. Because it influenced me, I wanted to dedicate this post to his work so that it can inspire you as it did me.

Brand Essence and a Model for Emotive Engagement

The idea of Kirk’s 9 Criteria for Brand Essence is powerful. It goes beyond the basic principles of brand marketing. It’s the very essence of what inspires an organization to move in unison and drives the direction for employees and customers alike. The fabric, the spirit, the persona, the sheer imagery is whatever you make it. So when you think of your brand, what is it that you think or feel? If you had to use just one word to describe your brand’s essence what would it be? It is this answer that should inspire you to think about how it relates to a new genre of connected consumers or Generation-C as I refer to them. As Kirk says in thinking about your brand essence is that it’s “just one word that sums up how your brand connects emotionally with your customers.”

So, what is your “one word” that symbolizes all that your brand is or should be? Is it…?

Evocative

Aspirational

Ordinary

Utilitarian

Necessary

Immaterial

Rewarding

Of course, these are just a handful of emotional (or emotionless) words I’m using to get you thinking about what your words would be. See, how you define it and how your customers define it could in fact be dichotomous.

As Kirk observes, “articulating how they [your customers] feel about your brand in an authentic and meaningful way is often challenging. Few get it right. The reason: essence is an intangible.”

Essence is intangible and it’s an emotion. Emotions, at least those related to customer experiences not necessarily the emotions that run rampant in corporate culture, often steer clear of boardrooms. This is unfortunate as it is customer emotions that represent the very connection your brand does or does not make. And, these emotions serve as the foundations for shared experiences and expressions. It is your brand essence that is the very thing that inspires bonding or causes friction with customers. As they share these experiences, they impact the impressions and ultimately the decisions of others.

Essentially, your brand experience IS the foundation for engagement, emotive marketing, and word of mouth.

I wanted to share with you here, Kirk’s BrandSTOKE 9 Criteria for Brand Essence. This is an unedited excerpt from the post that still resonates with me today as it did then…

To help those who participate in determining a brand’s essence, here are the primary criteria. Test your essence against them.

1. single-minded: One word is ideal. Maybe two. More than two words indicates that the brand has no focus. As a brand (by design) delivers a unique experience, having no focus makes for a weak brand.

2. intangible: One is no more independent on a Harley-Davidson motorcycle than another brand, but somehow one feels like it. Tap into what the consumer feels.

3. unique: The essence of a brand is how it is different from competitors in the same category. E.g., if Apple (and its products) are friendly and approachable, then it is claiming that its competitors are not.

4. experiential: The essence captures what the consumer feels during an experience with the brand. E.g., “Driving a Volvo makes me feel that my family is safe.”

5. consistently delivered: If the proposed essence is not consistently experienced (e.g, if a trip to Walt Disney World isn’t magical), then it isn’t the essence. Can your organization deliver?

6. authentic: The essence must be credible or the brand will be rejected. To find out what consumers believe about your brand, ask them. It’s okay for the brand essence to be aspirational, but only if your customers believe you can deliver on the promise.

7. sustainable: A brand’s essence is baked in. It doesn’t change. Ever.

8. meaningful: There is no point in identifying an essence that is irrelevant to consumers. Essences that don’t connect are the reason behind many failed brands. Again, research.

9. scalable: Will the essence work for brand extensions? Will it work as the brand’s opportunity grows?

For more, please download Kirk Phillips’ ebook, BrandSTOKE 9 Criteria for Brand Essence.

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The End of Business as Usual is officially here…