Simple steps to build your powerful brand essence

This post is the third in our “How to Build a Bullet-Proof Brand” series. This blog introduces practical tips for building a powerful core brand attribute or brand essence that applies to any small business or entrepreneurial business environment.

You don’t need a bank account with millions of dollars to create effective business branding. If you practice and apply what you learn in this series, you will be building a solid foundation for your brand!

What is your true brand essence?

Every strong brand stands for something – one differentiating attribute. Some call it the brand essence or core brand attribute. Others simply call it the brand. Or any of these listed in the sidebar.

Your brand essence gives your audience the primary reason to choose your brand over competitors’ brands. The essence captures what your audience feels when they experience your brand.

Brand essence examples:

  • Apple –  The apple brand essence is innovation.
  • Volvo – The Volvo brand essence is safety. “Driving a Volvo makes me feel that my family is safe.”
  • Jeep – Their brand essence is adventurous.
  • Disney – The Disney brand essence is magic. “Experience the Magic Kingdom.”
  • Harley-Davidson  - Their brand essence is liberating, freedom and independence – be a rebel.
  •  VISA – Their brand essence – They are reliably everywhere.

What is "brand essence"?



















What's the big deal about owning a core attribute?

What do Italian Fiat and French Peugeot stand for? They do not have a strong brand identity, in the best case they are Italian or French, but they have no desirable brand essence. These cars are sold based on their price. Furthermore, they have an exaggerated opinion of themselves and try to extend their product range into premium categories. But they do not stand for premium vehicles, which is a shame because larger cars have larger margins.

peugeot 208 sedan
Fiat 500 sedan

How to determine your brand essence or core attribute

Remember, building your brand is all about creating that emotional connection to your audience. It’s critical for you to tap into what your audience feels, values and as you brand yourself and your business.

Be single-minded. Stand for something and own it. One word to describe your essence is ideal. Maybe two. More than two words indicates that the brand has no focus.

 Because a brand (by intentional design) delivers a totally unique experience. Having no focus makes for a weak, wishy-washy brand.

Your brand essence must be authentic and credible or your audience will not believe you. To find out what your audience believes about your brand, ask them.

"A brand becomes stronger… when you narrow its focus."
~ Ries & Ries, The 22 Immutable Laws Of Branding
Yellow mazda Miata
black escalade SUV
dog and owner in blue Prius

Here’s a fun exercise to stretch your brand essence muscles

Ask yourself what brand of car your business would be, and why.

Are you fun, breezy and sporty, like a bright yellow Mazda Miata convertible coupe filled with zoom-zoom? A regal force to be reckoned with, like a posh Escalade SUV with all the bells and whistles? Are you the everyday citizen /environmental super-hero Prius packed with your gym or yoga bag, dog treats for your fur baby and bags of recycling to drop off?

Once you come up with a car description, ask yourself how hard was it for you to zoom in on the words you chose to describe yourself. How would others react to your car brand description? Are you believable? Or is your description a stretch for them?

(It’s okay for the brand essence to be aspirational, but only if your audience believes you can deliver on the promise.)

If you had difficulty choosing your words, spend some time creating a list of 10 to 20 descriptive words. Then narrow these down to the top 3 to 5 words that you think and feel best describe you and your business. Can you narrow it to one or two words that you can authentically own and defend?

Here are a few resource links to help:


Finally, do your words pass the “sniff test?” If people can’t tell who’s talking when your logo or visual branding is covered up, then your brand’s voice and core attribute are not distinctive enough. 

Next episode: Now that you've got your brand essence down, we'll tackle the 4 key principles of branding so you can start to see how all your brand pieces fit together. Your goal is to make your brand irreplaceable. You do this by owning the hearts and minds of your audience. Stay tuned!


Maja Haloway

As a director at Xylina, Maja helps clients find their ideal audience and connect to them through the right branding, messaging and marketing channels. Maja holds an MBA degree from St. Thomas University. She can be found at marketing, entrepreneur or techie-related meetups in the Portland OR/Vancouver WA area.

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