Brand Essence Vs. Brand Promise

This branding question came to us from Rich in Seattle:
Derrick DayeJanuary 5, 20076142 min

Branding Strategy Insider helps marketing oriented leaders and professionals like you build strong brands. Readers know, we regularly answer questions from marketers everywhere. Today we hear from Rich, a Director of Marketing from Seattle, Washington who has this question about brand essence.

“Please describe the difference between brand essence and brand promise”

Rich, thanks for asking. We believe there are four critical elements to a well-positioned brand:

(1) target consumer, (2) brand essence, (3) brand promise and (4) brand personality.

Here are the differences between the two you asked about…

The Brand Essence is a two to three word phrase (typically in the format “adjective adjective noun”) capturing the “heart and soul” of the brand. The Brand Essence is simple, concise, aspirationally attainable, timeless, enduring and extendable.  Examples include “fun family entertainment” (Disney), “genuine athletic performance” (Nike), “saving great places” (The Nature Conservancy) and “caring shared” (Hallmark). It is not a tagline or slogan, but rather the first thing an employee might say to quickly describe the brand to another in an elevator conversation (“This brand is all about…”). While a brand’s positioning might differ slightly from country to country and while its advertising campaigns might change over time, like a person’s character, the brand’s essence will largely remain unchanged.

The Brand Promise is a sentence that communicates the one thing that the brand intends to own in the target consumer’s mind.  I prefer to express it in the following form: “Only (brand) delivers (unique benefit) to (target consumer).” A brand promise must be understandable, believable, unique/differentiating, compelling, admirable and endearing.  The ideal benefit to claim in a brand promise has the following three qualities: (1) it is extremely important to the target consumer, (2) the brand’s organization is uniquely suited to delivering it and (3) competitors are not addressing it. As an example, Harley-Davidson’s brand promise might read as follows: “Only Harley-Davidson delivers the fantasy of complete freedom on the road and the comradeship of kindred spirits to avid cyclists.”  The brand’s promise should drive everything an organization does and be manifest at each point of contact the brand makes with the consumer.

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