How brand essence can help build a competitive advantage

Brand essence that is unique, captures your relationship with the audience and speaks to a consumer’s needs will be relevant for decades

Brand Essence is at the heart of everything that the brand says and does
Brand Essence is at the heart of everything that the brand says and does

By Varun Satia, Eshu Sharma, Nishtha Jain

What if we were to tell you that the King of Bollywood over the last decade is a Khan, but not the one that you’d think of first? 

And the difference is even more stark when you look at the average return per movie: 

So what explains this difference in box office returns?

  • Did the audience expectations change? 
  • Was it a change in the audience composition? (with new, lower-middle class audiences entering)
  • Did it have something to do with actors’ choice of movies?

There’s probably an element of truth in all of these statements. And that’s an issue for not just film stars but every brand that has an ambition to be successful over decades. How can you plan for success when audience expectations, composition and sometimes even your products are going to be radically different than what they are today? 

The answer isn’t found by getting good at prediction, but ironically the reverse. If you can isolate something in your brand that’s unique but also speaks to an unchanging consumer need, you have found the secret pathway through which all iconic brands are formed. 

So what then is Brand Essence?

Brand Essence is simply the DNA of the brand. It is at the heart of everything that the brand says and does. It is the constant that gets replicated across products, categories, geographies and decades. 

It is the first thing that someone might say to quickly describe the brand in an elevator conversation. For Example: Dettol is all about protection, Disney is all about a Magical World etc.

So how do you create a Brand Essence?

We have simplified this as a 6 Step Framework called the Brand DNA.

Let us understand this in the context of Dove. Have a look at these advertisements.

Let’s look at the 6 steps for the Brand DNA for Dove:  

1.SuperConsumer: Whose life does my brand aim to enhance?

For Dove, the super consumer would be: “24- 39 year old women who hate pretentiousness and value natural, healthy beauty. An age that is beyond the point of being extremely concerned with Acne & too young to be excessively worried about wrinkles.”

2. Tension: What is the deep seated thing in the consumer’s psyche that the brand wants to address? 

For Dove, the tension could look something like: “Sometimes the pressure to live up to beauty standards can be too much.”

3. Trend: What is the cultural trend that is either causing the tension or is happening because of the tension?

For Dove, the trend is around: “The unrealistic standards of beauty set by celebrities, influencers, IG filters etc makes feeling beautiful unachievable.”

4. Ladder: The Ladder captures how your brand’s product attributes and RTB layer up to functional and then emotional benefit. In case of Dove, the Ladder looks like:

5. Personality: What kind of person would my brand be? What personality traits show how my brand thinks, behaves and even talks differently from others ? 

For Dove, the personality is close to being: “Transparent, confident, and inspiring.”

6. Purpose: Why does my brand get up everyday? How will the brand overturn the Trend around so as to resolve the Tension? 

For Dove, the purpose is: “To make beauty a source of confidence, not anxiety.”

Summarizing this, the essence for Dove becomes: “Dove is all about confidence of real beauty”

Which brings us back to the Khans

Like all new brands struggling to achieve a product market fit, in the initial years, Aamir did the full range of movies, largely doing whatever work he could get. 

It was only in 2001 with the breakout success of Lagaan and Dil Chahta Hai that his Brand Essence became clear, both for himself and his audience.


Let’s examine the Brand DNA for Amir Khan:

The essence for Amir Khan thus was: “All about fresh, experimentative cinema”

Post 2001, Aamir stayed true to his Essence, becoming highly selective with his choice of movies even as Shah Rukh reigned supreme between 2000-2008. That discipline and sacrifice, while being detrimental in short term revenues, was the key to his spectacular success of the following decade. 

In contrast, SRK found his Brand Essence 6 years earlier than Aamir with the success of DDLJ, which led to his rise to the top through movies that built on his essence of being a Romantic Dreamseller. Incidentally, Shah Rukh himself probably recognized that truth, which is why he named his new production company Dreamz Unlimited back in 1997. 

Unfortunately for him, there are only so many stories that one can tell as a Romantic Dreamseller. This forced him to experiment widely with his choice of movies, creating a dissonance with his core audience. Bit by bit, he lost his magic at the box office. 

To summarize, you need to choose a Brand essence that is unique, captures your relationship with the audience and speaks to a consumer’s needs will be relevant for decades. As the Covid-19 crisis creates new opportunities, it will be interesting to see how brands adapt to this new reality in their consumer’s life without giving up on what makes them distinctive and loved. 

The authors are co-founders, Kraftshala

Read Also: How event industry is adapting to the covid-19 period

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First published on: 17-05-2020 at 12:44 IST