Hit it Like Houston

August 29, 2016
Hit It Like Houston

It can take weeks, if not months, of extensive research, analysis and distillation of complex information to underpin a robust positioning for clients looking to rebrand their organisations.

After strenuous weeks of compiling a recent strategy document, I created a comprehensive presentation with over 50 slides to come to a compelling point of differentiation for the brand. Following a successful presentation to the senior management, the client expressed how thrilled she was to see the effort that had gone into creating the ‘brand essence’ that culminated into two simple words, succinctly articulating the core truth of the brand’s new position. That gave me a sense of achievement because it is not always that marketers realise how painstaking the brand positioning exercise can be.

Arriving at a compelling ‘brand essence’ can be daunting, requiring tremendous effort, time and dedication. However, when skilfully derived, it can become a critical decision-making asset for brands guiding every marketing initiative, internal communication, new product development and so on.

The ‘brand essence’ as a concept is often confused with an advertising strapline, which is meant to fulfil a rather short-term communication goal. At times brand managers struggle to understand how a single-minded-thought that the ‘brand essence’ ought to encapsulate would help communicate different aspects or value propositions of a brand. The ‘brand essence’ is a strategic asset representing a distillation of the brand positioning to its most fundamental expression. It defines the core strength of the brand in a succinct manner often limiting to one, two or a maximum of three words.

An interesting way to understand the ‘brand essence’ is to imagine it as a musical high note. The greatest composition that comes to mind, when thinking of a high note is ‘I Will Always Love You,’ where the legendary Whitney Houston conquered the high note with relentless exuberance and phenomenal confidence. Although the musical score would always be remembered for the pinnacle she had hit with her voice, it wouldn’t have been equally impactful without her flawless technique, years of training and more importantly the slow build up of the supporting notes that contributed towards making it an all-time greatest hit.

Similar to music, the most cherished brands have a compelling brand essence, a high note or a core message that is created to establish an intriguing point of differentiation in the minds of consumers and stakeholders. As in music, brands do have to communicate the supporting notes, the added value propositions or the points of parity but they are not prioritised equally as the high notes. As with Whitney Houston, it takes time, dedication and focus for brands to achieve their ‘high note’. Brands require continuous reinforcing of their ‘brand essence’ through advertising, communication and PR in order to establish a ‘high note’ that remains top of stakeholders’ minds and stays with them for years to come.

A great example to demonstrate this is analyzing the brand essence of Mercedes and Volvo. Although operating in the same automotive sector, the two brands rely on different ‘high notes’. For Mercedes, all their communications reinforce their essence of providing possibly the most luxurious automotive experience. On the other hand, Volvo focuses on positioning itself as the safest automotive provider, which is easy to believe since they are the inventors of the seatbelt, child seat and a number of other safety innovations. These ‘high notes’ are not the only attributes they communicate, but they are prioritized above all other supporting messages such as design, performance, technology, comfort and the overall experience as illustrated below.


So, next time you’re repositioning a brand, hit it like Houston. It will take persistent effort, blood, sweat and tears to hit the ‘high note’ just right, however, when you do, it will pay dividends, not just in the short term but for decades to come. Just like in the case of Coca-Cola which for many years has consistently strengthened its brand essence by ‘enabling happiness’ through its marketing communication and instilling within its organisational DNA.

By Rohit Banka
A Senior Brand Strategy Consultant, Rohit is uniquely placed at the intersection of the strategic and creative side of brand development bringing an amalgamation of planning, research, analysis, insight, strategy and storytelling in creating brands that stand-out for something meaningful.

Sancharee Saha