Defining “brand essence” has long been a key task of brand building, but I’ve been wondering lately if a heavy focus on brand essence may actually be counterproductive, i.e., that it might diminish brand value rather than increase it. It seems to me that there’s often a static, inward and defensive quality to a heavy brand essence approach. This can actually work against a brand, hobbling a brand that’s trying to grow (dynamically) through its customers.
So, imagine my interest in a BBC report on the brand essence (bloodlines) of thoroughbred horses—one that says bloodlines aren’t a dominant predictor of horse racing success.
Nature vs. nurture
Bloodlines and DNA have long been the gold standard in valuing race horses for purchase. However, it appears that how a horse is nurtured and trained is more important to winning races than the “essence” of a horse’s biological heritage.
From the Beeb:
Racehorse winning secret revealed
The offspring of expensive stallions owe their success more to how they are reared, trained and ridden than good genes, a study has found.
Only 10% of a horse’s lifetime winnings can be attributed to their bloodline, research in Biology Letters shows.
Edinburgh scientists compared the stud fees, winnings and earnings of more than 4,000 racehorses since 1922. They found that the vast sums breeders are prepared to pay for top stallions do not guarantee the best genes.
The offspring of expensive stallions did tend to win more over their lifetime, he said, but genes played only a small role.
By far the biggest factor was the horse’s environment – the way they were trained, the choice of races entered and which jockeys were employed, Dr Wilson added.
Limitations of classic “brand essence”
I think one might make a parallel argument in brands: that too strong a focus on brand essence can be limiting for a brand. Maybe it’s the customers that the brand creates and nurtures, rather than some ethereal “essence” deep within the brand itself, that leads to long-term brand success. Brands that devote gobs of energy and resources to their “essence” often do so at the expense of customer relationships, and at the expense of creative brand interactions that keep things fresh. All too easily, a classic brand essence retreats to a well-guarded, airtight showcase, while the real, interactive world moves on without it.
Brand essence is customer essence
The way I see it, a great brand essence is also a great customer essence. In other words, brand essence must be inclusive rather than exclusive. It is shared, rather than privatized. The brand defines itself in customer terms as it charts a course for itself and its customers. Customers are loyal not to the brand but through the brand to the shared qualities it stands for.
Often the decisive factor in market success is where customers themselves take the brand, as they are nurtured by it. The brand grows them, and they grow the brand.
Ergo, productive brand essence is not “distilled” in boardrooms and retreats. It’s co-created with customers in the tumult of everyday life.
A well-nurtured winner
Reading the Beeb article and thinking about well-nurtured brands brought this fellow to mind.
Hat tip: Kottke.