How to Determine the Essence of Your Brand
So many new entrepreneurs reach out to us asking, “How can I possibly be successful when there are so many other fill-in-the-blanks online already?” The answer we always give is, “But they’re not YOU.”
The world doesn’t need a handful of famous, untouchable leaders. Human beings crave connection and there are people who can benefit from YOUR unique way of teaching, coaching, and serving. What you’re bringing into the world with your business isn’t homogenized or bland, it’s distinctive and specific. And there are people out there who are seeking exactly what you’re creating.
To convert them into loyal clients, you’ll need to distill, embrace, and leverage the essence of your business.
What is the essence of a business?
We’ll freely admit that “business essence” is a tough concept to pin down. Not only that, but it may mean slightly different things to different entrepreneurs. To get started, let’s look at the various ways that experts characterize essence:
- In his book The End of Business as Usual, Brian Solis describes essence as something that exists in our hearts, a thought or a feeling versus a logo or trademark.
- Branding expert Julia Melymbrose relates essence to brand values, saying, “Your brand values will help you capture the three p’s of your brand: proposition, personality, and purpose. Without values to guide you, your brand will seem like just any other business—rather than a distinct and recognizable brand—and your growth and sales will suffer as a result.”
- Strategist Carol Sanford believes that essence is tied to a company’s founding story. Why was it created? What problem did it seek to solve? What passions, hopes, and dreams drove its launch?
What unites these definitions? Emotion and singularity. The essence of a business is heart-driven, and it is unique.
Which means that essence is disruptive. Everything in business these days is measured and boxed and sorted. We want labels and metrics that are clear and universal so we can understand how to gauge our success. But the notion of business essence rebels against this. It encourages us to recognize and celebrate the distinctness of OUR specific business, and make decisions that suit that business even if they run counter to the status quo. Embracing our business essence means pushing back against the roles and classifications shoved at us by the mainstream, and reveling in our own vision.
All human beings have essence, but there’s a separate essence that flows out of entrepreneurs and into our endeavors. Harnessing that essence can catalyze spectacular success.
How do you define the essence of YOUR business?
Your first step in defining your company’s essence is to acknowledge that it is separate from your brand. There’s a relationship between essence and branding, but they’re not the same thing. Your essence is the core of your business, not just how it shows up publicly.
So just how do you hone in on your business essence so you can leverage it moving forward? Try these techniques:
- Consider your origin story: As Sanford suggests, it can be helpful to go back to the very beginning as you are exploring your business essence. When you first got started, what motivated you? What did you feel was your greater purpose? Not just your mission, but the emotional core of your desire to do this work. Mulling and writing about this can help you refine your understanding of your work’s essence.
- Listen to how others talk about your work: To be clear, this does NOT mean that you should allow clients and competitors to define your essence for you! It means that people who love and interact with your work can sometimes bring clarity and insight to the table. As you receive feedback, look for trends. Do tons of customers talk about how empathetic you are? Or is your focus on individual client attention something that people adore? Pay special attention to comments about how your work differs from similar work done by others. When you stand apart from the crowd, you’re standing tall in your essence.
- Heed your intuition: When you are not aligned with your essence, your business feels fragmented. Clients or customers can’t figure out who you are, and the mixed messages you broadcast turn them off. So check in with your gut. Are there tactics you’re employing or paths you’re following that get the thumbs-up from experts, but that feel wrong to you? Are there aspects of your work that absolutely light you up inside, and feel 100% aligned with your hopes and dreams for your business? Listen to your instincts. Amplify what feels authentic, and discard anything that feels discordant.
- Experiment: To build a solid and successful endeavor, you’ll need to spend some time immersing yourself in the tactics, ideas, and strategies that others have used to build and launch their businesses. But once those structures are in place, it’s essential to return to the essence, to revisit the reasons that motivated you to launch this endeavor in the first place. As you try out tactics and roles that you’ve learned from other people, you may find that some feel authentic and others feel unnatural. That process of sorting can help you clarify your essence.
- Define your points of differentiation. Even if clients don’t mention how your business differs from others, you can explore this concept on your own. Think about your field, your competitors, your community. Which shared values resonate? Which behaviors or practices have you rejected? What do you do instead, and why? When clients experience your business, how do they feel? Again, the ways in which you rebel against industry norms can be key to understanding your business essence.
Don’t get discouraged if you can’t define your essence this instant. This is often a long process that happens in fits and starts. Be patient, and let the answers come organically.
Once you’ve distilled your business essence, then what?
Infuse it into absolutely everything you do. If you can distill your essence and employ it, no competitor can ever replace you.