Building a strong brand is an incredibly complex exercise that is never ending.
Coordinating efforts to successfully position a brand in the ideal place, to maximise its future commercial potential, is unbelievably difficult.
If you had to think of it like an analogue; it's a bit like herding cats - as soon as you think you're making progress, one of them slips out of formation and the rest scatter into chaos.
Building a clear brand is a task that is obviously well worth the effort, because strong brands (as we know) are more resilient to change, command higher premiums in the marketplace and are able to make returns on marketing investment far more efficiently than less-focused brands.
But how do you stick to the brand plan - how do you keep the brand on the straight-and-narrow without being sidetracked by a million voices and opportunities begging you to divert your course?
Define the brand kernel
The answer lies in getting to the point where you have clearly defined your brand kernel. A brand kernel can be thought of as the single source of truth that defines what the brand represents.
The Springboks unlocked the value of their brand by focusing on togetherness.
A medical tech company like Elvie have built their brand on the back of beautiful product design for women.
Looking at Interbrand's Breakthrough Brands from a few years back - the practical value of defining a brand kernel that directs decision-making in building that position in the marketplace, is illustrated:
- A24: Indie studio darling
- Cadre: Digital stock market for alternative assets
- Canva: The Adobe disrupter
- Chime: Biggest digital bank
- Devoted: Individualized health plans
- Dosist: Innovative marijuana pen
- Elvie: Women's wellness for 21st Century
- Flexport: Logistics disruptor
- Ginkgo: Biology programmers
- Impossible Foods: Meat-alts for everyone
- Legalist: Tech-savvy small business advocate
- Loop: Sustainable circular service model
- Maven: Holistic care throughout every stage of the family journey
- Milk Makeup: Gen Z's cult makeup brand
- Mirror: Sleek solution for at-home fitness
- MSCHF: Postmodernist hype art brand
- Neon: Risk-takers and tastemakers in film
- Oatly: Mainstreaming oat milk
- Rivian: True utility all-electric vehicles
- Seedlip: First distilled non-alcoholic spirit
- Snowflake: Cloud data superhero
- StockX: The sneaker stock market
- Teachers Pay Teachers: Teacher knowledge exchange
- Teladoc: Pioneering telemedicine services
- The Action Network: Digital-native sports betting
- The Citizenry: Home goods for the responsible global citizens
- The Information: Exclusive Silicon Valley content
- The RealReal: Seamless, chic thrifting
- ThirdLove: Lingerie for every woman
- Turo: User-to-user car rentals
Getting down to clarifying your brand kernel is a process that is both directed and collaborative. It comes as a result of dialogue, debate, research and a lot of professional fine-tuning. Once the definition rings true, the construct then needs to be implemented across the organisation, buy-in needs to be facilitated and the application process needs to unfold in an iterative manner. There is a dedicated cadence of work and building that then needs to be undertaken, which must be conducted skilfully by the executive team and key brand custodians and suppliers.
The value of having a brand kernel is that it facilitates better decision making for organisations trying to build up their brand value, it enhances marketing ROI and ultimately sets the path on which brands can freely innovate into the future and engage meaningfully with the right audiences.
Perhaps it's time to make 2024 the year when you fully-explore and tease out your brand kernel.
Brands can easily fall into the trap of dilution and fuzziness and there is no better time that the start of 2024 to pull everything into sharp focus by embarking on the process of brand clarification.
There is no more valuable asset for a business to build than its brand - so if in anyway you sense that their is 'some looseness' when it comes to a clear understanding of your brand kernel - you know what to do.