What Is A Brand Pyramid And Why It Matters In Business

A brand pyramid is a representational framework that answers fundamental questions about a brand and market positioning. The framework is particularly useful for new brands to enter a market for the first time. It moves from bottom to bottom with these elements: features and attributes, functional benefits, emotional benefits, brand persona/core values, and brand essence.

Understanding brand pyramids

Brand pyramids help a business clarify its brand essence – or the emotional feeling that consumers come to expect from interacting with a brand.

Here, it’s important to note that developing a brand pyramid should be an internal process. In other words, the business must define the external face of its brand by first looking inwards. What does a business stand for and how does it want to be perceived? This is a question that only a business can answer, and should never be left for others to decide.

Ideally, the brand pyramid should assist in developing a unique selling proposition, brand story, and overall marketing strategy. It can also serve as a standard that businesses can refer to in gauging whether its actions are aligned with its core values.

Establishing a brand pyramid

A brand pyramid can be created by using a triangle divided into five tiers. Marketing teams must start at the base and then move upwards.

Let’s look at each of the tiers in more detail.

1. Features and attributes 

Features and attributes describe the basic purpose of the product in the market. In other words, what does it do, and how does it do it? For example, a messaging app may have custom emojis, group chat, and video chat features.

2. Functional benefits

Functional benefits delve a little deeper. This tier seeks to determine the problems that a product or service is attempting to solve. Put differently, functionality describes the reason a consumer uses a product. It also describes their expected outcome after consumption. The messaging app solves the problem of free, instantaneous communication allowing consumers to express themselves through video and custom emojis.

3. Emotional benefits

What emotions do consumers tie to the usage of a product or service? The user of an instant messaging app may feel connection, anticipation, joy, and acceptance. 

4. Brand persona/core values

Marketing personas give businesses a general overview of key segments of their target audience and how these segments interact with their brand. Marketing personas are based on the data of an ideal, fictional customer whose characteristics, needs, and motivations are representative of a broader market segment.

Brand persona simply describes the personification of a brand. What values are important to this person? How does the brand persona influence or reinforce marketing strategies and product development, and vice versa?

For example, insurance company Geico uses a gecko as representative of its brand persona. The gecko calms the typical fear and distrust of insurance companies by appearing curious, approachable, and friendly.

5. Brand essence

Brand essence is defined as the core characteristic of a brand that elicits an emotional response in consumers. Brand essence is unique to every business, and the most successful businesses use it to create a reliable feeling in their target audience that builds loyalty over time.

Brand essence is the apex of the brand pyramid, and for good reason. Brand essence is the heart and soul of a business and is a culmination of the previous four tiers. It is a reason for existing that guides everything a business does. Importantly, brand essence is felt by customers in the form of positive emotions.

Volvo’s brand essence is safety. That is, safety is a core function of their brand which determines how they invest in the manufacture of safe cars. This focus on safety is decades-long and is best exemplified by Volvo’s invention of the three-point seat belt in 1958. The company was also ahead of the curve with the introduction of airbags over 30 years later.

Brand pyramid examples

Let’s take a look at two brand pyramid examples below.

The Coca-Cola Company

Features and attributes

If we zoom in on the Coca-Cola soft drink in particular, we find that the product is sold in plastic bottles, glass bottles, and aluminum cans. Coca-Cola has a distinctive red and white label and a recognizable taste with elements of vanilla, cinnamon, essential oils, and nutmeg.

Functional benefits

Coca-Cola serves primarily to quench a consumer’s thirst and leave them satisfied after consuming the drink. The product is widely available and inexpensive which enhances this functional benefit.

Emotional benefits

Consumers associate joy, nostalgia, and relaxation with consuming Coca-Cola. The “Share a Feeling” initiative, which allowed consumers to customize Coke cans with specific emotions, meant the brand was also associated with self-expression, storytelling, and meaningful connections with friends.

Brand persona/core values

The Coca-Cola Company’s brand persona is predominantly made of up excitement and sincerity. Marketing strategies illustrate the direct relationship between the brand and qualities such as cheerfulness, fun, and family-orientation. For several years, the brand was also personified by animated polar bears who were presented as mischievous but also fun and innocent.

Brand essence

While there are many carbonated beverage brands, none of them can recreate the feeling of enjoying a Coke. The brand essence of Coca-Cola is associated with happiness, fond memories, and a general zest for life. Note that the act of consuming Coca-Cola is not the driver of the company’s brand essence. Instead, it is more to do with the enjoyable activities that an individual engages in whilst consuming Coke, such as watching a sports game or movie and hosting a backyard BBQ.


Features and attributes

Volvo is a Swedish vehicle manufacturer that sells cars, trucks, construction equipment, and buses. Some of these vehicles are powered by internal combustion engines, while others are powered by hybrid or electric systems.

Functional benefits

Consumers purchase Volvo vehicles to move from point A to point B. They also purchase Volvos for their reliability and safety. As we noted in the previous section, the company was a pioneer in airbag and seatbelt introduction. It was also one of the first to introduce laminated windscreens and various features to protect children against serious injury in an accident.

Emotional benefits

For many decades Volvo focused on safety above all, which invoked consumer emotions such as comfort, reassurance, contentment, and satisfaction. In recent years, the company has endeavored to tell emotional stories that encourage consumers to think about the role their Volvo plays in everyday life rather than the specific features of each model. In one such story that was used to promote the new XC60 SUV, a mother drives her daughter to the important first day of school and assures her that there is nothing to fear and that everything will be fine.

Brand persona/core values

According to the Volvo Group’s website, the company lists the core values of customer success, passion, change, performance, and trust. Each guides day-to-day behavior and decision-making.

Brand essence

Volvo’s brand essence is still very much associated with safety. However, modern standards now mean that vehicles from all major brands are just as safe as Volvo’s vehicles. This means a brand essence based on safety is less of a differentiator than it once was. In 2021, Volvo drew on its long history of research and development to reposition itself as a nimble leader in tech and design. It remains to be seen whether this move will change the company’s brand essence among consumers.

Key takeaways:

  • Brand pyramids help businesses define the very essence of their brands by way of visual representation.
  • Brand pyramids are divided into five tiers that a business must move through to reach the top: features and attributes, functional benefits, emotional benefits, brand persona/core values, and finally, brand essence.
  • Brand pyramids provide a systematic means of clarifying brand essence, which determines the emotions consumers associate with a brand. These pyramids also guide marketing strategy and business operations.

Connected concepts

Affiliate Marketing

Affiliate marketing describes the process whereby an affiliate earns a commission for selling the products of another person or company. Here, the affiliate is simply an individual who is motivated to promote a particular product through incentivization. The business whose product is being promoted will gain in terms of sales and marketing from affiliates.

Ambush Marketing

As the name suggests, ambush marketing raises awareness for brands at events in a covert and unexpected fashion. Ambush marketing takes many forms, one common element, the brand advertising their products or services has not paid for the right to do so. Thus, the business doing the ambushing attempts to capitalize on the efforts made by the business sponsoring the event.

Brand Building

Brand building is the set of activities that help companies to build an identity that can be recognized by its audience. Thus, it works as a mechanism of identification through core values that signal trust and that help build long-term relationships between the brand and its key stakeholders.

Brand Equity

The brand equity is the premium that a customer is willing to pay for a product that has all the objective characteristics of existing alternatives, thus, making it different in terms of perception. The premium on seemingly equal products and quality is attributable to its brand equity.

Brand Positioning

Brand positioning is about creating a mental real estate in the mind of the target market. If successful, brand positioning allows a business to gain a competitive advantage. And it also works as a switching cost in favor of the brand. Consumers recognizing a brand might be less prone to switch to another brand.

Business Storytelling

Business storytelling is a critical part of developing a business model. Indeed, the way you frame the story of your organization will influence its brand in the long-term. That’s because your brand story is tied to your brand identity, and it enables people to identify with a company.

Content Marketing

Content marketing is one of the most powerful commercial activities which focuses on leveraging content production (text, audio, video, or other formats) to attract a targeted audience. Content marketing focuses on building a strong brand, but also to convert part of that targeted audience into potential customers.

Digital Marketing

A digital channel is a marketing channel, part of a distribution strategy, helping an organization to reach its potential customers via electronic means. There are several digital marketing channels, usually divided into organic and paid channels. Some organic channels are SEO, SMO, email marketing. And some paid channels comprise SEM, SMM, and display advertising.

Growth Marketing

Growth marketing is a process of rapid experimentation, which in a way has to be “scientific” by keeping in mind that it is used by startups to grow, quickly. Thus, the “scientific” here is not meant in the academic sense. Growth marketing is expected to unlock growth, quickly and with an often limited budget.

Guerrilla Marketing

Guerrilla marketing is an advertising strategy that seeks to utilize low-cost and sometimes unconventional tactics that are high impact. First coined by Jay Conrad Levinson in his 1984 book of the same title, guerrilla marketing works best on existing customers who are familiar with a brand or product and its particular characteristics.

Inbound Marketing

Inbound marketing is a marketing strategy designed to attract customers to a brand with content and experiences that they derive value from. Inbound marketing utilizes blogs, events, SEO, and social media to create brand awareness and attract targeted consumers. By attracting or “drawing in” a targeted audience, inbound marketing differs from outbound marketing which actively pushes a brand onto consumers who may have no interest in what is being offered.

Integrated Marketing

Integrated marketing describes the process of delivering consistent and relevant content to a target audience across all marketing channels. It is a cohesive, unified, and immersive marketing strategy that is cost-effective and relies on brand identity and storytelling to amplify the brand to a wider and wider audience.

Marketing Mix

The marketing mix is a term to describe the multi-faceted approach to a complete and effective marketing plan. Traditionally, this plan included the four Ps of marketing: price, product, promotion, and place. But the exact makeup of a marketing mix has undergone various changes in response to new technologies and ways of thinking. Additions to the four Ps include physical evidence, people, process, and even politics.

Marketing Personas

Marketing personas give businesses a general overview of key segments of their target audience and how these segments interact with their brand. Marketing personas are based on the data of an ideal, fictional customer whose characteristics, needs, and motivations are representative of a broader market segment.

Multi-Channel Marketing

Multichannel marketing executes a marketing strategy across multiple platforms to reach as many consumers as possible. Here, a platform may refer to product packaging, word-of-mouth advertising, mobile apps, email, websites, or promotional events, and all the other channels that can help amplify the brand to reach as many consumers as possible.

Multi-Level Marketing

Multi-level marketing (MLM), otherwise known as network or referral marketing, is a strategy in which businesses sell their products through person-to-person sales. When consumers join MLM programs, they act as distributors. Distributors make money by selling the product directly to other consumers. They earn a small percentage of sales from those that they recruit to do the same – often referred to as their “downline”.

Niche Marketing

A microniche is a subset of potential customers within a niche. In the era of dominating digital super-platforms, identifying a microniche can kick off the strategy of digital businesses to prevent competition against large platforms. As the microniche becomes a niche, then a market, scale becomes an option.

Relationship Marketing

Relationship marketing involves businesses and their brands forming long-term relationships with customers. The focus of relationship marketing is to increase customer loyalty and engagement through high-quality products and services. It differs from short-term processes focused solely on customer acquisition and individual sales.

Sustainable Marketing

Sustainable marketing describes how a business will invest in social and environmental initiatives as part of its marketing strategy. Also known as green marketing, it is often used to counteract public criticism around wastage, misleading advertising, and poor quality or unsafe products.

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