• Transform magazine
  • June 22, 2024


Opinion: Distill what's essential

Matt Walsh - Salt Branding.jpg

Marvin “Popcorn” Sutton was a famous moonshiner from around the Misty Mountains of Tennessee. He was known for his overalls, scraggly beard and talent for making corn-whiskey from an illegal copper still. He refined, purified and distilled an authentic Scottish-Irish recipe handed down from his grandfather.

If he were still alive, Sutton would also have a talent for brand development. Because while he knew nothing about positioning or strategy in a disruptive, digital economy, Sutton had an understanding of what’s essential. He knew how to distill a thing down to what made it genuine and unique – the quality that makes a brand essential to people.

Today, becoming an essential brand is more critical than ever because the audience runs the show. They’re the judge, jury, social media buzz, evangelist and critic. They dictate market share, stock price and product viability. They make the call on whether a brand is iconic or generic, relevant or unworthy.

How does a new brand make an impression in this chaotic environment? How does an established brand attempt to change a perception?

At Salt Branding, we believe the answer is to distill that essential quality. Much like Sutton’s copper still, it’s a reductive process that reveals the essence of your brand promise. This is where customer insight, business strategy and market opportunity intersect. It’s a ruthless exercise that both simplifies the story and intensifies every single after effect.

When the core message is crystallized, it’s the most modern of memes – instantly understood, rapidly shared and culturally embedded. It’s a clarity that creates momentum and energy; an idea that jumps effortlessly across medium, channel, touchpoint and experience.

It goes beyond a differentiated positioning statement. Essential is about engaging with your audience. This can take the form of an idea, a fresh name, a new visual expression or reinvention of message and tonality. It can drive change that’s internal, external and global in scope. 

Discovering the essential is what drives many of our clients. From Disney to Google or Zenni to Twitter, brands who know who they are and what they do are highly skilled at opening a conversation with their customers. 

Essential brands know how to make an emotional connection that’s genuine and engaging –whether that’s a whisky, financial service or new techo-gadget. They tell powerful and compelling stories, create richer experiences and build enduring relationships. In today’s hyper-speed and uber-busy world, that is how you reach people.

While moonshiner Sutton is gone, his small batch, 88 proof whiskey has now become well-known outside of Tennessee. Our advice for brands is something he knew all along: distill out the superfluous and discover what makes you essential.


Matt Walsh is associate creative director at Salt Branding