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Umami branding

Some of the world’s greatest brands are those that appeal to both head and heart, brands with real substance that are also emotionally rewarding.

Japanese chefs have a word for this: “umami.” (Pronounced “oo-MA-mee.”)

Today’s Wall Street Journal featured an article about this culinary concept first discovered by a Japanese scientist 100 years ago. Beyond the four basic tastes – sweet, salty, sour and bitter – is umami, usually defined as a meaty, savory, satisfying taste.

Umami has taken the food world by storm. Famous chefs and food companies like Frito Lay and Campbell Soup are adding umami to its recipes. Foods that are rich in glutamates – mushrooms, wine, Parmesan cheese – help make the food more savory and delicious without adding fat and sodium. It is an intangible sense of “deliciousness.”

So what does this have to do with great brands? Everything.

Applying the concept of umami to marketing would lead to more brands that balance functional value with a strong, intangible emotional appeal. Umami brands make you feel good, smart, satisfied. They don’t manipulate the senses. They are authentic. They are good for you. An umami brand fosters feelings of well-being and fulfillment.

My umami brands? Apple. Toyota. Williams-Sonoma. American Express. Budweiser. Harley-Davidson. adidas. Starbucks. Levis 501s. And most any 2000 Pauillac.

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