What is Brand Identity?

Brand Identity: Recognition vs. Image

We talked about branding and brand strategy here. Brand identity is related, but is specific to the identifying components that comprise a product, service, company, or person and include brand name, visual aesthetic and logo, tagline, design elements and product recognition. Brand identity is a separate category from brand image. Brand image deals more closely with organizational ethos, culture, and consumer perception of the brand’s reliability, functionality, etc.

Brand identity connects the audience with product recognition. For instance, a recent street survey asked respondents to describe what came to mind when they heard the word “Beats.” Unanimously respondents described high-end headphones. Clearly, Beats established the brand identity for their headphones.

Brand identity is closely associated with product recognition and must be consistent in order to be effective. McDonald’s golden arches are the same shade of gold, Nike shoes are consistently worn by athletes in peak performance, and Starbucks coffee shops are reliably the same in every city you visit. For fledgling brands in particular, it is imperative that products and services are consistently delivered to the target audience to effectively build the brand.

The Purpose of Brand Identity

The purpose of brand identity is to set expectations and consistency. Whether the product is a person, image, or an item, consistently reliable goods and services encourage brand loyalty and trust in future goods and services. Organizational teams know what the expectation is and maintain it, can measure key performance indicators against it, and ensures marketing, support, and operation work smoothly together. Consistency in brand identity exhibits a culture of professionalism around the product or service.

Branding Essentials

Clarity, reputation, quality, and consistency are branding essentials. Brand identity helps tie these things together. Once you can articulate your brand’s purpose and determine design characteristics that will foster brand recognition in your target audience, consistently offering those characteristics is an important piece of the marketing strategy. Part of Apple’s brand is the ability to seamlessly transition between products. I can start a project on my iPad and finish on my Mac. These products are marketed, packaged, and supported in a consistent way. If they aren’t, my confidence in their quality may drop, and that’s a problem because their products are expensive. They aren’t catering to a cost-conscious audience, their products are designed for brand loyalists. If their product identity becomes haphazard due to a lack of clarity by top leadership, my perception of their quality may drop and their reputation suffers. So will sales.

Let’s revisit the Beats example. Folks on the street identified Beats with high-end headphones. They have other products too, for example, speakers. Let’s say (for this example only) that the speakers were hastily constructed to compete with Bose and get a piece of the market share and 1 in 5 is defective. That’s 20% of all speakers and our hypothetical consumers are mad about it. They blog, post negative reviews, and complain to all of their family and friends. Remember, this isn’t a real example; Beats has exceptional audio equipment. But that’s just it, although their identity was high-end headphones, their inconsistent product quality elsewhere tarnished their overall brand image. Even though the headphones are unaffected, the new brand identity on the street might be “crappy headphones.” It’s a tough crowd out there.

Rebuild and Repair

We’re getting away from brand identity just slightly, but reputation management is also important and many brands will probably face a scenario where they need to address negative reviews, perception, etc. When a product, service, or personal image is damaged by a defective product, poor quality, or reckless activity, a reputation management company may be required to repair the damage. Sometimes the damage is so severe that re-branding is advised. Boeing is facing a lot of hard truths on this front.

Videos are an effective marketing tool in today's fast-paced, brand-based world and reputation repair is often achieved in the same manner with short, quick, videos. It probably won’t be a quick fix, but in all cases don’t leave a bad situation to fester. Most people just want a solution and an apology, and humility can go a long way in repairing a negative experience so your brand identity continues to be aligned with quality products and services.

Common Mistakes When It Comes to Branding

When it comes to branding, it's not uncommon for companies to make mistakes that weaken their branding efforts. A few common mistakes include:

  • Inconsistency

    • Consistency in messaging is key when it comes to building your brand, but companies will often work to brand certain components really well, while forgetting other components such as their telephone messaging, website, business cards, etc. Sometimes this is a rolling update as you refresh or redesign a brand, but be sure to have a plan for consistent implementation.

  • Lack of Internal Training

    • You'd be surprised at the number of organizations that launch a new brand, but fail to train their employees. The people who work for you manifest your vision!  Your employees are your walking billboards; they have to understand the brand and what it stands for so that they can strongly reflect the messaging you want to share. 

  • Lack of Updating Your Marketing Materials.

    • Don't forget to do a marketing material refresh and make sure that your materials are all on message. Throw out the old so there’s no chance that marketing materials can get mixed up. You don't have to redo all of your marketing materials, but it's vital that you create updated materials that share your core services and offerings and they need to be (you guessed it) consistent.