Let’s firstly look at the difference between brand identity and brand image – as these two are frequently confused:
What is brand identity?
Brand identity is internally driven and is how a brand wishes to be perceived by stakeholders.
A brand’s identity consists of what it says about who the brand is:
- the product
- the service
- the proposition
- the value/quality of the offer
- its competitive advantage
The components of any brand are created by an organisation to reflect the intrinsic value’s it is looking to bring to market, and it should be stakeholder-centric.
What is brand image?
Brand image is external – how the brand/organisation is perceived. The challenge many brands face is in ensuring that what a brand is projecting, and how it is being perceived by stakeholders, matches as closely as possible – alignment of identity and image. Ideally there is no detrimental gap. A lack of understanding between brand and stakeholder perception can ultimately devalue and derail a brand.
Aim for no mismatch between internal and external – promoted identity and perceived image
What initial steps can a brand take to encourage alignment?
1. Market audit/Self-analysis/Stakeholder review
This is a time for self-reflection and honesty. Nothing good comes from fooling oneself. If unsure what the reality of the marketplace is, and how your brand is being perceived then bite the bullet and ask others (and those who will tell you the cold hard facts). The truth may hurt, but that’s where true brand improvement and growth will come from – we learn rapidly valuable lessons from our mistakes. If you are so out of kilter regarding alignment between identity and image then look on the bright-side. There is huge potential for improvement – you won’t be scratching your head looking for minor tweaks to enhance your brand.
2. Thorough understanding of key business goals – and questioning if the brand identity helps to fulfil them
While looking externally and auditing, you also need to take a fresh look at your internal goals and objectives. Is it clear what the brand is trying to achieve? Are the objectives and strategy written down in black and white, and do all internal stakeholders have a clear understanding as to what they are and the part they play in bringing about their execution and success? Once that’s clear, question does the identity help to fulfil these key business goals? It’s easy to go off track without realising.
3. Determination of the message it wishes to communicate
The internal work is done, look outside – what do you want to project? Keep it simple – look at the brand’s intrinsic values and work them, hard. When you agree what you should be projecting, make sure all internal stakeholders completely understand the message and how it should be communicated both formally and informally.
4. Clear identification of who a brand is trying to reach with it’s message
Who do you want to receive your message? If unsure ask ‘why would someone want to receive our message?’ put yourself in the marketplaces shoes.
5. Definition of the desired perception of brand image
Internal and external work completed – how will you check that brand identity and image are aligned? The only way to be able to check (and have a benchmark) is to clearly define what the perception of the brand ideally should be – and to put measures in place to continuously monitor and review that what you are aiming to project is being perceived correctly. Do not presume, prove it to yourself – keeping eyes and ears in the marketplace. It’s never been easier to measure brand equity than since the emergence of the virtual world – brands are now in a conversation with stakeholders in real-time. It’s quick to identify when you’ve got it wrong, and equally as quick to build upon successes.
If your brand identity and image are a close match then congratulations you are on the right road…
Sometimes the path to alignment requires innovation or re-evaluation – question which parts of the brand’s story/history should be maximised and which ones should be revisited:
- Re-evaluate/Review (keep your eyes and ears to the ground)
- Reinvent and/or Reinvest (got it wrong? reinvent – got it right? reinvest!)
- Reinforce (consistency of message – show up and stick around to get success)
- Relevant (keep it relevant to the market)
- Review (again)
A successful brand is an aligned brand that values consistency of message and is disciplined with it’s strategic effort. Brand identity and image alignment isn’t just about professional looking logos and marketing materials – it encompasses all elements of marketing both in the virtual and physical world.