What is brand identity?
Sometimes, businesses operate without ever making a name for themselves. However, at times when they do manage to make themselves known, their stakeholders still aren’t quite familiar with what their brand is really all about. Their perception is limited to what the business offers, whether it be a product or service.
More than just putting a label to the very core of the business, brand identity (or brand vision) is the “set of assets linked to a brand’s name and symbol that adds to the value provided by a product or service to a firm and/or a firm’s customers.” This is according to brand guru David Aaker, vice chairman of Prophet, in his book, Building Strong Brands, which made use of real brand-building cases from companies like General Electric, Kodak, McDonald’s, and others to assess how strong brands were created and managed. Aaker himself is hailed as the “Father of Modern Branding,” having developed several groundbreaking concepts including the Aaker brand vision model and received numerous accolades for his contributions to the field of marketing
In Building Strong Brands, Aaker mentioned how the challenge for any brand is to stand out from its competitors by having a unique and clear image. Another angle from which to consider the definition of brand identity is given by Laura Lake, author of “Consumer Behavior for Dummies”, in her article, “brand identity is the message the consumer receives from the product, person, or thing. The brand identity will connect product recognition.”
One problem that businesses may encounter due to the lack of brand identity is marketing myopia, which is a term coined by former Harvard Business Review editor Thomas Levitt. He defined it as the “myopic view that a business might get where it looks at the business’s own goals rather than focusing on the needs and wants of the customers”. For example, if Bose was asked to define its core business, they should say something similar to “Delivering the most optimal audio experience to our customer,” and not “We sell audio devices and accessories like headphones”. This is how brand identity goes beyond the tangible value propositions it provides in the form of a product or service.
In all essence, brand identity or a brand tone of voice is what gives purpose to your business.
What’s in it for businesses to build their brand identity anyway?
Brand identity solidifies the enterprise’s mission and vision statements, which should always come with the business’s inception by default. It also identifies which key functional and emotional benefits are important and relevant for the firm’s customers; factors that differentiate the firm’s brand from its competitors; brand elements that are highly credible and defendable; and lastly, brand factors that are aligned with the business’s strategies. All four of these points make up Aaker’s brand identity model, and it may be seen here how they address both the internal and external aspects in operating a business.
From the internal end, businesses who have strong brand identities will be able to align their strategies more in pinpointing and targeting their customers’ needs and wants. In the process of designing a brand identity, companies will also be able to come up with objectives that guide their approach towards their customers.
Another ideal key result here is that once the firm’s employees are engaged and fully in touch with the brand, they will be more motivated and inspired in being part of a company that values their brand identity, and more importantly, one that includes their employees in the process of its development. Branding also has a say in a company’s organizational structure.
On the external level, we can look at the example of corporate giants like Procter & Gamble, Nestle, and Unilever who have been able to diversify their brand portfolio by designing an extensive brand identity. To illustrate, P&G has brands like Pantene, Head & Shoulders, and Ariel; Unilever has Knorr, Dove, and Clear; Nestle has Maggi, Kitkat, Milo, and a whole lot more. It would have been a futile and gargantuan task to launch these brands if it weren’t for brand architecture, which is the organizational structure of a company’s brand portfolio.
At the onset, designing brand identity is a prerequisite to planning a company’s brand architecture. Take it this way: if you were to go above and beyond your business without knowing where you came from, would you be able to set a concrete destination? A fleshed out guide? All of us can doubt that. Physically, this is impossible or illusionary, but when taken in the context of planning, brand identity marks the difference between successful enterprise and dreamscaping.
There are many other implications for how a business’s internal and external workings will be affected by an integrated brand identity, but these are the main potential benefits one should always consider.
So how do businesses build brand identity?
No matter how big or small your business is, establishing your brand identity is necessary for a sustainable business in the long run, at least from the marketing perspective.
According to Deanna deBara, writer at 99designs.com, the very first step is to evaluate or re-evaluate your company’s foundational elements: the mission, vision, values, unique selling proposition, voice (how would the brand communicate?) and personality (what aspects or traits will the brand embody?).
For a more extensive guide, you may refer to PricewaterhouseCoopers’s personal branding workbook―though you don’t have to adhere strictly to its content. The workbook’s content can be repurposed to better fit your brand alignment efforts. Incorporating Aaker’s first component with deBara’s would help you define your business’s brand identity, or as Aaker prefers to call it, the brand vision.
The second ideal step after defining your brand identity is to set your brand or company’s objectives. You can do this by answering two essential questions posed by Lake: what is it that you want your brand to do for your company? And what do you want others to know and say about your products or services?
Aside from addressing these questions, you should also lay out your customer journey map as you identify touch points pertaining to how customers interact with your business. Hubspot provides a full guide and free templates in making one suitable for your business. In mapping your customer’s journeys, you’ll be in a better position to optimize customer experience as well.
Another step in designing your brand identity is setting your brand tone of voice. Do you want to sound professional, friendly, or assertive? According to SEMRush, the brand tone of voice describes how you communicate with your audience, thereby influencing how people perceive your messaging. It pertains to how you want to communicate, rather than what.
After setting your brand’s objectives and brand tone of voice and understanding your consumers more, you should also assess your competitors in the industry so that you can determine how to differentiate your brand. This step is called competitive analysis. According to Katy French, a blog editor for Column Five Media, competitive analysis can help you benchmark your competitor’s practices and performance and see how your common target market perceives them. These may be done by analyzing the individual elements of your competitor’s branding strategy, be it their company logo, customer service, marketing campaigns, etc.
The next step is to fine tune who your target audience is: How old are they? What is their income range? What are their occupations? What other interests do they have? These are some of the general questions every brand manager and market researcher should start with. The goal here is to find optimal areas where your company would thrive, and that lies in the potential of your target market to resonate with what you offer.
Finally, it’s time to culminate all the preceding steps in how they will translate into the company’s product design and packaging, advertising and marketing campaigns, and brand aesthetics (logo, typography, color palette, and more). Ultimately, this final step deals with how you will be communicating your company to your target market.
For a business to operate with no sense of brand identity is akin to wandering aimlessly. Having one will allow you to fully understand your own business, target customers, and competitors, all of which form the foundation for every business, and more specifically, the thrust for its marketing.
-Written by Ervin Delas Peñas